Monday, September 18, 2006

So Long, Seoul

Nourishing Obscurity has some information on the coming end of the U.S. presence in South Korea.

So Long, SeoulIt seems as though President Roh has been romancing North Korea and things have been getting chummy. Roh was in Washington recently for a most unceremonious meeting with President Bush, and the long marriage between America and South Korea did not appear to be ending happily. Mr. Higham, of the aforementioned blog, has excerpts from an essay in The Asia Times by an American scholar, Dr. Sung-Yoon Lee, on the situation. Here are further snips from the original:

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun’s summit with President George W Bush on[last] Thursday is likely to go down in the annals of US-South Korea relations as an epoch-making event, but not quite in the way one might think. It may be the swan song of the US-South Korea alliance.


On its face, Roh’s meeting with Bush was a routine, even forgettable exercise in ordinary summit diplomacy. The two men had already enjoyed five cordial if unmemorable meetings since Roh’s inauguration in 2003, and neither side issued a press-stopping communiqué out of the scheduled hour-long conversation followed by an obligatory luncheon.

Nonetheless, Roh’s visit may inadvertently prove to be a defining moment for the US-South Korea alliance, presaging its sunset, for beneath the public smiles and handshakes between the two leaders and optimistic-sounding but inscrutable pronouncements, such as seeking a “joint comprehensive approach” to restarting the six-party talks, unmistakably flowed an undercurrent of unfriendly distrust.

The alliance has proved to be one of the most successful and durable in the world. But today Roh wishes to destroy its time-tested dynamics by wresting away from the United States wartime operational control of the two countries’ armed forces, the result of which will be the complete and virtually irreversible dismantlement of the US-ROK (Republic of Korea) Combined Forces Command.

This will set the stage, at the cost of broader US interests in Northeast Asia and to the detriment of South Korea’s security, for the withdrawal of US troops from Korea.


President Roh believes he has little to lose by insisting on the transfer of wartime operational control, which he pointedly defined recently as the “essence of sovereignty for any nation.”

Hmm…It may also be that having a 600 pound radioactive gorilla on your borders does even more to “define” sovereignty. Roh may be caught between a rock and a hard place, and one of those is spelled e-l-e-c-t-i-o-n-s:

President Roh has proved to be different from his predecessors. During his three and a half years in office, Roh has followed through on his words with actions. True to his rhetoric, “So what if I am anti-US?” or “Yes, my anti-US stance has been good to me,” Roh has unflinchingly and systematically aided the enemy of the United States — and incontrovertibly the main enemy of the US Forces in Korea (USFK) — the totalitarian North Korean state that is bent on increasing its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

As Dr. Lee observed, Bush is aware of the pitfalls here:

Keeping in mind that the issue is a potential trap for instigating anti-US demonstrations leading up to South Korea’s presidential election in December next year, Bush simply intoned that the matter should not become “a political issue”. Bush even deftly took a page out of the communist playbook of a “hardliner/softliner” smokescreen, and simply told his guest that South Korea should take up the matter with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

It remains to be seen what the Democrats do with this turn of events. While the bell is tolling, they may be spinning this for all it’s worth as yet another Bush failure.

Whatever. Roh has his own plans and we have other allies in the area. Personally, those base closings appeal to my isolationist heart. Now, let’s see what we can safely remove from Germany and transfer to Eastern Europe.

As for Bush’s “failure,” if the man parted the Red Sea, his enemies would bash him for failing to keep the water in place.

While all the hopeful primary candidates for 2008 are lining up, chomping at the bit, Bush probably has a secret calendar on which he marks off the days left till he gets to walk across the lawn and climb into the helicopter in January, 2009. Unlike his predecessor, he has a real life awaiting him, far from the Beltway.


Dan M said...

Remember, the situation is different between the north and the south today, then it was when my father was there fighting off communist invaders.

For instance, then, the north was the technical and industrial heart of the Korean peninsula, and the south very much agrarian. That situation has changed, and dramatically so. S. Korea is a genuine Asian tiger, whereas the north cannot even have the lights on at night in their capital.

Likewise in terms of population. Then, the north was twice the population of the south. The situation is reversed today, with S. Korea double the population of the starving, undernourished north.

The military situation cannot properly understood simply by a comparison of numbers in their respective armies. Because the south is armed with the finest technical means that the West can provide, which ENHANCES their killing power enormously. The north can muster nothing other than artillery tubes and missile batteries, which they aim at Seoul, for purposes of intimadation. Those northern assetts would not long survive the first hours of a passage of arms.

We simply aren't needed there anymore. And our presence doesn't really add anything to a country that is MORE THAN ABLE, economically, demographically, technically to defend itself.

The country in the region that needs help, desperately, is Taiwan.

We should form a new relationship with a rejeuvenated Japan, and should bring in Australia and India into that new relationship. We have to do everything we can to hasten Japan's rearmament. And we should do everything we can to get Japanese troops in action alongside ours. Such things count in the development of relations between two countries.

Our troops in the Korean peninsula can be used elsewhere. We should tell the S. Koreans handle the situation. But if they allow themselves to become Finlandized by the north and China, we will cut off their goods to entry to our markets.

That should present them with a choice, and force them to make some serious decisions.

But I'm beginning to detest their ingratitude and anti-Americanism.

Profitsbeard said...

If South Korea wants to join hands with a famine and pay for their millions of starving northern cousins, God Bless 'em.

(To come out of this 50 plus year folly with something other than a former ally gone wobbly, if not mad, can't we at least make a pre-emptive backroom deal with China and have them "buy" South Korea from us in return for all of our intellectual property they have stolen over the past 20 years? In other words, tell China we will leave the peninsula... making both the delusional South Koreans and the mercenary Chicoms happy... say for a cool for 1 trillion dollars, US? If we're going to be asked to leave, anyway, let's make it pay.)

Dan M said...

The South Koreans are acting like real jerks, and that's being generous.

Dan M said...

The South doesn't really want reunification. That would see their economy damaged by the flood of refugees and the vast welfare state they would have to create to handle the decade long humanitarian nightmare of the north.

No. that's why they don't allow in northern refugees. They're utterly cold blooded about it.

And that's why they don't really want to help us. They just want the status quo to continue, confident that the north really isn't going to hurt Seoul. For that would remove the bait, the diplomatic bait. No. They know the real power that might catch hell from northern A-Bombs is the United States.

And presently, they really hate us right now.

Recall that situation with our speedskater, Ohno. It was a situation where a whole country vented their hatred and ingratitude towards us, onto him.

I would threated S. Korea with trade sanctions. AND MEAN IT.

They're acting like assholes, to be perfectly blunt.

And it's not just the lefties, not just the "students." Their government is reflecting their detestation of us.

And they've been thoroughly out to lunch since 9/11. They have MORE THAN ENOUGH troops to contribute to Iraq, but they don't, and they won't. Because they hate us.

dirty dingus said...

FWIW probably the best general Korean commentry comes from the Marmot's Hole including this very good IHT article. The current Korean government needs to be taken at its word and left alone to do what it will. When it collapses the next government may be more sane.

Zerosumgame said...

I'd boycott South Korea, except where could I get my suits drycleaned?


Wally Ballou said...

Gratitude is an unnatural emotion for individuals or countries - it's foolish to expect it.
The obligation of gratitude breeds resentment and ultimately, hatred. The US policy of assuming the security burdens of the entire world for an indefinite period after WWII was based on unrealistic expectations about the future. We should be looking at dismantling or radically altering all those asymmetric alliances. In particular, the huge US troop presence in Germany is absurd.

Beach Girl said...

Having traveled to S. Korea, I'd say let them go. Dan M has great points. I would suggest that once US leaves S. Korea, they won't be able to keep back the hoards of refugees because they will be backed by the leaders of the North. And China wants it all anyway. Like Profitsbeard's idea - let China pay and forgive our trade debt plus throw in an extra trillion.

I respect the ROK forces though. Unlike us, they didn't take any prisoners. When it comes to fighting and rules of engagement, the ROK forces as well as the Turks aren't bothered by "humane" treatment and certainly not about the rights to be lavished on rusty-knife wielding terrorists. As for their women and children, good luck.

Voyager said...

THe US would not have shouldered security for "the whole world" as you put it except the Josef Stalin planned to go to war...........Berlin 1948 was the first test to see if the USA could stay the course - NATO was created 1949

Korea was the second course 1951 - that war had Soviet pilots in Chinese-marked planes. That war ended with Stalin's death/murder in 1953.

The US had a simple choice post-1945 - Remain or Retreat.

Now it needs to weave the same kind of global web the British Empire built in its heyday - and not the kind of flimsy treaty organisations like CENTO (The Baghdad Pact) or needs to accept more parity with Japan linking closer to India and Australia without the USA trying to be top-dog in the arrangement.

The constant imperative for the US to have the ultimate say leaves it with the ultimate bills.........the scale of the challenge is too great today.

Imagine if Britain could have reached agreement with Germany in 1890 whenHaldane and Joseph Chamberlain tried to negotiate alliances, there would have been a very powerful Western Europe ranged against the Russian Empire

Sluggo_f16 said...

Roh is not well liked. His approval rating is in the low teens and his military hates him. The funny thing, is this wartime OPCON thing is not a big deal and is something the US has been pushing (ie. the ROK should shoulder more of the burden for defending their country). It has nothing to do with nK potential nukes.

Dymphna said...

Roh is looking to get re-elected and building up (further)anti-American sentiment is a good approach.

However, I do think the nukes have a whole lot to do with it...esp. when one considers the insanity of those holding the nukes.

Evan said...

We should form a new relationship with a rejeuvenated Japan, and should bring in Australia and India into that new relationship.

Japan is a nation with the most advanced case of the demographic decline that afflicts most advanced countries. It is also a country whose wartime past and vaguely war-embracing present make a more explicit alliance with it radioactive to much of the public in China and Korea, and perhaps in the Philippines, Vietnam, and other places in that part of the world. Their recent deployment in Iraq indicates that they want to ramp up their military profile, but whether they have the means (beyond technological ones, in which they obviously excel), and whether they are the right horse to bet on in that part of the world is a very open question.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Yeah, Seoul can say so long to the US, but then everybody in Asia can say hey to a nuclear armed Japan. That's coming anyway, but I suppose the Koreans and Chinese between them want to speed that event up.

Watch the Imperial Japanese, excuse me the "Japan Maritime Self Defense Force." The new era will be well and truly under way when it builds its first carrier. Can't decide if it will be called "Akagi" or "Hosho."

Dan M said...

Last night, on C-Span, Mark Helprin participated in some seminar at the Claremont Institute, and he said that the actions of North Korea are done at the instigation of Peking.

I'm inclined to think that too.

I don't think the North Koreans would have the nerve for such a play if they weren't getting backstopped by the Chinese.

Recall, over half of the North's power and food comes from China. So China is able to exert enormous power over the North, if they desired to do so.

Recall too, that ever since GW began these 6 party talks, we've seen no progress. AND THEY'VE BEEN GOING ON FOR ABOUT SIX YEARS.

Six years of gabbing, all to no avail.

That tells me that the Chinese are simply gaming the system.

And as for the Imperial Japanese Navy building a new AKAGI, the only thing I have to say is more power to 'em.

I want the Japanese to start a massive military, air and naval buildup.

I want them to make the entire North Pacific a Japanese lake.

I'm not worried of a resurgenece in Japanese supremacism, but I am worried about a leadership in Peking that so heavily relies upon nationalism as THE prop for their continued grip on power.

It would be better if we could persuade the South Koreans to embrace some sanity, but they're oozing hostility towards us right now.

So it might be healthy for all involved simply to back all the way out. And repudiate whatever treaties exist between us.

Let them stand alone for a bit, and let's see how that forces them to change their tune.

Let's not FORCE our defense help on anybody.

And let's not allow INERTIA to substitute for active policy making.

hank_F_M said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
hank_F_M said...


In the Larger picture.

China considers Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines as the First Ring. They do not like our presence there, the see it as their lake. Korea, Japan and Taiwan can take care of themselves with our support in the background. The Philippines can’t. All these countries are doing the “Autonomy Thing” and at least publicly have major groups that want the US out, though most of them know the US is preferable to China. I think they would really like us off the front line but committed to support them in a crisis. While it is described as other things the US under Bush has been pulling back from the first ring to the Second Ring, with a major build up on Guam but also reaffirming our commitments to defend them.


We have been pulling troops out of Korea to go to Iraq and not returning them. Except for the Nuclear Trigger we do not have much leverage there, but such troops as we have there are very exposed.

The changing political/military situation makes our troops presence more and more a liability than an asset to us.

Also with troops in Korea but not enough to call the shots, to protect our troops we might have to let S Korea dictate a larger policy in the area to our disadvantage

We could make them counter offer. They have the command; we provide and control the nuclear trigger but mostly pull our. Our ground commitment would be a division or so of prepositioned equipment. This lines up well with the current DOD objective of basing as much troops as possible in the US as a general reserve for where they are needed.

It might be the best thing to take his proposal, accompanied with a pull back, saying that our policy has been a success, S Korea is able to take care of itself to the point that we do not need troops on sight.

Or calling the guys bluff might make him more amenable.

This, if handled correctly could come to our advantage.


A less likely possibility

I don’t know if the Chinese would buy it but we could offer them a deal.

1. China close down Kim Il Sung and his nukes
2. Reunification
3. US Pull out
4. Korean neutrality, with a cap on the size of it’s armed forces. Large enough that China could not invade easily; to small for Korea to attack China. The net defense savings go help pay reunification.

Since the it is official S Korean policy that they want reunification they would have to accept a fait accoply

I think this would help stabilize the NW pacific area for a few decades or more. Japan, Russia and China would not want to start any problems without Korea on their side; Korea could do well playing all ends against the middle. A vital area would be stable with a minimum investment on our part.

Jack said...

Dan, I entirely agree with you, and have been saying the same things for years.

And we should make sure we don't get caught holding the bill when the DMZ finally opens. Let them and the 'world community' pay for it.


If South Korea really wants to reunify with the North then we should step aside. After all, the Seoul-Washington alliance isn't like the Warsaw Pact. Once such unification takes place I'm sure the South will look at it differently so I hope they are considering what unification will actually bring to them.

As for a resurgent Japan I would think the Japan of today is as far removed from the Japan of 1940 as the America of today is from the America of 1940 (worldview-wise as well as by the decades). It really is time for the U.S. to get out of the police business and form alliances with countries in areas where they're needed.

Dan M said...


The South really doesn't want to reunite with the North, for they closely observed the economic consequences for Germany by their reunification.

Soon as the DMZ opened up, there would be a flood of Koreans crossing for jobs.

The South Koreans don't want to deal with that.

So they affect an attitude of desiring a genuine unification, while all the while they avoid taking action that would effect such a unification.

I say we back all the way out. And we tell them that don't even bother counting on American air support if the North tries anything.

I'm confident that the North isn't going to do anything. For the North would get badly trounced, after the initial period of chaos. It's as I said in an earlier post, the South Korean ability to kill in numbers far exceeds that of their potential enemy. The Southern army is equipped with the finest weaponry that Western technology can provide. And their training has been kept up to speed.

So the North wants to THREATEN, they want to EXTORT, they want to worry, but they don't actually want to cross a Rubicon, that if once crossed, would surely spell the doom of their regime.

MOREOVER, the last thing that China wants is a renewed unleashing of the Democratic spirit, that would surely follow a genuine reunification of the Korean people.

Remember, TIANAMEN Square occurred AFTER the Velvet Revolution in Eastern Europe. Were Democracy to flower anew in the Korean peninsula, it might trigger demands for Democracy in Peking.

So China too, just wants to harass, cause problems, bother, irritate, but not actually cross the Rubicon.