The U.S. Congress has formally requested that U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin report measures to enhance the command structure and deployment arrangements of the Indo-Pacific Command. This includes the U.S. forces stationed in Korea and Japan, aiming to address evolving security dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region, notably the heightened geopolitical tensions, particularly in the context of the hegemonic rivalry with China. This move is widely seen as a strategic effort to bolster deterrence capabilities against North Korea, China, and Russia, by reinforcing military collaboration with South Korea and Japan, key allies of the U.S.
The U.S. Senate and House Armed Services Committees unveiled the consensus bill of the ‘National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024’ on Thursday (local time). The committee directed, “The Secretary of Defense must submit a report on the deployment and command structure of the U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific within 360 days of the bill’s passage." Notably, the directive specifies that “the report must include recommendations for modifying the organizational structure of the Indo-Pacific Command, taking into account the impact on the U.S. forces stationed in Korea and Japan, and recommendations for strengthening cooperation with allies and partners.”
This was notably absent in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and has been introduced for the first time in this year’s bill. Analysts speculate that this development is related to calls from the political arena, including the opposition Republican Party, to broaden the responsibilities of U.S. troops stationed in Korea in light of growing concerns about China’s potential invasion of Taiwan.
The agreement also references the ‘Washington Declaration,’ which was endorsed during President Yoon Suk Yeol’s visit to the U.S. in April of this year. It explicitly includes a commitment “to enhance the ROK-US alliance by furthering cooperation on nuclear deterrence.” There are indications that this is a response to concerns that expanded deterrence measures could be reconsidered if former President Donald Trump, who had minimized the significance of U.S. troops stationed in Korea, returns to power in the upcoming presidential election next year. Notably, the agreement solidifies the decision to maintain the current 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in Korea.