Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why the US Army should leave Korea (or not)

At The New Ledger and his own site, Joshua Stanton of One Free Korea makes a case for the departure from South Korea of the US Army (note: not the entire US military, which would still have Air Force and Navy installations in the ROK).

While I consider Joshua to be a very astute observer and commenter on North Korea whose site is among my most favorite ever, I think he misses the mark on this one, largely by use of "old news" that has long since changed. This is the comment I left:
If Mr Stanton's conclusion is that we withdraw our army units from South Korea, while keeping our air force and naval bases, I think that could be a warning to the current ROK government that they need to spend more money to modernize their own military, consider keeping mandatory military service at two years instead of dropping it eventually to eighteen months, expand ROK naval assistance in pirate-infested waters of Africa and Southeast Asia, and more substantially help out in other places. And if President Lee's government balks at this, we'd be within reason to make good on the threat of withdrawing the army units.

But the air force and navy should remain, not only to make it clear to North Korea that any invasion would be met with the full force of two militaries, but also to keep China hemmed in throughout the region, something of value not just to South Korea, but to America and all its other allies in the region. The Pax Americana has been the most successful source of stability in the region for centuries, and its very effectiveness should not be seen as a reason to dismantle it.

So if the distinction between removing the US Army and removing the US military is made, my only real quibble with this article is the copious use of examples from four or five years ago or earlier, a lifetime of change in Korean time and back when a highly unpopular, blindly North Korea-sympathetic administration was in Seoul's Blue House. So many things are so different from then, including an increasing commitment to aid America's efforts on the high seas and help rebuild Afghanistan (a large medical center and job training facility opened this week near Bagram), that the article is somewhat outdated.

Of course, things can change again, but for now the fifth-columnist chinboista forces that infect public sentiment are largely at bay, but even when they are raging or manipulating, the loud protestors on the vocal fringe do not necessarily represent the public at large. Walking off in a huff because the agenda-driven opposition says bad things about us is not a good way to run military or foreign policy.
Of course, anyone who reads my site regularly has probably already read my own views on the highly successful Pax Americana, so my take on this perennially floated proposal should be familiar and unsurprising.

Commenters are discussing the same thing at The Marmot's Hole. Predictably, some of the very people whose disdain for Korea is ever apparent are the same ones saying Korea should fend for itself (not that this is Joshua's argument). Regarding commenter David Barch's point...
I don’t hear anyone offering up a thoughtful rebuke to the idea that rich, developed countries like Korea should provide for their own defense.
... the rebuke might be that South Korea is providing for its own defense. In fact, 2.7% of South Korea's GDP is spent on military expenditures, not as much as the two war-fighting US at 4.06%, but considerably more than most American allies (Japan at 0.8%, Ireland and the Philippines each at 0.9%, New Zealand at 1.0%, Canada at 1.1%, Spain at 1.2%, Germany at 1.5%, Poland at 1.71%, Italy at 1.8%, Taiwan at 2.2%, the UK and Australia each at 2.4%, and France at 2.6%, among others).

And then there is the average of two years of military service most South Korean men must go through, which comes with considerable opportunity costs vis-à-vis economic growth and demographics. The notion that South Korea is not pulling its own weight is pure fantasy pulled out of the arses of people who are somehow able to maneuver that notion past the stick lodged up that same arse that they have about Korea.

That is not to say South Korea can't be a better partner that does more outside the peninsula or that allows the US to use ROK-located bases for its own missions outside the peninsula, but the guaranteed two-against-one if anyone messes with South Korea is what keeps it safe. Alliances are built on that principle, and I don't understand why people whose own negative impressions of Korea color their thinking on everything from Hyundai to Bagram so conveniently forget that when it comes to the ROK.

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