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The Future of the US-South Korean Alliance
[January 11, 2003]

By John Bragg

The time has come to ask the question, does America’s troop commitment to South Korea make the United States more secure today or less secure? Do our ground forces with South Korea help us to defend our interests, or do they hamper our ability to pursue our interests?

In the past, American ground forces were necessary to help prevent South Korea from being overrun by the North Koreans. The South Koreans were threatened by the large army of the North and the aggressive North Korean state, backed by Soviet Russia and Red China. South Koreas’ enemies were our enemies, and South Korea alone did not possess the military power to defend itself against either the North alone or the North supported by Russia or China. It would have been a great blow to American interests if we allowed South Korea to be overcome, and therefore American troops have been stationed in South Korea since the end of the Korean War.

That situation is changed dramatically. The international Communist alliance which supported North Korea is gone—Russia is no longer Soviet, and China shows no signs of aggression towards South Korea. North Korea stands alone, starving, isolated and with antiquated (but still ample) military equipment. And today, with a large, modern economy, industrial base and army, South Korea is fully capable of defeating an invasion by the North, after suffering massive civilian and military casualties.  The threat to the United States from North Korea is not that it will overrun the South and claim a new bastion for world Communism, it is that it will build and sell nuclear weapons to enemies of America.

Today, the security interests of South Korea and the United States no longer coincide. America’s primary interest on the Korean peninsula lies in preventing North Korea from selling nuclear weapons to our more active enemies. South Korea’s overriding interest in North Korea lies in not having Seoul destroyed, and everything else, including what weapons North Korea sells to non-Koreans, is therefore a secondary concern.

An invasion of South Korea by the North would cause thousands, perhaps even millions of casualties on both sides and great destruction in Seoul, but in any case US ground troops cannot prevent this. That is, in all probability, the United States cannot protect Seoul from the North Korean artillery on the DMZ. On the other hand, South Korea would oppose a campaign to destroy North Korea’s weapons facilities, citing the risks to South Korea. South Korea has become a hostage with a North Korean gun pointed at their capital, limiting America’s options in dealing with the threat of North Korean atomic warheads being sold to our enemies throughout the globe. Conversely, the American alliance puts South Korea at risk of retaliation from the North for American actions. In this situation, the Korean-American alliance serves no one’s interests. It is time for a new approach to the North Korean threats.


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