To reject withdrawal would treat the alliance as an end, not a means, and one worth the risk of nuclear war. The Korean Peninsula played an important role during the Cold War, but the threats have lessened, and would fall even more dramatically with the North’s denuclearization. Moreover, the ability of allied states to protect themselves and Northeast Asia has dramatically increased. Further, the United States and South Korea can cooperate when convenient without being formally linked militarily. Trade is one such tie, despite the president’s seeming antagonism to any economic agreement which allows Americans to purchase other nations’ products.
Much could go wrong on the way to a Trump-Kim summit. The best case probably is creating a positive atmosphere in which the United States and North Korea can achieve some degree of détente and disarmament even if not full denuclearization. But more is possible. And the United States should go all in to make the most of the opportunity. That includes offering to end a security guarantee and military commitment which would lose their raison d’être after denuclearization. Washington’s priority should be to eliminate the North’s nuclear weapons and the regime’s ability to strike America. All else pales in comparison.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and co-author of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea.