Today, the House Armed Services Committee marks up the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a provision authored by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) that would recommit the United States to maintaining a robust military presence in South Korea for the foreseeable future.
Rep. Gallego's provision requires that U.S. active duty forces in the Republic of Korea not fall below 28,500 troops without a certification by the Secretary of Defense that any drop below that number is necessary to the national defense and will not significantly undermine allied security in the region. The Secretary of Defense must also certify that the Republic of Korea would be capable of deterring a conflict on the Korean Peninsula following such a reduction.
"As President Trump continues to botch everything relating to foreign policy, it is more important than ever that adults in Congress and our allies take every step possible to ensure continued peace -- including maintaining a robust military presence in Korea," Rep. Gallego said. "Doing so will preserve the safety of our armed forces, our nation, our allies, and our interests until a more responsible person becomes President."
The language requires a 180 day waiting period after such certification before troop reduction in the region may occur, an increase from a 90 day waiting period required in previous years. Rep. Gallego authored a similar provision included in the Chairman's Mark of last year's NDAA, requiring a floor of 28,500 troops, and introduced a provision in the previous year's NDAA requiring a floor of 22,000 troops.
Rep. Gallego has led the Congressional response to multiple crises on the Korean Peninsula during President Trump's disastrous term. Timeline:
August 2017: Rep Gallego speaks out against Trump's rhetoric and push for war with North Korea and urges further economic sanctions aimed at countries that continue to trade with North Korea.
September 2017: Rep. Gallego and Rep. Ted Lieu write to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis requesting a casualty estimate of a potential conflict with North Korea.
November 2017: The Pentagon responds to Reps. Gallego and Lieu advising that a ground invasion would be necessary to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons and that the United States and its allies could expect hundreds of thousands of military and civilian casualties in a war with North Korea.
December 2017: Rep. Gallego and Rep. Lieu co-author an op-ed detailing the catastrophic human costs of war with North Korea, highlighting the incompetence and callousness of Trump's position and the likely deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers and millions of civilians.
January 2018: Rep. Gallego and Sen. Tammy Duckworth visit South Korea and Japan and spend four days meeting with America's top military leaders and diplomats in the region, with Defense and Foreign Affairs Ministers from Japan and South Korea, with North Korean defectors, human rights activists, and American servicemembers. They also toured the Demilitarized Zone ("DMZ") on the border with North Korea.
January 2018: Rep. Gallego and Sen. Duckworth brief reporters regarding grave concerns about President Trump's handling of the situation in North Korea following their trip to the region.
May 2018: Rep. Gallego introduces an amendment to the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act that would ensure that U.S. active duty forces in the Republic of Korea will not fall below 22,000 troops without a certification by the Secretary of Defense that any drop below that number is necessary to the national defense and will not significantly undermine allied security in the region. The amendment is approved by unanimous consent and is passed into law.
June 2018: Rep. Galego hosts South Korean Ambassador Cho Yoon-je to discuss the tenuous situation on the Korean peninsula and how Congress and the United States can continue to secure the peace through mutual defense with its close South Korean friend and ally.
June 2018: Rep. Gallego sends a letter to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis demanding clarity and basic facts concerning President Trump's decision to unilaterally cancel military exercises with South Korea.
July 2018: Rep. Gallego and Armed Services Committee Democrats write to President Trump demanding details of the Administration's supposed plan to achieve denuclearization within one year, including whether Trump will consider the imposition of new sanctions or the resumption of military exercises with South Korea following reports that the Kim regime's nuclear program has continued unabated.
July 2018: President Trump signs the FY2019 NDAA into law, including Rep. Gallego's provision ensuring that active U.S. troop levels in the Republic of Korea remain above 22,000 unless Secretary Mattis certifies that our national security and that of our allies would not be diminished by a reduction in that number.
December 2018: Rep. Gallego and Rep. Mike Gallagher introduce the Telecommunications Denial Order Enforcement Act, a bill that would mandate severe penalties on Chinese state-directed companies Huawei and ZTE if they are found to have violated U.S. sanctions, including secondary sanctions relating to China's support for North Korea.
January 2019: Rep. Gallego and Armed Services Committee Democrats request a resumption of military exercises with South Korea to support the links between our countries and to prevent North Korean attempts to take advantage of the Trump Administration's incompetence and naiveté to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.
February 2019: Rep Gallego welcomes Speaker Moon Hae-sang to Congress to meet with fellow Members of the Korea Caucus to discuss measures to continue and deepen the U.S.-South Korea relationship.
June 2019: The House passes the FY2020 NDAA, including a provision authored by Rep. Gallego requiring that U.S. active duty forces in the Republic of Korea not fall below 28,500 troops without a certification by the Secretary of Defense that any drop below that number is necessary to the national defense and will not significantly undermine allied security in the region.
December 2019: The FY2020 NDAA is passed and signed into law, enacting last year's version of Rep. Gallego's Korea provision into law.
Rep. Gallego is a Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Iraq. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee.