On July 17, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) had presented the option of reducing the size of the U.S. military presence in South Korea to the White House. This move has been explained as a part of a broader reassessment of the United States’ overseas military presence, an effort initiated by Defense Secretary Mark Esper. But the proposal’s timing – coming as the United States and South Korea remain deadlocked in bilateral negotiations to renew their Special Measures Agreement (SMA), the alliance’s cost-sharing deal– raises the question of whether the DOD also meant to send a message to Seoul that Washington is serious about withdrawing its troops from the Korean Peninsula should the SMA renewal negotiations ultimately fail.
Japan – another key U.S. ally in the region – is poised to enter negotiations to renew its own bilateral Special Measures Agreement with the United States later this year. More commonly referred as the Host Nation Support (HNS) agreement, the SMA between the U.S. and Japan is set to expire in March 2021.