The Pentagon is considering “adjustments” to its military presence in South Korea and around the world as it spends years of fighting insurgencies and armed groups in the greater Middle East to focus on China, a Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday.
Esper said he had not given any orders to withdraw from South Korea.
Without discussing details, Esper said he preferred to place more emphasis on rotational deployments, as opposed to permanent stationing, of US troops “because that gives us in the United States more strategic flexibility in terms of response to challenges around the world ”.
The United States has around 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a bulwark against North Korea, but the treaty between the United States and South Korea is under great tension, mainly due to demand from the Trump administration that Seoul dramatically increases the amount it pays for the U.S. presence. Negotiations on the US side by the State Department have been deadlocked for months.
The Pentagon said Esper spoke by phone Monday with his South Korean counterpart to discuss the payment issue and other issues, including blocked US efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. He gave no details.
President Donald Trump has questioned the usefulness of stationing US troops in South Korea and elsewhere, saying Seoul and other host governments need to pay more.
In his remarks during a webinar hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, Esper said that since taking office a year ago, he has sought to examine the United States’ global military footprint in the goal of competing more effectively with China and Russia. This has included finding ways to bring more American troops home so they can train more directly for missions related to a potential conflict in the Asia-Pacific region.
Esper said he hoped to visit China this year to “strengthen cooperation in areas of common interest,” improve crisis communication systems and “strengthen our intentions to compete openly in the international system to which we all belong. “.
Earlier this month, Esper approved the withdrawal of 9,500 troops from Germany, although he has yet to publicly disclose how many of them will be returned home and how many will be moved to other parts of the country. ‘Europe or elsewhere. He also reviewed the American presence in Africa.
“We will continue to review the adjustments in every command that we have, in every theater, to make sure we’re optimizing our strengths,” Esper said during Tuesday’s webinar.
The US military presence in South Korea dates back to the 1950-53 Korean War in which US forces fought to support the South after invading North Korean troops and were subsequently supported by Chinese troops.