Don't Be Fooled: North Korea Still Wants to Conquer South Korea

A concrete border is seen as a South Korean soldier stands guard at the truce village of Panmunjom

And the United States needs to step up to the plate to prevent it.

Any nation that allied with another must deal with the conflicting fears of abandonment on one hand and entrapment on the other. Certainly, Korea and Japan do not wish the United States to abandon them to face the greater military powers and economies of Asia alone. Yet neither do they wish to be trapped by a major conflict where they would absorb most of the damage. The more we make this about the United States versus North Korea, and only that, the more we devalue our allies and our alliances and the more we raise both fears—abandonment and entrapment.

Urgent work is needed to reverse these adverse trends. Alliances must be about far more than military matters, or they are doomed to fail. In an alliance, the military component is the hard shell within which both national and alliance life grows. Tremendous economic growth in Korea and Japan following World War II, and the democratization in Korea, while alliance military forces maintained the hard shell, shows this well. The shell is necessary, but not sufficient: the growth within the shell is the purpose. We must show in meaningful and demonstrative ways that our economic, business, political, cultural, educational, trade, aid and other ties are strong, getting stronger, and highly valued.

In today’s shell, the security and military realm, we must make this as much or more about defense of allies and friends as it is about our homeland security. We must double down on deterrence and vastly enhance both our capabilities and capacities in air and missile defense, undersea warfare, cyber defense and offense, and the protection of space-based capabilities.

Most important, the United States must become, again, the visible vocal, and ever-present champion of the values of human rights, free society and self-government. Of course, we’re not perfect, but we are still the ideal for those living under authoritarian rulers. When we speak louder about these things it really bothers dictators. Spreading the word about freedom and democracy—and backing it up—is more powerful in this contest than any new missile.

Wallace C. Gregson, a retired Marine and former assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs (2009–11), is currently senior advisor at Avascent International and senior director for China and the Pacific at the Center for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters