U.S. defense bill for 2022 may not ensure minimal troops in Korea
The American defense budget bill for 2022 may not include a clause limiting the reduction of U.S. forces in Korea, which would be a first in years, according to the latest proposal put forward by the House Armed Services Committee.
Every year, the U.S. Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to determine the funding for military activities under the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.
The bills passed for fiscal years 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 all included a clause limiting the use of defense funds to reduce the U.S. forces in Korea.
“None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act may be used to reduce the total number of members of the Armed Forces serving on active duty who are deployed to South Korea below 28,500,” reads the clause included in the bill for 2021.
Exceptions can be made, the bill states, only 90 days after the secretary of defense certifies to the congressional defense committees that such a reduction is in the national security interest of the United States and “will not significantly undermine the security of the United States and allies in the region.”
The bill for 2022 will go through several procedures, and different versions of it will be proposed until the bill is finalized for voting at the House and Senate.
The process is still in its early stages, with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith’s version of the bill released on Monday.
This version does not contain the limitation on the reduction of U.S. troops in Korea.
When asked why, in a conversation with the Brookings Institute, a think-tank based in Washington, Rep. Smith on Tuesday said that “we don’t need it while President [Joe] Biden is in the White House,” adding that he agrees with a point the Brookings commentator made, that the bill contained the clause in previous years because former U.S. President Donald Trump often spoke of pulling out the forces from Korea.
“If we didn’t have the presence we have in South Korea, North Korea would have invaded a long time ago,” Smith said in the conversation with the Brookings. “Look at the economic and political freedom that has been developed in South Korea and look at the human conditions there versus the human conditions in North Korea. That should tell you everything you need to know about why we’re trying to deter those five groups that I keep mentioning.”
Earlier in the talk, Smith spoke of Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and trans-national terrorist groups as “our adversaries … [who] do not believe in economic and political freedom.”
Smith added that the current proposed version is not the final draft, and that amendments will follow, after which the clause restricting reduction of U.S. forces in Korea may be included.
After the recent American pull-out of troops from Afghanistan, a decision for which was announced during the Trump administration, a number of experts in Korea raised questions on whether the United States might consider pulling out of other regions in the world, such as those around Asia. The largest American military bases in Asia are located in Japan and Korea.
The White House dismissed the concerns since, stating the U.S. has no intention of decreasing the forces in Korea or around Europe.
Korea’s nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk, who is in Washington on a visit to meet with his counterpart U.S. nuclear envoy Sung Kim, confirmed he was assured of U.S. priorities on Korea.
“In my visit I confirmed that the Joe Biden administration recognizes the urgency of the North Korean nuclear issue and is going to address it as a priority,” Noh told a group of Korean journalists based in Washington on Tuesday. “The United States remains firmly committed to a forward-looking, creative, flexible and open stance to resume dialogue with North Korea.”
The Biden administration has proposed dialogue with Pyongyang on several occasions since February through the North Korean mission to the United States, or the so-called New York channel. On visits to Seoul in July and again on Aug. 23, U.S. nuclear envoy Kim offered Pyongyang dialogue, “anytime, anywhere,” without conditions.
There are around 28,500 American troops in the country, for whose maintenance Seoul and Washington decided on a new defense cost-sharing deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), in March.
According to the agreement, Korea will be paying 1.1833 trillion won ($1.021 billion) in 2021, an unprecedented 13.9 percent increase from the previous year. Seoul’s payment for 2020 was frozen at 1.0389 trillion won, the same as in 2019. The two countries’ previous deal expired at the end of December 2019.
The new SMA was ratified at the National Assembly on Tuesday.
BY ESTHER CHUNG, KIM SANG-JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]