U.S. President Donald Trump paid a surprise visit to a U.S. military base near Bagdad, Iraq on Wednesday, declaring an end to the U.S.’ role as the global “policeman.” He said, “It’s not fair when the burden is all on us. We don’t want to be taken advantage of anymore by countries that use us and use our incredible military to protect them.” Primarily, the remarks came as his call on South Korea and European countries to shoulder greater costs for keeping U.S. military presence in their regions. From a broader perspective, however, it is a notice that Washington’s isolationist tendency will become stronger next year.
Trump’s America-first and isolationist tendency have been forewarned since his days of presidential candidacy. However, they went no further than just provocative rhetoric, as the “axis of adults,” including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, maintained a balance in the Trump administration’s foreign policy and defense. When Mattis leaves the Department of Defense at the end of this month, Trump’s America-first policy will have no brake as he enters the latter part of his term.
The Korean Peninsula will unlikely be immune to the turmoil. Early this year, Trump questioned why the U.S. has to spend 3.5 billion dollars to keep its troops in South Korea, only to back down as Secretary Mattis said the troops are there to prevent a third world war. The U.S. defense chief has also kept in check Trump’s excessive demand that Seoul double its coverage of the cost of keeping U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). South Korea is facing a situation where it cannot rule out the possibility that the future of the USFK is challenged, not to mention the negotiations for defense cost sharing.
Trump does not have deep understanding of the value and strategic importance of the Seoul-Washington alliance. If the U.S.-North Korea negotiations resume next year, it is possible that Pyongyang will attempt to take a certain degree of denuclearization steps in exchange for Washington’s weakening of the USFK. If Trumps is tempted to shake the USFK’s future, be it his desire for making progress in making progress in the North Korean nuclear issue or saving defense costs, Seoul would have to have the diplomatic ability to keep the U.S. attempt in check on the basis of solid trust with the U.S. administration, Congress and expert groups.
It is likely that the new U.S. isolationism would be strengthened, had it not been for the Trump administration. Although the U.S. is unlikely to give up the strategic value of its overseas military presence to keep China and Russia in check, neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party could continue to pour enormous amounts of resources and money into them, as Americans are fed up with the human and financial losses from their country’s roles as world police. Now that the United States’ role as the protector of the liberalistic world order, human rights and democratic values has entered into a major turning point, Seoul should rearrange its foreign and defense policy in general while solidifying the value of the alliance with the U.S.
Kee-Hong Lee firstname.lastname@example.org