The U.S. Military Presence in Korea: New Focus for U.S. Foreign Policy?

Those who don’t doubt their faith generally prove in the end to be less resilient than those who do. Doubt is good. It tests and often affirms, but it also challenges cherished assumptions and beliefs that were formed once upon a time to be reconciled with current realities.

A few days back, I circulated a lengthy interview of BR Myers by the Wall St. Journal where he challenged the premises of the current US Forces deployment in Korea. Brian is hardly a Lefty who looks at the world through the antiquated and tired lenses of “US Imperialism.” Nor would I suggest the same of the below author who asks the reader to reconsider the current American paradigm in the face of diminished resources.

What is clear is that the world has greatly changed over the past 60 years following the Korean War’s cessation of hostilities. Today, North Korea and its former sponsors are decidedly more fascist than communist. South Korea is no longer a weak, impoverished Third World nation. The Cold War is long over. China is on the steady, if somewhat rickety, rise with ham-handed aspirations to further project its sphere of influence in East Asia.

The US is being forced to tighten its belt in face of alarming deficits while implementing a new “Asia pivot” which China views as tightening encirclement. In my opinion, what is overdue is a focus point review of why US Forces, in their present deployment, are in Korea.

I’m certainly not advocating withdrawal, but I openly question if there has been adequate review by the US, the Republic of Korea and their directly concerned allies as to why there are so many US ground troops and perhaps why there are so few US air and naval resources in South Korea.

Furthermore, under what conditions and to what ends should a substantial US military presence be needed on the Korean peninsula? In other words, are the US and the ROK interminably resigned to having such a large American forces in Korea? Under what circumstances would it make sense for US Forces to significantly scale back its forces from Korea? Would that be the collapse of the DPRK? But are the US Forces in Korea, Okinawa and to lesser scales in Australia and Singapore as part of a new, evolving Asia Pivot strategy?

Is the Asia Pivot in South Korea’s actual and political/economic best interests? Or, as cynics have been saying for the 30-odd years, the main reason for such a large presence of American troops in Korea is to provide one of the few, remaining 4-star command posts for US general officers’ career growth? I don’t have the answers to the above questions nor am I implying that I think I may have such answers. But I do think a serious review is necessary.

The article referred to above may be found at: Strategy in a Time of Austerity

by Tom Coyner.  Senior Advisor to IPG.
Sean Hayes may be contacted at:

Sean Hayes is co-chair of the Korea Practice Team at IPG Legal. He is the only non-Korean to have worked as an attorney for the Korean court system (Constitutional Court of Korea) and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean law faculty.

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