Tetsuo Kotani is an associate professor at Meikai University and a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs.
URAYASU, Japan — Following the historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore this week, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a halt to “expensive” and “provocative” U.S.-South Korea military exercises on the Korean Peninsula. He also indicated that at some point, the United States might withdraw its 32,000 troops from South Korea. “I want to get our soldiers out,” he said. “I want to bring our soldiers back home. But that’s not part of the equation right now. I hope it will be eventually.” North Korean state media spun Trump’s comments as an acceptance of Kim’s demands. United States Forces Korea (USFK) may remain in South Korea for some time but will do so without sufficient readiness.
Trump’s decision caught Seoul, Tokyo and the USFK itself off guard, but it encouraged Beijing and Pyongyang. North Korea has long opposed U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises as a prelude to invasion and justified its nuclear weapons development as self-defense measures to counter America’s hostile policy. Trump may think the agreement to establish “new U.S.-[North Korea] relations” is a win-win. But actually, Kim has been rewarded greatly for just suspending missile tests, without even giving up his nuclear arsenal yet.
In a broader sense, Trump may be repeating what U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson, under the Harry Truman administration, did in a 1950 speech in Washington. Acheson set the notorious “Acheson Line,” a defensive perimeter running along the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to Japan and then to the Philippines to counter Communist threats in Asia. A few months before his speech, the United States had withdrawn its forces from South Korea, following the Soviet Union’s own withdrawal two years earlier.
Acheson’s speech set a protected zone that didn’t include the Korean Peninsula. Though there is no credible historical evidence that the Acheson Line induced North Korean founder Kim Il Sung to initiate armed aggression against South Korea, we do know that Moscow and Beijing were aware and supportive of his invasion of the