SEOUL — A U.S. troop withdrawal from South Korea would cost that country more than $43 billion a year in military improvements, a South Korean economist said Thursday. And while a full withdrawal never has been part of ongoing negotiations to shuffle U.S. forces on the peninsula, the report’s author says the figures could provide context for other discussions.

The bottom line, said Cho Dong-keun, a Myongji University professor in Seoul, is economic data needs to be part of a now largely emotional debate about the future of U.S. and South Korean military forces in the country.

“The study of economic calculations was overlooked, and I wanted to present my message through it,” he said.

The final scheduled meeting of the “Future of the ROK-US Alliance Policy Initiative” wrapped up in the first week of October without an official agreement on the size, shape or time line of possible U.S. troop moves in South Korea.

However, most analysts expect a major announcement on the issue when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrives in Seoul next week for the annual Security Consultative Meeting.

Cho estimates South Korea would need to spend billions of dollars every year for the next decade to build up a war-fighting capability equal to that of U.S. forces stationed here. That, however, would require shifting money from other crucial sectors — resulting in a marked slowdown of economic growth.

In simple terms, Cho said, the cost would be one million won — or about $100,000 — per every South Korean.

If the government tried to raise the funds by issuing bonds, Cho’s study found, the interest needed to repay them would amount to almost 1.5 percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product. That would siphon budget money from education and economic development, he said.

Specifics aside, Cho said his research was meant to inject data into a debate that threatens to be dominated by what he called “emotional nationalism.”

“Some people in Korean society cannot make cool judgments anymore,” Cho said. “I don’t want to help the U.S. or U.S. soldiers wield more power over us by this study. I just wanted to tell Koreans, especially young people and some politicians, that we should widen our view of independent national defense and become more flexible.”

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