At the Pentagon Town Hall Meeting on March 6, 2003 US Secretary Of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made comments about a possible US force reduction or shift in South Korea.
We still have a lot of forces in Korea arranged very far forward, where it's intrusive in their lives, and where they really aren't very flexible or usable for other things. And here's South Korea with a GDP that's probably 25, 35 times North Korea's, and has all the capability in the world of providing the kind of up-front deterrent that is needed. And we of course have comparative advantages with respect to an air hub or a sea hub and reinforcement. So we are what the new president for Korea, for example, ran and asked that we look at how we might rebalance our relationship and our force structure. So we are -- General LaPorte is engaged in that process, and it's a consultative process with the South Korean government.
And I suspect that what we'll do is we'll end up making some adjustments there. Whether the forces would come home or whether they'd move farther south on the peninsula, or whether they would move to some neighboring area are the kinds of things that are being sorted out.
Both the Chinese and North Korean governments would love to see US forces gone from South Korea. That's certainly an argument against removing them. But in spite of that argument there are strong arguments to be made for a large US force reduction in South Korea. First of all, South Korea can afford to maintain a sufficient ground force to be able to win against North Korea in a ground war. South Korea has twice the population and a massively larger GDP than North Korea. Simply put, South Korea can afford to defend itself and ought to do so. At the same time, a reduction in US forces would eliminate a source of friction and motive for anti-American feeling in South Korea. Plus, heck, if they don't like us why should we do them the favor of defending them?
What South Korea really needs from the US is air power and the ability to enhance South Korean military power with US military technology. South Korea would also benefit from US help if the United States could manage to prevent the North Koreans from developing nuclear weapons. Though a lot of South Koreans are confused on that point.
What the US needs from the relationship is any assistance that South Korea could provide to help prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear power and proliferator of nuclear weapons. But since South Korea is essentially being held hostage by North Korea's ability and threat to use conventional and chemical weapons to rapidly kill millions of South Koreans the South Korean government is unwilling to join in pressuring the North Korean regime.
Some critics of Bush Administration foreign policy hold that the Bushies have squandered options for containing North Korea. See, for instance, Martin Sieff's recent pair of articles analysing Bush Administration policy toward North Korea: Analysis: How far will North Korea go? and his second article Crisis in Korea: America's options. The problem with this sort of analysis is that it ignores the longer term trend of developments on the Korean peninsula and the wider world. The United States is faced with a change in the status quo that was begun by North Korea back in the 1990s. North Korea never stopped working on nuclear weapons development after the 1994 Agreed Framework between North Korea and the United States. The spread of weapons technology gave North Korea more regimes with which to cooperate on nuclear weapons development.
Regardless of whether South Korean President Kim Dae-jung had embarked on his "Sunshine" policy of detente with North Korea and regardless of what statements the Bush Administration could have made or not made about North Korea it was inevitable that the interests of United States and South Korea would diverge. North Korea's efforts to develop nuclear weapons were eventually going to advance far enough to pose a threat to the national security of the United States both directly thru North Korea's development of ICBMs and more worryingly thru its likely future willingness to sell nuclear materials and even completed nuclear bombs to other nations and extra-national groups.
The Bush Administration could have played its cards in ways that would cause it to have friendlier relations with South Korea at this point. But those friendlier relations would not have translated into a better ability to prevent North Korea from pursuing its ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. Reporters can find South Korean diplomats and high officials who are willing to blame the deterioration of relations between the US and South Korea on supposedly rash statements made by members of the Bush Administration. But the South Korean officials who point to these statements are rationalising and trying to distract attention away from the basic conflict of interest at the heart of the disagreements between the US and South Korea.
The United States is in a position where it can not pursue an end to the North Korean nuclear weapons development program without placing millions of South Koreans literally at risk of dying. The United States relationship with China is in even worse shape. China is not just unwilling to apply pressure to North Korea. China is willing to help North Korea pursue its nuclear ambitions so that North Korea can serve as a proxy for China in China's attempt to challenge US influence in East Asia. China's willingness to do this places US cities at future risk of radiological and nuclear terrorist attacks conducted by terrorist groups which may be able to get nuclear materials either from North Korea or from Middle Eastern governments that purchase materials and help from North Korea.
It is argued by Sieff and others that the US build-up for the attack on Iraq has given North Korea the opening to pursue an accelerated nuclear weapons development effort. But North Korea already has what it needs to pursue that effort: its ability to hold millions of South Korean lives hostage while China backs it. If the US was not getting ready to attack Iraq now what additional cards would the US have to play against North Korea? South Korea would still be unwilling to cooperate in a preemptive strike against North Korea. The reason for the South Korean reluctance is simple enough: The cost of such a strike might run into millions of South Korean lives if North Korea responded with massive artillery and missile attacks on Seoul and other populated South Korean areas.
The United States is unlikely to get South Korean agreement to try to carry out a preemptive strike against North Korea. South Korean agreement will never be forthcoming unless either the South Korean government comes to believe that an attack against it by North Korea is imminent or if the United States can demonstrate military technology that is capable of knocking out the bulk of North Korean missiles and artillery in a very short period of time (literally minutes).
Without active and willing Chinese cooperation it is not possible to apply enough pressure to North Korea to coerce its regime to abandon its WMD development efforts. At the same time, the South Korean hostages are going to find reason to disagree with any US hardline policy toward North Korea. The US has no good policy option to pursue with North Korea that has any certainty of working.
So what should the United States do about North Korea's nuclear weapons development program? The US has a few options:
Diplomatic agreements can not stop nuclear proliferation. Dangerous regimes intent upon developing and spreading WMD technology can only be stopped by changing the nature of the regimes in question.
Update: Could the Bush Administration have done a better job in its handling of North Korea? If the Bush Administration has made any mistake in its handling of North Korea it is probably that it let the North Korean leadership know how much it disapproved of and saw a threat developing in North Korea. Certainly the perception of how the Bush Administration saw North Korea affected the decision making of Kim Jong-il and other top members of the North Korean leadership.
From the very start of its term the Bush Administration instead could have pretended that it did not see any problems with North Korea's behavior. Had the Bush Administration taken that tack the North Korean regime might not have decided as quickly to activate the Yongbyon facility. The US would still have faced a growing threat of nuclear proliferation from North Korea because of North Korea's uranium enrichment program. But if the Yongbyon facility had not been activated as soon then the US would have had more time in which to pursue strategies for dealing with the North Korean threat. For instance, there would have been more time in which to pursue an attempt to break the information monopoly of the North Korean regime in order to speed the regime's downfall.
Of course the North Korean regime might have responded to the attempt to break its isolation by doing the same speed-up of its nuclear program as it is doing now. Similarly, if the Bush Administration had started out at the very beginning of its term to lobby the Chinese leaders to apply pressure to the North Korean regime then it is possible that, again, the North Korean regime might have responded by accelerating its nuclear program.
An argument can be made that an open society's leaders should be honest with its own populace about how it views threats developing in other countries. The need for the populace of a democratic society to know may outweigh other considerations. The ability of the US leadership to build popular support for its foreign policies depends so heavily on communicating with the populace about how the leadership views emerging threats that it may have been necessary for the Bush Administration to adopt the public stance that it took toward North Korea.
One criticism which can probably be fairly levelled at current Bush Administration policy toward North Korea is that the United States does not appear to be making a very big attempt to reach the North Korean people with information about the rest of the world. It is possible that there are covert operations underway to do this that are on a much larger scale than I currently believe. But if there aren't then the Bush Administration is making a big mistake.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2003 March 07 01:34 AM US Foreign Preemption, Deterrence, Containment|