Restructuring the U.S.-Military Presence in Korea: Implications for Korean Security and the U.S.-ROK Alliance
During the past few years, the United States has begun three important initiatives that alter its defense commitment to South Korea (Republic of Korea [ROK]). First, Washington started to decrease its ground force presence in the ROK from approximately 38,000 to meet its goal of 25,000 by 2008. These reductions in troop levels will be accompanied by over $11 billion in force upgrades to compensate for the decrease. Second, remaining U.S. forces will be pulled off the front lines and redeployed to two hub areas south of the Han River. Finally, Washington and Seoul agreed to adjust the command arrangements for U.S. and ROK forces in Korea. Under current arrangements, South Korea retains operational control of its military during peacetime, but in wartime South Korea cedes that control to a U.S. commander. The new structure will have ROK
troops, and U.S. troops remain under their own commands at all times.
These initiatives have raised some serious questions about the U.S.–South Korean alliance. How will these changes affect defense readiness and security on the peninsula? Do these measures signal a weakening of the alliance, or are they simply another step in a maturing relationship? Will North Korea’s nuclear weapons test alter these plans? While unsettling for some in South Korea, these measures are part of a progression in a maturing alliance that is moving toward more of a partnership. If the transition is properly managed, the changes will have little or no impact on South Korean security