U.S. House bill could restrict troop drawdown to 22,000
A bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives restricting the drawdown of U.S. troops in Korea to a floor of 22,000, which is 6,500 lower than a cap set under the current National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) Alliance Act calls to maintain a strong military readiness on the Korean Peninsula by limiting the American president's power to reduce U.S. forces deployed in Korea.
The bill states, “None of the funds made available to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2022 may be used to reduce the total number of members of the United States Armed Forces serving on active duty who are deployed to the Republic of Korea below 22,000,” unless it is in the national security interest of the United States and will not undermine the security of U.S. allies in the region.
The limit is lower than the one set in the NDAA for the fiscal year 2021, which restricts a drawdown of troops below 28,500. The NDAA for fiscal year 2019 required a floor of 22,000 troops.
The latest bill was introduced by a group of bipartisan lawmakers including Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Democratic Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey last Friday, to mark the 71st anniversary of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Gallagher’s office told the Voice of America Monday that 28,500 is a figure that takes into account the rotational deployment of U.S. troops from the U.S. mainland to South Korea.
Under the proposed House bill, the defense secretary would have to have “appropriately consulted” with allies Seoul and Tokyo on such a reduction, and South Korea would also have to be “fully capable of defending itself and deterring a conflict on the Korean Peninsula” even after a reduction of troops. This is similar to the preconditions under the current NDAA.
However, the bill includes a list of more stringent measures to take into consideration for a withdrawal of U.S. troops in the region, including “the effect of such reduction on increasing incentives for the Republic of Korea to develop an independent nuclear deterrent.”
To reduce the number of U.S. troops to below 22,000 under the U.S.-ROK Alliance Act, the defense secretary would also have to report to Congress its effect on the deterrence on the Korean Peninsula; anticipated reaction from Pyongyang; the likelihood of Seoul developing its own nuclear deterrent; its impact on long-term military and economic partnership between Washington and both Seoul and Tokyo; and the military balance between the United States, China and Russia.
The bill recognizes that the withdrawal or significant reduction of U.S. troops from Korea “may risk upsetting the military balance in that region” and states that the U.S. Congress should be consulted should there be any significant changes to the status quo.
Under the previous U.S. administration, former U.S. President Donald Trump often used the reduction or withdrawal of U.S. troops from allied countries as a negotiation card. He has also questioned the necessity of the U.S. extended nuclear deterrence in the region.
U.S. President Joe Biden in February ordered Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to conduct a global posture review on the American military’s resources and strategies to best allocate U.S. military forces, which is expected to conclude soon. It is unclear how this review would impact the deployment of U.S. forces in Korea, or whether it could involve the reallocation of some American troops to other areas.
Analysts point out that the Biden administration has not been keen on South Korea’s plans to develop nuclear-powered submarines. The bill’s language reflects concerns in Congress on what a reduced U.S. presence on the Korean Peninsula could mean in terms of Seoul’s plans to develop its own nuclear deterrence.
“The U.S.-ROK alliance has been a bedrock of security not only on the Korean Peninsula, but throughout the Indo-Pacific,” said Gallagher in a statement Friday. “I’m proud to stand with this bipartisan group to make clear America will always stand alongside its indispensable ally.”
Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, another sponsor of the bill, said, “This bill sends a clear message to the people of South Korea that the United States will remain a reliable partner, including by maintaining our troop presence for as long as the security of both of our countries demand it.”
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]