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South Korean Media Reports US to Draw Down Troops

Is the Trump administration planning on fulfilling its campaign promise?

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President , Donald Trump in November 2017. By Korea Culture and Information Service/Public Domain

South Korea’s leading newspaper, Dong-A Media in Seoul, reports that the Trump administration has drawn up plans for a reduction of U.S. forces in Korea. The Washington “diplomatic source” for the news report stated that four scenarios were under consideration amid stalled cost-sharing talks.

A spokesperson for U.S. Forces Korea told William Gallo, Seoul bureau chief for Voice of America, that they are not aware of any discussions of a U.S. troop drawdown in South Korea. 

The U.S. military in South Korea is “focused on maintaining mission readiness while also handling Covid-19 measures to protect the force,” said the spokesperson.

The U.S. regularly produces contingency plans and internal reports gaming various options, so the news that four plans are under review does not necessarily mean that any troop drawdown is imminently in the works.

Indeed, rumors that Trump plans to withdraw troops in South Korea circulate regularly. When Trump was asked whether that was on the table last year, he said, “No, no, and we haven’t been asked to. Now, I have to tell you, at some point in the future,  I would like to save the money. You know, we have 32,000 troops there.”

Foreign bases cost U.S. taxpayers  $156 billion per year  in maintenance costs alone, and as the 2020 election heats up, it seems plausible that the Trump administration may be evaluating how to fulfill Trump’s oft-repeated campaign promise that NATO countries will pay more for their own defense.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper demanded just that when he visited Seoul in November 2019. South Korea needs to cough up more for the massive U.S. presence there — as much as five times what they currently pay, or $5 billion annually, said Esper.

However, Congress has other plans. The 2020 defense spending bill attempts to prevent Trump from withdrawing any U.S. troops in South Korea.

The U.S. has a long-running historic presence defending the demilitarized zone along the border with South Korea, established in the aftermath of the Korean War from July 1953.

about the author

Barbara Boland is TAC’s foreign policy and national security reporter. Previously, she worked as an editor for the Washington Examiner and for CNS News. She is the author of Patton Uncovered, a book about General George Patton in World War II, and her work has appeared on Fox News, The Hill UK Spectator, and elsewhere. Boland is a graduate from Immaculata University in Pennsylvania.  Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC.

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