What Does the New U.S. Defense Strategy Mean for S.Korea?

      January 06, 2012 13:06

      The U.S. is shifting its defense strategy away from big, expensive wars like Iraq and Afghanistan and downsizing or consolidating missions to reduce the defense budget by US$450 billion to $1 trillion over the next 10 years. This has made it inevitable for the Pentagon to revise its military priorities.

      The new strategy aims at cutting defense spending and shifts the focus from the Middle East to Asia. Washington wants to bolster its naval and air power by adding several aircraft carriers and fighter jets and increasing Marine support capabilities, while downsizing ground troops.

      The Defense Ministry has told the government that the new U.S. defense strategy would not have a negative impact on South Korea. But a South Korea-U.S. military strategy envisions the deployment of 690,000 U.S. soldiers on the Korean Peninsula if a war breaks out, and such large-scale deployments would be impossible under the new strategy.

      ◆ No More Expensive Wars

      In the last decade the basic U.S. military strategy focused on the ability to fight and win simultaneous wars in the Middle East and in Asia. But critics have pointed out that that is unrealistic. As a result, Washington revised some of its military strategies since the 9/11 attacks and has now given up trying to be able to fight two wars at the same time.

      Under the so-called "One Plus" strategy, it then focused on maintaining the capability of fighting one war and focusing on suppression in the other theater of operation.

      The U.S. says the Asia-Pacific region is now the top priority in its new security strategy, but that means it wants to focus on keeping China’s rising military power in check, not necessarily on the Korean Peninsula. Also, it has said the same thing since the 1990s and has since become embroiled in two massively expensive wars in the Middle East.

      ◆ Handover of Full Troop Control

      Experts warn that the shift in U.S. strategy will mean a bigger burden for South Korea. Seoul is already set to regain full operational control of its military from Washington in December 2015 and would have to lead wartime ground operations while the U.S. provides naval and air support. If the U.S. now wants to avoid major wars like the one in Iraq, that could mean even less support in an emergency here.

      Military experts say South Korea must therefore quickly bolster its air surveillance and precision attack capabilities and come up with a new plan to replace the joint strategy. Washington says it will continue to provide major air and naval support to South Korea and provide assistance in key surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations even after the handover of full operational control, but it will be less obligated to do so.

      Song Dae-sung at the Sejong Institute said, "The scope of U.S. intervention in the peninsula will vary depending on political circumstances after the handover of wartime operational control in 2015."

      ◆ U.S. Troops in South Korea

      There are 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea at present. U.S. President Barack Obama and Pentagon officials have repeatedly vowed to maintain this level, but the future depends on who is elected in both countries this year. The U.S. has initiated steps to let dependents accompany American soldiers during their three-year tour of duty in South Korea, and cites this as evidence of its commitment, but the measures are being delayed due to the defense cuts.

      It looks like Seoul will also have to shoulder a greater share for the upkeep of the U.S. Forces Korea. At present, Seoul is footing 40 percent of the bill, and the U.S. wants to raise that to 50 percent. Korea and the U.S. have agreed on how to split the cost of maintaining U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula until 2013, but Washington could ask Seoul to shoulder a greater share after that date," said Kim Sung-gul of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

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