South Korea Update Strategy

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The U.S. Military Should Leave South Korea

Washington should get out of North Korea. The only Americans threatened by North Korea are the thousands stationed in South Korea.
Bandow, 11/29

Pull U.S. Troops out of Korea”: Doug Bandow, senior fellow Cato Institute-

11/29/2010: Eight months after sinking a South Korean warship, North Korea launched an artillery barrage last week against South Korean territory. Even worse, the North is a nuclear power. The U.S. should get used to it. Washington's drive to prevent the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons is dead. Yet the Obama administration is pushing to restart nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell recently opined: "We need to see a very clear signal that this new leadership — or some structure in North Korea — accepts the very clear commitments that North Korea made in 2005 to denuclearization." Thus, the best outcome in the next several years likely is the status quo. Negotiations may not hurt, but they are unlikely to provide any discernible benefit. Unfortunately, none of the DPRK's neighbors are inclined to be particularly helpful.

South Korea's policy has ranged from isolation of, to subsidies for, the North, while relying on the U.S. for its defense. Japan has subordinated policy towards the DPRK to resolving the status of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang's agents in past years. The ever more assertive Beijing obviously believes that stability matters more than anything else. Indeed, the Chinese have been expanding investment in the North. The result has been to discourage reform. Nothing is likely to change in the near future. Washington should step back and leave the issue to the North's neighbors. The only Americans within easy reach of Pyongyang's weapons are the thousands of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. Given the South's manifold advantages over North Korea, an American military garrison is unnecessary. The troops should come home.

Then Washington should adopt a policy of benign neglect towards the North. Let Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing bear the risk of implosion, war, or proliferation. In particular, the U.S. should point out to China that North Korea remains a potential national powder keg, with a rushed power transfer in the midst of a continuing economic crisis. Moreover, a regime willing to risk war with South Korea may make a deadlier miscalculating in the future. Moreover, Washington should indicate that it does not intend to allow nonproliferation policy to leave only the bad guys with nuclear weapons. Should the North continue with its nuclear program, the U.S. would reconsider its opposition to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by South Korea and Japan. Nuclear proliferation in Northeast Asia might be a nightmare, but if so, it will be one shared by Beijing.

Then the U.S. should turn its attention elsewhere.

Washington's policy towards the DPRK has failed. North Korea is a nuclear power and is unlikely to voluntarily surrender that status.

Rather than continue a fruitless campaign to denuclearize the North, the U.S. should hand off the problem to those nations with the most at stake in a peaceful and stable North Korea. Those nations with the most at stake should take the lead in resolving Northeast Asia's problems.

The U.S. Military Should Leave South Korea

South Korea could drag the U.S. into an unwanted war.
Carpenter, 11/19

Does Washington Need to Fear South Korea More than North Korea?”: Ted Galen Carpenter, The National Interest

11/29/2010: U.S. officials understandably focus on the dangers that could arise from North Korea’s actions. But there is a less obvious risk that merits more attention than it has received: that South Korea has had enough of its neighbor’s aggression and may decide to respond in a manner that triggers a crisis. Events over the past week suggest that South Korea’s military and political leadership might be going down that path. One has come to expect the North Korean propaganda apparatus to spout apocalyptic warnings on a regular basis. Korea watchers have probably lost count of the number of times Pyongyang has threatened to turn Seoul into “a sea of fire” over the years. And predictably, following the latest incident, North Korean media warned that the region teetered on the brink of war, and that both South Korean and U.S. forces would experience dire punishment if such a conflict erupted. There was nothing new in any of this.

What is new—and more than a little ominous—is the tone coming out of South Korea. President Lee Myung-bak thundered that there would be “enormous retaliation” should the North launch another attack like the shelling incident. Presumably, he has something more substantial in mind than the limited economic sanctions that his government imposed following the sinking of the Cheonan. Speaking at the funeral of two South Korean marines killed in the shelling, the commander of those forces vowed “a thousand-fold revenge” for their deaths. Other prominent figures have adopted a similar strident rhetoric. Of course, this all may be little more than patriotic bluster for domestic consumption. But having staked-out a strong position against Pyongyang’s latest outrage, political and military leaders risk looking weak—indeed, buffoonish—if the actual response is just more ineffectual symbolism. Equally important, the South Korean public seems to be more supportive of serious retaliatory measures than in the past. During previous crises, many South Koreans worried that Washington’s response to a Pyongyang provocation might plunge the Peninsula into war against the wishes of the South Korean people and government. They had reasons for such fears. In the months leading up to the 1994 Agreed Framework freezing Pyongyang’s plutonium program, the Clinton administration seriously considered air strikes against North Korean targets. South Koreans also remember how Senator John McCain advocated a similar strategy in 2003, and was openly dismissive of possible South Korean objections. Seoul would not have had a veto over U.S. actions in either case, despite the obvious negative consequences. But now the opposite risk has emerged—that South Korea could drag the United States into an unwanted war. Washington is counseling restraint, and the Obama administration has publicly praised the South Korean government for its patience and prudence to this point. It is more likely than not that U.S. pressure will prevail and cause tempers in Seoul to cool. Yet even if that happens in this case, U.S. policymakers and the American people should soberly assess the grave risks that our country is incurring by maintaining the defense alliance with South Korea and, even more so, by keeping a tripwire military force on the Peninsula.

If Pyongyang continues to prod and provoke its neighbor, at some point South Korean leaders will likely conclude that they must respond militarily. Like the mild- mannered student who is continuously harassed by the playground bully, there often comes a breaking point and that victim takes a stand. In some cases, the bully then backs down and the overall situation improves significantly. But in other cases, a major fight erupts with highly unpredictable results.

If that happens on the Korean Peninsula, Americans will rue the day that their leaders foolishly maintained a military presence in such a dangerous neighborhood.

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