A Final Word on Korea
[EDITOR'S NOTE: For the last several issues, Ted Carpenter (of the Cato Institute) and Peter Huessy have exchanged their views over American interests on the Korean peninsula. This article is in response to "Time to Get South Korea off the Security Dole," archived at http://www.inthenationalinterest.com/Articles/Vol2Issue33/Vol2Issue33Carpenter.html.]
Ted Carpenter of the CATO Institute opposes the U.S. military presence in the Republic of Korea. He argues that the country is perfectly capable of taking care of its own defense and the United States should withdraw its forces. He further implies that once the United States has left the Peninsula, the North Koreans will have no reason to hold U.S. cities hostage with their nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. He finally asserts that (1) China has no motivation to help the United States resolve the question of whether the North should give up in nuclear weapons program and (2) the present U.S. administration is wrong to seek help from a country such as China that is reluctant, at best, to help out the United States.
My argument is that the ROK is not defensible without the presence of U.S. long range and off-shore air power and naval forces, and that the deterrent value of these conventional forces and our nuclear umbrella prevents the North Koreans from engaging in reckless behavior that could result in the invasion of the Republic of Korea, with its capital, Seoul, some 17 miles from the heavily armed DMZ and massed artillery and tanks under the command of Kim Jong-Il. While China may indeed be playing a double game of both helping the communist regime in Pyongyang develop both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, there may also be people in the Beijing government willing and able to help the U.S., the ROK and Japan exert sufficient pressure on Kim Jong-Il to first freeze the nuclear weapons program and then eliminate it. For too long, American policymakers have given China a free pass with respect to its proliferation activities, not the least of which was the Clinton administration's transfer of ballistic missile guidance technology to China and the apparently surreptitious transfer of nuclear weapons technology as well.
The ROK's population, GDP and per capita income are all irrelevant to its defense. The threat from the North is so proximate that the use of persistent chemical weapons against the airfields of the south using long-range artillery and air power would make ROK airpower highly problematic. The only thing that can stop the heavy armor of the communists is long-range airpower and off-shore sea power, little of which the ROK possesses. With the U.S. withdrawn from the Peninsula, the target set facing the North is dramatically simplified. There is no mystery to where the ROK targets are. The DPRK leadership knows this, and this is why it has repeatedly asserted the requirement that the U.S. withdraw its forces from the ROK as a precondition of discussing the nuclear program of the North. I find it ironic that Carpenter apparently believes that appeasement now works-in this case, giving in to the demands of one of the most despotic, cruel and vicious regimes on earth.
Even should the ROK decide to put sufficient funding into a long range air force and sufficient sea power to contain the clowns in Pyongyang, such an effort would require at least an 8 year, and perhaps a 13 year, procurement and acquisition cycle. During that period of time, the U.S. would still be faced with missile and perhaps nuclear weapons deployments by Kim Jong-Il's regime, a regime consumed with the goal of unifying the Korean peninsula by force. Should the U.S. withdrawal be premature, if the ROK rearmament plan be less than what is required to maintain deterrence, and if the communist's in Pyongyang are emboldened both by the U.S. withdrawal and the end of the US nuclear umbrella, war could very well be the outcome of Mr. Carpenter's agenda.
My belief is that there are those in China determined to drive the U.S. out of the Pacific and achieve the status of a hegemonic Pacific power. These forces, I believe, gravely miscalculated when they "winked" at the various missiles programs being pursued by Pyongyang-only to see the U.S. build a missile defense that complicates China's own plans to forcefully take over Taiwan. I also believe there are those in China determined to work with other Pacific countries to further the growth and prosperity of the region and abandon Chinese imperial ambitions. It will take a long-term strategy to bring the latter to the forefront in China. Eliminating U.S. forces from the ROK, and the western Pacific, would be an open invitation to the warmongers in both Pyongyang and Beijing to push their agenda.
Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a Maryland defense consulting firm. He is Senior Defense Associate at NDUF. He specializes in nuclear weapons, missile defense, terrorism and rogue states. These views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his affiliated organizations.