Congress passes bill to keep troops in SouthWASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate passed a defense authorization bill on Wednesday that restricts any drawdown of American troops in South Korea.
The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, which allocates $716 billion to defense for the 2019 fiscal year, passed the Senate by a vote of 87-10 after passing the House of Representatives last week. The bill now goes to U.S. President Donald Trump to sign into law.
The bill notes that the 28,500 American troops currently stationed in South Korea are a demonstration of the United States’ commitment to the bilateral alliance. Their “significant removal” is “a non-negotiable item as it relates to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea, the bill reads under a section describing the Sense of Senate on U.S. forces in Korea.
In a conference report accompanying the legislation, Congress also prohibits the funds from being used to reduce the troop figure below 22,000 without certification from the secretary of defense. “Such a reduction is in the national security interest of the United States and will not significantly undermine the security of United States allies in the region,” the report reads.
The secretary will also need to certify that he has “appropriately consulted with allies of the United States, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, regarding such a reduction.”
The restriction comes as Trump has repeatedly expressed willingness to eventually pull out American forces from South Korea. Critics say such a move would play into the hands of China and North Korea, which both wish to see U.S. troops removed from near their borders.