May 03, 2018 10:27
Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday tried to quell controversy over suggestions that the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea will no longer be necessary once a peace treaty with North Korea has been signed.
But what are the issues at stake, and why are particularly conservatives so alarmed at the prospect of the withdrawal of the U.S. Forces Korea?
From a legal standpoint, the U.S. troop presence in South Korea is based on a mutual defense treaty signed in July 1953, three months after the armistice that halted the Korean War.
The treaty stipulates that South Korea granted the U.S. permission to station soldiers, ships and airplanes on its territory. There is no mention in the treaty that the aim is to contain the North Korean threat. Instead, it stipulates that the aim is to deal with "an armed attack in the Pacific region."
That means the USFK can legally stay even when the North Korean threat diminishes. This is why President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday, "U.S. troops stationed in South Korea are an issue regarding the alliance between South Korea and the United States. It has nothing to do with signing peace treaties."
That also means there are no grounds for North Korea to demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The signing of a mutual defense treaty is permitted under international law and constitutes the exercise of sovereign rights of states, so this is an issue between them.
The two Koreas and the U.S. can start discussing a peace framework, but what Seoul and Washington decide is a matter for them.
Those in favor of the USFK staying indefinitely point to the balance of power in Northeast Asia. China Russia and Japan are all trying to increase their military might in the region, and the U.S. troop presence on the Korean Peninsula is an effective way to counterbalance them.
"Don't be anxious about moving American military forces," former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice advised U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday. "American military forces are a stabilizing force -- not just on the Korean Peninsula, but in the region as a whole."
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