Brief: The Beginning of the End of the U.S.-Korean Alliance?

Preparing for the end of an alliance isn’t the same thing as asking for it.

Background: A variety of issues cast doubt on the future of the U.S.-South Korea alliance. Among them are North Korea’s nuclear program; Washington’s insistence that its allies in the region confront China’s maritime expansionism; Seoul’s distrust of Japan; and America’s demands that South Korea pay more for U.S. troops stationed there – to say nothing of President Donald Trump’s repeated threats to pull out of the peninsula altogether. What Happened: Two weeks ago, chief U.S. and South Korean diplomats met for an annual strategic dialogue. The joint communiques released after these meetings typically include a line affirming the commitment to maintain the number of U.S. troops around present levels. This time, though, that line was conspicuously absent. When asked about it on Tuesday, South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook implied that a U.S. drawdown may indeed be on the horizon. Suh noted that he and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper did not discuss a drawdown directly. Meanwhile, an assistant chief of staff for U.S. Armed Forces Korea penned an op-ed making the case to return wartime operational control of South Korean forces, a contentious issue known as OPCON. OPCON is politically popular in South Korea, and though successive governments […]

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