Thursday, August 02, 2007

Time to Pull Out... of Korea

MSNBC is carrying an Associated Press article today noting that South Koreans are increasingly turning their anger over the Taliban’s kidnapping and murder of Korean missionaries against the U.S. The article notes that, “South Koreans are increasingly questioning what they have received from the U.S. in exchange for sending soldiers to support the U.S.-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Americans, though, might well question what we have received from South Korea in exchange for stationing tens of thousands of American troops in their country to protect it from the communist DPRK, and doing so for several generations. A large number of Koreans resent that very American presence, of course, and would welcome an American withdrawal.

It’s time to give those people what they want.

The Cold War logic of checking the advance of communism no longer makes sense. Communism is not on the march – although communist parties do still oppress people in several countries. South Korea, though, is not central to America’s interests. It is not a bulwark against communism. It is not even a particularly reliable ally of the United States. So why do Americans still serve on the peninsula?

From a military perspective, having troops on the peninsula makes no real difference. The 35,000 or so American troops amount to little more than a speedbump in the face of an all-out attack by the DPRK and/or China. Our air units can strike East Asian targets from permanent bases in Japan and Guam, as well as air fields in friendly countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, and if the poop really hits the fan, Taiwan – not to mention carriers and even the U.S. mainland. Additional ground forces, meanwhile, would have to be deployed into East Asia in any case. And if a potential war involved only the DPRK and ROK America would have no real interest in participating. Sure, we’d prefer the free south defeat the authoritarian north, but if Seoul and some other South Korean cities were pummeled, that would not directly threaten American security.

Any war involving a major economic player like South Korea would send shockwaves through markets, but such macroeconomic concerns cannot be considered on par with direct security threats. If they were, America would have to commit to going to war with anyone who attacked any major economic power. Are Americans prepared for our armed forces to become enforcers for stock markets and banks? I certainly hope not.

There is really only one good reason the U.S. might like to keep troops in Korea, and that is a geopolitical one – to remind China that we’re in their backyard, and we’re carrying guns. Gratifying as that thought is, though, it doesn’t carry any more weight than having several hundred ICBMs aimed at Chinese cities, and the ability to deploy troops on the Chinese mainland at will, which we have thanks to a huge naval and air advantage over the PRC.

Now that we’re in a real fight that actually does directly threaten American security – the fight against militant Islamism – the troops we’re keeping in South Korea to make geopolitical statements would be far better utilized in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to kill our enemies.