In this article, Chung Kyung-young of Hanyang University explores the position of different countries on the presence of US troops if a peace treaty is signed on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea aims to sign a peace treaty as well as achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In the event a peace treaty is signed, the future of US forces in Korea will become an issue between South Korea and the US. At the press conference held just after the South-North Korea summit, US Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis was asked about the possible withdrawal of US troops from Korea. He responded, “That’s part of the issues that we'll be discussing in negotiations with our allies firstly, and of course with North Korea.” Professor Moon Chung-In, special advisor to the president on unification, foreign affairs and security, published an article in the April 30th edition of Foreign Affairs entitled “What will happen to US forces in South Korea if a peace treaty is signed?.” In this article, he stated that it would be difficult to justify the continued presence of US forces in South Korea after the adoption of a peace treaty. However, he also noted that “there will be strong conservative opposition to the reduction and withdrawal of US forces, posing a major political dilemma for President Moon.”
US President Donald J. Trump has ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for reducing the number of American troops in South Korea, according to the May 3rd edition of the New York Times. President Trump held a press conference just after signing a joint statement with Chairman Kim Jong-un on June 12th during the Singapore summit, where he said “I want to get our soldiers out. I would like to be able to bring them back home. That’s not part of the equation. At some point, I hope it would be.” The July 5 Asahi Shimbun reported that Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to cooperate strategically on the shared objective of the removal of the 28,500 US soldiers in South Korea. These messages indicate that US troop withdrawal is on table if a solid Korean peace treaty is made.
President Moon Jae-in calmed down the sensitive issue, “The US forces in the South are an issue that is solely between South Korea and the US, entirely unrelated to a peace treaty.” He reiterated this position in an interview on July 12th with The Straits Times in Singapore, stating “US troops in Korea are not a subject for discussion in negotiations between the US and North Korea for denuclearization.” The White House denied that a review of the US troop reduction was conducted at all. However, it is likely that US forces in Korea will not be excluded as an issue in the process of building a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
This paper will discuss international law related to the presence of US forces in South Korea and review cases of US troops stationed in foreign countries. It will then explore the position of different countries on the presence of US troops if a peace treaty is signed on the Korean Peninsula. This paper also analyzes the intent behind North Korea’s dual strategy of officially insisting on US troop withdrawal but allowing the continued presence of US forces if US-DPRK relations are normalized. The paper will conduct an in-depth analysis of whether US troops should remain on the Peninsula if a peace treaty is signed by examining domestic politics, economic impact, military security, regional power politics, lessons learned from the Paris Peace Accords, the national strategy of a unified Korea, and regional stability. Finally, the paper will make policy recommendations for the status of US forces and United Nations Command in the event of the conclusion of a peace treaty and transition of wartime operational control. (Continue...)
Chung Kyung-young is an adjunct Professor at the Hanyang University Graduate School of International Studies. He received his PhD in international politics from the University of Maryland, College Park. He was a policy practitioner at the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ROK-US Combined Forces Command. He was a Professor at the Korea National Defense University and the Catholic of University of Korea. Dr. Chung was a policy advisor to the National Security Council, the Presidential Transitional Team, and the Ministry of National Defense. He has published several books, including Challenge of National Security and Determination toward Unification (2017), Centripetal Foreign and Security Policy of the ROK (2015), and Strategy for Self-reliant Security and a Peace Regime (ed., 2018), and The Obama Administration and ROK-US Strategic Alliance (ed., 2009).