August 13, 2019 13:05
U.S. President Donald Trump told a group of supporters on Friday that he had an "easier" time getting the South Korean government to foot US$1 billion in defense-sharing costs than to "get US$114.13 from a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn." No other U.S. president has insulted South Koreans like that, certainly not by alluding to his grubby past as a slum landlord. Some may pass off such behavior as Trump's trademark offhand style, but that very same attitude could affect his decisions if South Korea was invaded by North Korea.
South Korea has been able to maintain peace for almost 70 years now due to the firm trust that massive U.S. reinforcements would converge on the country if it faces an invasion by the North. In the event of a military emergency on the Korean Peninsula, America has committed 690,000 American troops, five aircraft carrier formations, 160 naval warships and 2,500 warplanes. During President Roh Moo-hyun's administration, when controversy brewed over South Korea regaining wartime operational control of its military from the U.S., then defense minister Chon Yong-taek estimated the financial cost of mobilizing American troops at W1,300 trillion (US$1=W1,220).
Trump also said it would cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and seven hours to transport U.S. troops and military equipment from Guam to the Korean Peninsula. As usual he exaggerated the cost, which would only total between W2 billion to W3 billion, but at any rate for him this is a purely financial consideration and he baulks at the cost. The resolve of such a cost-conscious U.S. leader without any understanding of the benefits America reaps from maintaining troops here to send U.S. soldiers in an emergency must be in serious doubt. The mutual defense pact signed between the U.S. and South Korea requires either side to take "adequate steps," but does not specify bolstered troop presences. The details are up to the leaders of both sides.
The same goes for the U.S.' nuclear umbrella. There is no explicit clause that stipulates U.S. retaliation in the event of a nuclear attack by North Korea against South Korea, merely a commitment to provide "extended deterrence" for South Korea. But Trump is against not only joint military drills but also the presence of American troops on the Korean Peninsula itself. During his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore last year, Trump said three times that he wanted to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea. He also unilaterally pledged during that summit to halt the joint drills.
Kim listens intently to every word Trump utters. If he is convinced that Trump will do nothing in the event of an armed provocation, he will feel extremely tempted to push the envelope. That is only human nature.
Trump is also telling Japan to foot a higher bill for stationing American troops there, but the pressure is nowhere as intense as what South Korea government is feeling. There are news reports that Japan has already won U.S. support in the diplomatic row with South Korea over compensating forced laborers during World War II. But South Korea' diplomacy has centered solely on introducing Trump to Kim and talking up the North Korean leader. But the North now ridicules President Moon Jae-in because Trump is showing it the way. Moon's tunnel vision has left South Korea diplomatically isolated in Northeast Asia.
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