Yesterday, President Bush said flat out in his press conference that North Korea’s drive to build as many nuclear weapons as possible is a “regional issue.” In the meantime Donald Rumsfeld is increasingly making noise about reducing troop levels in South Korea. None of this seems to indicate that we’re going to take a strong stand in trying to resolve this crisis.
Rumsfeld said that South Korea has an economy 25 to 35 times the size of North Korea’s and that they have all the capability they need to deter North Korea themselves. As we already know, North Korea is probably the most militarized country in the world. If the new US stance is that North Korea’s neighbors need to solve this problem themselves, then what we could be looking at is increased militarization of South Korea and possibly even militarization in Japan. Is that something we really want? Either of those two countries could also start seeking nuclear capability themselves to offset North Korea, which would join China as the only nuclear power in the region.
We know that the troops we have in South Korea could not protect it from an all out assault by North Korea, our troops are there to show South Korea and North Korea that we have skin in the game. Going to war with South Korea means going to war with the United States. It’s impossible to predict what sort of response this would provoke from North Korea, but we need to think long and hard about what kind of message this sends to every country where US troops are currently stationed.
Despite the fact that there are other good reasons to reduce the number of US troops in South Korea (one of which is the general resentment toward them there thanks to bad behavior on our part), pulling them out when they’re under the gun does send a message of weakness to the rest of the world.