“It appears that the Pentagon has received instructions to pursue a more flexible policy direction for the U.S. forces stationed overseas,” said Seok Wook, the head of South Korean Defense Ministry, fielding a question about the omission of the phrase of “keeping the current level of U.S. military personnel in Korea” from the joint communiqué at the latest Security Consultative Meeting between Seoul and Washington. This is the first time that the South Korean military authorities have issued a statement indicative of a potential reduction of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula.
The statement from Minister Seo came at a parliamentary inspection of the national defense committee in answering the question from Rep. Kang Dae-sik of the main opposition People Power Party on whether the absence of the expression in question from the joint communiqué, which unprecedented over the last 12 years, signifies any change in the status of the USFK. Some experts say that the phrase in question was expunged after U.S. President Donald Trump gave an instruction to Defense Secretary Mark Esper to adjust the tack of policy on American forces stationed in foreign countries.
“There was no discussion (to reduce USFK at the SCM meeting),” said Minister Seo, adding that Secretary Esper pledged to provide an unswerving support. However, many experts are of the view that the scale of U.S. forces in Korea, currently at 28,500, may not be maintained if the “strategic flexibility” were to apply to the deployment of the U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula. Reportedly, the U.S. administration has expressed their opinion to Seoul both directly and indirectly that the U.S. forces cannot stay “fixed” in Korea.
Kyu-Jin Shin firstname.lastname@example.org