Is It Time for A US Military Withdrawal from South Korea?

That is what columnist Oh Young-jin in the Korea Times is saying that South Korea should prepare for :

Oh Young-jin

Just the talk of a U.S. pullout could shake the Korean economy upside down, sending foreign investors packing and leaving.

So if there would be a separation between the two, it would be the U.S. that has a change of heart.

There have been distinct signs that this is happening.

First, Henry Kissinger, a U.S. guru of diplomacy serving as secretary of state and national security adviser in the Nixon and Ford administrations, is a strong advocate for that. Typical of big power politics, wrapped in the trappings of realpolitik, the Nobel Peace Prize winner suggests that the U.S. should deal directly with China to resolve the North Korean crisis.

He suggests that the U.S. address China’s biggest concern ― Korean unification led by Seoul that sees American GIs and their Korean allies breathing down its neck with the buffer of the North gone. Kissinger’s solution is pulling out U.S. troops out of the Korean Peninsula.

Second, why is the Kissinger formula noteworthy? The answer lies in Steve Bannon, a mentor to U.S. President Donald Trump, who recently was fired as chief strategist. He was right on the money when he referred to the U.S. withdrawal from the South to settle the North Korean crisis, although he dismissed it as a remote possibility.  (………)

Seoul should be prepared for three contingencies ― a total U.S. withdrawal, partial and maintenance of the status quo. The first scenario is comparable to the Paris peace accord struck by the U.S. and the communist Vietnamese, which led to the fall of Saigon as the U.S. troops were leaving. The examples for the second are Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. has drastically reduced its troops, which has seen an occasional surge. The third is the current situation.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link.

President Trump Pushes President Moon on Paying More for US Troops

It seems like an inevitability that the ROK will end up paying more for the upkeep of the US-ROK alliance since it is an issue that President Trump continues to highlight:

President Moon Jae-in, left, shakes hand with U.S. President Donald Trump in their joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday. [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in faced a demand on Friday by U.S. President Donald Trump to resolve trade imbalance between the two countries and pay more of the cost for the presence of U.S. troops in Korea, while winning assurances for stronger defense measures to deter North Korea’s rapidly advancing threats.

In the joint press conference that followed the Oval Office summit, Trump said the era of strategic patience with the North Korean regime has failed. “And frankly, that patience is over,” he added. After calling upon regional powers and all responsible nations to implement sanctions and pressure North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programs, Trump said now the goal is “peace, stability and prosperity for the region.”

The United States will defend itself and its allies, Trump said, and as part of that commitment, he said he wants to ensure that the cost of U.S. military presence in South Korea is equitably shared. “Burden sharing is a very important factor,” he said. “A factor that is becoming more and more prevalent, certainly in this administration.”

Trump also spoke of a “fair and reciprocal economic relationship” with South Korea, while complaining that the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement has increased the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea by more than $11 billion.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link.

South Korea Claims They Have Already Paid Over $1 Billion for THAAD Due to Chinese Economic Retaliation

Like I have said before President Trump’s comments about paying more for the THAAD system is setting conditions for next year’s negotiations for USFK cost sharing:

U.S. President Donald Trump should know that South Korea has already paid more than what he has billed the country for the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery here, analysts said Tuesday.

Trump has insisted that Korea pay $1 billion for the anti-missile shield and his top aides also claim that the two countries should renegotiate the terms of the deployment agreement.

On top of the provision of the land for the missile defense unit, South Korea has already sustained huge damage from economic retaliation by China.

Company officials and analysts say that the value of losses Korea has suffered from retaliatory steps has to have topped $1 billion. They expect the amount to snowball to as high as $20 billion if friction over THAAD is not addressed.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link.

US Defense Secretary Mattis Begins 2-Day Trip to South Korea

So far, so good for Defense Secretary Mattis’ visit to South Korea:

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (Yonhap)

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday began his two-day visit to South Korea in his first overseas trip aimed at underscoring the U.S. security commitment to the Asian ally amid growing threats from North Korea.

After landing at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, at 12:30 p.m., Mattis headed to the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul, according to the defense ministry.

Mattis was briefed by USFK Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, including Seoul-Washington’s joint readiness against North Korean threats that include that it is close to test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, military officials said.

He then met with Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin and attended a dinner event hosted by Defense Minister Han Min-koo at a Seoul hotel.

Hwang is currently serving as acting president after President Park Geun-hye was impeached by the National Assembly over a corruption scandal.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but Mattis has reconfirmed the US commitment to deploy the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea despite Chinese objections.

ROK JCS To Lead Key Resolve 2017 Military Exercise

This year’s Key Resolve exercise will have a little twist with the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff leading it:

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff will lead a combined military exercise with the U.S. from a new command center in March amid growing threats from North Korea, military officials said Monday.

“During the upcoming Key Resolve exercise, Seoul’s JCS will be responsible for exercise planning and control, operation of opposing forces, and after-drill meetings,” an official at the defense ministry said.

The exercise’s command center will be set up in an underground bunker of South Korea’s Capital Defense Command, as the JCS will lead the annual exercise with the U.S. staff playing a supporting role, according to the ministry.

When the U.S. side led the exercise, the command center used to be set up at the bunker of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.

The JCS led the Key Resolve drills in 2013 as South Korea was scheduled to regain wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington in 2015. But the OPCON transfer was pushed back amid Pyongyang’s provocations. Seoul and Washington agreed on the “conditions-based” transfer, which observers say could come in mid-2020s.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

President Trump Confirms Defense Commitment to South Korea

It appears everything went well with the phone call between President Trump and acting ROK President Hwang:

President Donald Trump reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to the alliance with South Korea during a phone call Monday with the country’s acting president.

The leaders also agreed to strengthen joint defense capabilities as they face a growing nuclear and missile threat from North Korea, the White House said in a statement.

The call — the first time Trump and acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn have spoken — offered much-sought reassurance to South Koreans nervous that the new U.S. administration might change longstanding policies toward the divided peninsula.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read more at the link.

US and South Korean Officials Discuss Permanent Deployment of US Bombers and Aegis Ships to Peninsula

Does anyone think permanently deploying US bombers and Aegis ships will do anything to change the behavior of the Kim regime?:

Defense Minister Han Min-koo, left, speaks as Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, second from left, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, third from left, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter listen during a meeting at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday. / AP-Yonhap

Defense Minister Han Min-koo, left, speaks as Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, second from left, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, third from left, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter listen during a meeting at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday. / AP-Yonhap

South Korea and the United States have officially begun discussions on the permanent deployment of strategic weapons such as nuclear-capable bombers on the Korean Peninsula.

This was at the top of the agenda in the “two plus two” high-level security talks among Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Defense Minister Han Min-koo, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter in Washington, Thursday.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters after the meeting that the two defense chiefs will discuss details about how to deploy U.S. strategic assets in South Korea during the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM).

“The permanent deployment of U.S. strategic assets will be discussed at the defense chiefs’ talks,” he said.

U.S. strategic assets include nuclear-capable B-52 and B-1B bombers, F-22 stealth fighter jets, nuclear-powered attack submarines and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

Military sources here said that working-level officials of the two nations have already been talking on permanently deploying B-1B Lancers or Aegis destroyers to South Korea. [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link, but this article from Yonhap says the US is unlikely to station strategic assets in South Korea due to cost and concerns of upsetting China:

The scholar said as the U.S. has gradually reduced its defense budget, it will be financially burdensome to deploy its strategic assets on or near the Korean Peninsula.

“The U.S. prefers to operate those assets on a rotational basis to flexibly respond to conflicts in the Middle East, the South and East China Sea, if necessary,” he pointed out.

China remains another major obstacle as the North’s closest ally will be “definitely irritated” by permanent deployment of any U.S. nuclear-armed weapons in South Korea, said Kim Dong-yeob, a professor at Kyungnam University’s North Korean studies school.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.