The U.S. planned troop reduction will also have security implications on the Korean Peninsula, as Washington will likely be forced to cut the size of its contingency reinforcements here, experts said Friday.
Following the announcement earlier in the day of the new U.S. defense strategy, with President Barack Obama calling for a "leaner" military, experts here said South Korean forces will have to take up a bigger role in defending their turf.
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, and left the Koreas technically at war.
While no specific figures were provided, U.S. officials have said their army and Marines would cut personnel levels by 10 to 15 percent over the next decade. The U.S. army's current strength is about 565,000, and there are about 201,000 Marines. The Budget Control Act requires the U.S. to reduce defense spending by $487 billion over 10 years.
Obama stressed the budget cuts will not be at the expense of the Asia-Pacific, calling it a "critical region." However, South Korean experts said the U.S. will have little choice but to reduce the size of reinforcements in South Korea, and will also likely redeploy some troops here to other international missions.
In addition, with the operational wartime control here scheduled to be transferred from Washington to Seoul in December 2015, the U.S. will ask South Korea to assume more of a leading role in defending itself.
"Our military should lower their expectations for the U.S. forces here and be prepared for contingencies accordingly," said Baek Seung-joo, a senior analyst at the state-run Korea Institute of Defense Analyses (KIDA). "Rather than simply assuming the Korean Peninsula won't be affected, we should look into how the U.S. strategy will influence the two allies' joint operations, their contingency plans and the transfer of wartime operational control."
The contingency plan between South Korea and the U.S. is coded Operation Plan 5027. Should North Korea invade the South, the U.S. is expected to dispatch nearly 700,000 troops across all branches of the service, along with about 160 destroyers and 2,000 airplanes from their bases in the U.S., Japan and Guam.
As the U.S. reduces its troops, in particular the army and Marines, it will not only limit the size of contingency ground forces but also affect the speed at which reinforcements can arrive on the peninsula, Baek added.
The defense ministry, however, said the South will not be affected by the U.S. move, pointing to Obama's stated commitment to the Asia-Pacific region.
Lim Kwan-bin, deputy defense minister for policy, said he was informed of the U.S. plan earlier this week prior to the public announcement, and Washington officials reassured him the strategy "will have no impact" on U.S. forces here.
"We support the U.S. defense department's recognition of South Korea and other allies as keys to security in the Asia-Pacific and its commitment to strengthening security cooperation in the region," Lim told reporters. "South Korea and the U.S. have agreed to closely cooperate with each other as the strategy is being put into practice."
Lim also denied the troop reduction plan would impact contingency plans here, since the U.S. would draw strength from its reserve forces in addition to active troops.
The deputy minister said the U.S. plan will serve as "strategic guidance" for its military, and added, "What the U.S. will do with this is their plan, and it's inappropriate for South Korea to further comment on it." (Yonhap)