Fewer than 20 per cent of Americans favour reducing the number of US soldiers in South Korea, highlighting that proposals considered by the Trump administration to withdraw troops lack broad national support.
The survey on American attitudes toward the Korean peninsula, published by the Korea Economic Institute, a Washington think-tank, showed that 8 per cent of respondents were in favour of withdrawing the 30,000 US troops from South Korea and 11 per cent supported downsizing the force. About half of respondents want troop levels maintained and 7 per cent sought an increase.
The results were released against a backdrop of uncertainty over the future of the US military footprint in Asia following Mr Trump’s frequent criticisms of allies over the costs of defence deployments.
US troop withdrawals from Syria and Germany during Mr Trump’s presidency have deepened fears over the potential for sweeping changes to the longstanding US-led security architecture in Asia if Mr Trump wins a second presidential term in November.
Troy Stangarone, senior director at KEI, said the results showed a “disconnect between the administration and the American public” on issues related to North Korea and South Korea.
“It is not as though it is a question of trying to bring the American public in line with what the national security interests are,” he said. “It is a question of actually going against the public and that [national security] grain.”
Under President Trump, the US demanded that Seoul increase its annual contribution for hosting American troops from $870m to $5bn. Talks over the issue have failed, further straining the relationship between Seoul and Washington.
The study, conducted by YouGov for KEI, surveyed 1,248 Americans in August. North Korea ranks as the third most critical foreign policy challenge facing the US. China and Russia are viewed as the most critical. Most respondents view the US-South Korea alliance as beneficial to the US but as many as 40 per cent favoured potential reform of alliances.
“One of the things we often underestimate is that Americans actually do view each country where we have troops based slightly differently,” said Mr Stangarone.
“When you view the broader geostrategic situation with China, with North Korea, it is not surprising that Americans are supportive of troops in South Korea.”
Ahead of the US presidential election there is also rising uncertainty over the future of US nuclear talks with Kim Jong Un’s regime. Talks have stalled and North Korea has continued weapons testing and development despite three meetings over the past two years between Mr Trump and Mr Kim.
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