Experts say pause won’t affect security but will strengthen countries’ alliance
SEOUL — Experts on Korean politics say the agreement to pause the drawdown of U.S. troops on the peninsula is a symbolic gesture that will have little effect on security because so few troops are involved.
“I think the new [South Korean] government is trying to make a political gesture by showing they are restoring the alliance” between the two countries,” said Kim Ki-jeong, an international relations professor at Yonsei University.
Kim said South Koreans were afraid the United States had “given up” on South Korea because of the sometimes-contentious relationship it encountered with former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.
“It reconfirms and sends a strong message to the Korean people that the U.S. commitment to South Korea isn’t reduced,” he said.
The pause keeps about 3,000 U.S. troops in South Korea who otherwise were to be sent elsewhere by the end of the year to bring the total troop level in the country down to 25,000.
The action is more about fence mending than improving national security, said You Jin-seok, an international relations professor at Sookmyung Women’s University.
Lee wanted to send a signal that his administration wants to work with the U.S. and that it shares the same outlook for the military alliance between the two countries, You said.
“In the big picture,” said Michael Breen, author of “The Koreans” and a public relations firm president in Seoul, “I suspect that Lee Myung-bak is being given something to come home with as a very visible signal of the improvement of ties since he took office.”
Breen said the U.S. military presence hasn’t been vital to South Korea’s security for a long time, but it helps maintain the balance of power in the region.
“We all know that Koreans could take care of themselves from a security point of view,” he said. “The role of the U.S. is a deterrent one. It’s something the Koreans want, and I think it’s something people in the region want.”
Choi Jong-chul, a professor of military security for Korea National Defense University, said maintaining the current troop levels makes South Koreans feel more secure.
Choi said keeping the extra troops in the South Korea also benefits the U.S., because keeping troops here costs less than sending them back home.