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Old 11-25-2005, 02:13 PM
SeC SeC is offline
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Default Time for U.S. to leave Korea

Time for U.S. to leave Korea
When U.S. President George W. Bush was in Pusan last weekend for the APEC summit, he and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun agreed upon a "strategic dialogue" at ministerial level on security issues. *
That barely papered over the cracks. Roh, by announcing a partial withdrawal of South Korean forces from Iraq without consulting Bush, deliberately embarrassed his guest. Thus Roh made it obvious that the alliance is rapidly unwinding. America should now remove its remaining ground forces from South Korea.
America's job is done in South Korea. So now it is time to declare victory and go home. The congruence of strategic interest that underpinned the U.S.-South Korea alliance is rapidly eroding. That is a consequence of the winning of the Cold War, and China's turn to capitalism. *
South Korea's economy is now some 20 times that of North Korea. So South Korea is strong enough to ensure its military and economic interests against North Korea. Moreover, South Korea has a de facto alliance and growing economic interdependence with a "rising" China that secures it against attack from the North.
In South Korea (as in Taiwan) democracy has not proved to be a panacea for strategic problems. To the contrary, a more liberal political system in the South has allowed North Korea to play on nationalist sentiment in the South. The continued presence of U.S. ground forces provides a focus for the North to play on growing Korean nationalism.
What would be the effect on Japan if the U.S. military left South Korea? Mostly positive. Japan would be under even more pressure to say what it is willing to do if it wants to continue to receive the huge benefits of remaining a U.S. ally while paying few costs and undertaking few risks.
True, the outcome of the "two plus two" talks on Oct. 29 -- the respective U.S. and Japanese foreign and defense ministers -- has done much to help transform the U.S.-Japan alliance into a more "normal" alliance, and thus to put substance into the "Common Strategic Objectives" announced in February. (These include the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula, the peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue, and encouraging more military transparency by China.) Moreover, U.S.-Japan cooperation in missile defense is going ahead at a rapid clip, and Japan has agreed to accept a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in Yokosuka to replace the aging conventionally-powered Kitty Hawk.
But Japan is on probation more than most Japanese seem to understand, including those protesting against these recent base realignment decisions. The key U.S. interest in East Asia remains what it has been since 1898 when the United States took the Philippines as a spoil of the naval war with Spain -- the striking and maintenance of a balance of power on the far shore of the Pacific Ocean, the widest of the world's oceans. *
Since 1951, the U.S. has chosen to maintain the balance by means of alliance with Japan. But that was not always so in the past, and may not always be so in future. America, no longer tied down by countervailing Soviet power, has regained the strategic flexibility that it lost at the onset of the Cold War. Moreover, technology that shrinks distance is making the U.S. less reliant on allies. For example, in relation to missile defense, future sea-basing of radars and interceptors will reduce the need for bases on foreign soil. Those in Japan focused only on the "burden" of the bases should be watching the U.S. military buildup on Guam, which is clamoring for more of it.
Besides, the U.S. had many shared interests with China, including keeping the oil flowing from the Middle East. China and the U.S. are no longer the allies of convenience that they were in the latter stages of the Cold War. But they are not enemies either. Neither is looking for another war that would cause their armies to clash on the Korean Peninsula, as they did in 1950, especially with nuclear weapons as part of the equation.
So it's time for the U.S. to leave China to revert to its traditional role as hegemon of the Korean Peninsula -- there is nothing the U.S. can do to prevent this anyway. In fact, it would be in the interests of America and Japan if China were to remain strong enough to prevent a reunited Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons.
So it's time to remove from South Korea the remaining combat brigade of the U.S. Second Infantry Division. It should be retrained, re-equipped and sent to Iraq, where U.S. ground forces are overextended. U.S. Army Gen. Burwell B. Bell III is taking up his new job as commander of the United Nations Command in South Korea, commander of the Combined Forces and commander of U.S. Forces in Korea. Many hats, little substance. Bell will almost certainly be presiding over the dissolution of his command.
Robyn Lim is professor of international relations at Nanzan University, Nagoya, Japan and the author of "The Geopolitics of East Asia." *

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