The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee has unveiled a bill that would bar the Pentagon from reducing the number of U.S. troops in South Korea below 28,500, citing continuous threats from North Korea with their conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction. “There is a reason we are looking at and pressing hard for sea launched cruise missile. It allows you to carry nuclear weapons into theater to other theater,” said Peter Fanta, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters.
This shows that the legislative and administrative bodies of the United States are already preparing for a post-dialogue era, which would come if the current diplomatic approach to denuclearization falls apart. The bill submitted at the Senate will stop President Trump from using the U.S. Forces stationed in South Korea as a bargaining chip and get Washington ready for a possible breakdown of the nuclear talks with North Korea. It is noteworthy that the bill puts a stricter ban on the reduction of the number of U.S. troops in South Korea than the National Defense Authorization Act, which took effect last year. Fanta’s remarks about the sea launched cruise missile should be interpreted in the same context, as it reveals Washington’s will to strengthen extended deterrence to prepare against Pyongyang’s potential provocations.
Such developments point to the U.S.’ doubtful view about the future direction of nuclear talks, which have reached a deadlock since the collapse of the Hanoi summit. President Trump continues to say that he is open to dialogue and urge the North to come back to the negotiating table, North Korea is escalating tensions with a series of provocative acts. The regime has even cut contact with the South Korean government and private agencies, in an apparent opposition to the U.S.’ seizure of North Korean vessels. Thus, it seems to make sense that the Trump administration is trying to enhance military readiness in preparation for a failure of diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Yet, the South Korean government seems to be looking at the situation through a different lens. Seoul has been obsessed with encouraging Pyongyang to resume dialogue, even proposing the provision of food aid. It is true that we need to attempt to continue dialogue, military preparedness is also crucial. North Korea’s recent missile launches have reminded us of their arms that can target the entire South Korean region, but the Moon administration and military authorities appear to be busy downplaying the regime’s provocations, let alone coming up with measures to enhance military forces to counter the threats. Diplomacy can be effective only when it is based on military strength. Powerless diplomacy is just another word for meekness.