Washington has optionsWashington could consider options other than keeping up with the status quo of the military presence on the Korean Peninsula if North Korean denuclearization makes some progress, the U.S. special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said at a lecture in the United States. When asked about the possibility of the United States pulling out of South Korea, he stressed that “We’re a long way away from [the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula,]” adding, “[Military] forces are driven by the perception of threat. If we can address the threat, we give ourselves a lot more options.” His comment could sound like nothing more than a textbook theory, but nevertheless comes amid a rift between Seoul and Washington following Korea’s decision to not renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan despite U.S. opposition.
Once tensions subside, militaries won’t necessarily have to conduct exercises throughout the year for war readiness, he said. Even considering that alliance nature can change according to security and geopolitical developments, the North Korean denuclearization process and U.S. military posture in the South are entirely different issues. There has been a longstanding understanding between Seoul and Washington that U.S. military presence is necessary for the balance of power in Northeast Asia and deterrence against regional risks. Biegun’s mention of changes in U.S. military comes before there has been any verification of North Korea’s genuineness or progress in denuclearization. He has also made the comment amid a series of complaints from the U.S. government offices over Seoul’s decision to not renew Gsomia with Tokyo.
Moreover, U.S. President Donald Trump and others have been demanding an increase in Seoul’s share of the cost of maintaining U.S. forces in Korea. The bilateral relationship could further sour if the two sides show differences in their thoughts on the nature of the alliance during negotiations on cost-sharing.
North Korean nuclear and missile threats remain as real as ever despite the dialogue mood since last year. Pyongyang has upped missile threats to the South and could be buying time to draw recognition as a nuclear arms state. South Korea and the United States must demonstrate a strong alliance to deter North Korea from having other thoughts and also to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table for denuclearization.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 9, Page 30