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South Korea Assured of No US Troop Reductions

U.S. Army soldiers from Stryker Brigade Combat Team stand in line after a live fire drill during joint exercises with South Korea. (2011 File)

Despite assurances from the U.S. president that Thursday’s announced defense cuts will not come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific region, there is some nervousness in South Korea. That is where the United States maintains 28,000 troops and still operates nearly 20 bases and camps since it began a permanent presence on the peninsula with the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.

South Korean officials say they have been assured by their counterparts in Washington that sweeping defense cuts will not have an impact on U.S. forces here.

The United States is planning to chop, over a number of years, hundreds of billions of dollars from defense spending. The U.S. Defense Department is also expected to gradually cut an estimated 10 to 15 percent of its personnel.

South Korea's Deputy Defense Minister Lim Kwan-bin says U.S. officials have made clear to him they are committed to strengthening security cooperation in the region despite reductions elsewhere.

Lim says U.S. troop cuts will not occur on the Korean peninsula. He adds that the United States will be able to rely on reserve forces, in addition to active duty personnel, in the event of hostilities.

But South Korean defense analysts say they are concerned that a slimmed-down U.S. military would mean, in the event of war, fewer American ground troop force reinforcements and a longer time for them to arrive here.

Baek Seung-joo, director of the Center for Security and Strategy at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, says there are worries about the U.S. force cutbacks and it could affect Seoul's overall defense strategy.

South Korea has already been planning for years to assume more responsibility for its own defense. It is scheduled, in little less than four years, to take operational control of forces on the peninsula in the event of another war with North Korea.

At present, the South Korean forces would be under the command of the U.S. military if there is such a clash.

In an editorial Thursday, the New York Times, which called the new defense strategy "a generally pragmatic vision,", also cautioned that the U.S. must be ready to face multiple contingencies, including the possibility of an "unbalanced North Korean leader making a suicidal run across the South Korean border."

The two Koreas technically remain at war as no peace treaty was signed following a 1953 armistice after three years of devastating combat across the peninsula.