Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2005


A brave new world for South Korea?

By Richard Halloran

In a provocative new book, the authors propose that the United States and South Korea agree to an "amicable divorce" in which all American military forces would be withdrawn from the Korean Peninsula and the security treaty that has made South Korea and America allies for 50 years would be dissolved.

Ted Galen Carpenter and Doug Bandow, senior researchers at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., further assert in "The Korean Conundrum" that the troops pulled out of South Korea should be demobilized rather than retained in the service and posted elsewhere.

The book reflects two movements:

• A spreading reaction in the United States to rising anti-Americanism in South Korea.

• An expanding American belief that South Korea can defend itself against North Korea.

The Carpenter-Bandow book is attracting attention among those who influence U.S. policy toward Asia, notably a favorable review in Foreign Affairs, the grandfather of American journals dedicated to foreign policy.

The proposal on troop withdrawal is likely to be looked upon with sympathy in President Bush's administration, at least in the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has already reduced troop levels in South Korea by dispatching some to Iraq. About 12,500, or one-third of the 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, would move to new posts by 2008.

More than once, Rumsfeld has said in public, "we don't want to be where we are not wanted."

The suggestion that troops moved from South Korea be removed from the force, however, is likely to generate strong resistance, particularly from Army leaders who have sought to expand their ranks as they have been stretched thin around the world.

The reduction of U.S. forces in South Korea, increasingly demanded by anti-American dissidents, has conversely set other South Koreans to wailing that the United States is abandoning them. In the United States, many analysts of the Asian scene have asserted that U.S. forces could be withdrawn but "not yet," in the face of the North Korean threat.

The Cato Institute, where Galen and Bandow toil, says its mission is "to broaden the parameters of public policy debate to allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace."

In their book, the authors argue that "Washington's security guarantee has lost its raison d'etre, leaving no reason for the United States and the ROK not to seek an amicable divorce," referring to South Korea by its formal name, the Republic of Korea.

They point to anti-Americanism as a reason for ending the alliance. "Hostility toward America,"they write, "burst forth particularly strongly as the ROK began to improve its relationship with Pyongyang," the capital of North Korea. Moreover, they say, "a politicized educational system, including biased textbooks, has helped spawn anti-Americanism."

They brush aside a South Korean insistence that the United States should help prevent Japan from resuming occupation of Korea, something it did from 1905 to 1945: "The belief that Tokyo is likely to attempt to relive its colonial past in the peninsula is but a paranoid fantasy."

They contend that South Korea is of peripheral interest to the United States, that "America's cultural and economic ties with South Korea are valuable but not critical," and that South Korea has become a "free-rider" on defense.

They want South Korea to use the withdrawal of U.S. forces as a "bargaining chip" with North Korea, giving Pyongyang two choices: "One is to engage in serious negotiations over adoption of confidence-building measures," such as pulling back their massed forces along the demilitarized zone that divides the peninsula.

"The other," they say, "is to watch South Korea build up its military to match that of the North."With an economy about 20 times stronger than that of North Korea, South Korea could threaten "to spend its adversary into the ground" in an arms race.

Over the years since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the United States has gradually reduced the number of U.S. troops in South Korea. The authors assert, however, that "five decades' worth of American withdrawal plans and proposals have been generally half-hearted, mismanaged and interrupted."

Therefore, they contend, "Washington needs to adopt a new approach, based on South Korea's declining security value to America and increasing ability to defend itself."

They conclude: "It is time to free the American people from a commitment that costs far more than it is worth, absorbs valuable military resources, and keeps the Korean people in a dependent relationship that insults their nationhood and puts their destiny in another nation's hands."

Richard Halloran is a Honolulu-based journalist and former New York Times correspondent in Asia. He wrote this article for The Advertiser.