Troop Redeployment in South Korea


Phil Carter at INTELDUMP quotes an interesting article by Chris Cooper in the WSJ on the South Korean troop redeployment (Carter has a link but you need to be a subscriber, which I ain’t). Cooper argues that while the Pentagon claims that it’s merely “restructuring” its forces in order to reduce their size (from 37K to 27K), the North Koreans will almost certainly not take it as a peaceful, nonthreatening move (gee, I wonder why not?):

…such a move would appear likely to lessen tensions. Instead, North Korea brands the plan an “arms buildup” and a prelude to an invasion. Already courting a crisis by threatening to detonate a nuclear bomb, North Korea promises to protect itself.******

The confusion over U.S. intentions lies in the nature of the troops it plans to pull back. Since the Korean War ended, American and South Korean troops have arrayed themselves along the border region between the North and South to serve as a “tripwire” — an early warning of a North Korean invasion. The 19 camps between Seoul and the border house about 15,000 U.S. tripwire troops.

Because many of these troops likely would die in a surprise attack by North Korea, their presence serves to assure both sides that the U.S. would be fully committed if war broke out.
* * *
Pyongyang sees the plan as a strategic move to get American troops out of the North’s artillery range, making it easier for the U.S. to launch a pre-emptive attack and disrupting the current military balance.

Not that our relations with NKorea have ever been all that close, still, this has to be seen as the first fruits of the Bush Doctrine as applied to Iraq: nobody trusts our word any more. They watched Junior lying to Hussein with a promise that if he let the inspectors into Iraq the US would be satisfied and stand down from war; and they continued to watch as Hussein let the inspectors in, as requested, only to have the US invade anyway. NKorea doubtless knows it’s on Wolfie’s “Invade” List, and Bush named NKorea as one of the “axis of evil” states, along with Iraq. As paranoid as we know the NKorean leadership is, it seems clear that the Bush Administration’s subsequent refusal (for more than 2 years) to agree to substantive talks on the nuclear question is likely the proximate cause for NK’s jump-starting their nuke program again: they want the US to know that we won’t be able to roll over them as easily as we rolled over Iraq, that there will be penalties assessed. Nuclear penalties.

This is the sort of potentially dire consequence some of us were warning of when Bush was playing his Iraq game with a stacked deck. He virtually put states like NK on notice that they were in the crosshairs and had nothing to lose by going rogue. We can talk to Japan and SKorea and even China all we want; it won’t cut much ice with NK. George insisting he doesn’t want to invade likewise won’t cut it: the fact that he not only lied to Hussein about the inspectors, he lied to his own people to get support for the Second Gulf War and is even now still defending those rationalizations months after they were proved to be false, only convinces the NKoreans that nothing he says to them can be trusted either.

Carter doesn’t seem to get this:

Analysis: A lot has been made of the President’s statement that the U.S. has “no intention of invading North Korea”. (Query: was the word ‘invading’ chosen over ‘attacking’ to preserve the option of a pre-emptive airstrike?) Presumably, this statement was offered as a carrot to induce North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program. I think this pledge moves the ball forward in negotiations with North Korea, and hopefully, that it will de-escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula. The sooner we can re-engage the North Koreans with diplomacy, economic contacts, and trade, the better.

He’s still talking as if this were the world pre-Second Gulf War and assuming that Bush’s credibility is intact. It isn’t. A President who lied, misled, and manipulated his own people in order to launch the first pre-emptive war in the nation’s history has forfeited any claim to have his promises taken seriously. If we are in denial about this, the rest of the world is not. (Turkey wanted the money Bush promised them upfront before they would agree to back the invasion.) Maybe Junior genuinely meant his statement to move things forward, but having blown his credibility all over Baghdad, his assurances are predictably having the opposite effect.

Bush is playing with dynamite here, and once again he doesn’t seem to have a clue what he’s up against. Cooper’s right: NK isn’t going see any change as massive as this one is as innocent of ulterior motives, and unlike the past, this time they have lots of recent justification for their paranoia: the Bush Admin has made it clear several times that they’re out to get NK. Sotto voce, they still are.

Indeed, some hawks in the Bush administration privately see the move as expanding its military options by separating the U.S. and South Korean forces and unwinding the joint structure of the current configuration. “If we were to discuss the need to perform pre-emptive strikes on North Korea, under the current configuration, we’d need South Korean approval,” said one such administration hawk. “Under the new configuration, we wouldn’t need that approval so much.”

So NK may not be so far off the mark in their suspicions after all.

Carter’s preliminary analysis of the situation comes down on the side of supporting the Pentagon’s decision to redeploy those troops, but it’s a cautious support:

I agree with the Pentagon plan. I think we need to move our soldiers off the DMZ both to make them more efficient and to make them more survivable in the event of a North Korean attack. But also [I] think this is an extraordinarily complex situation. Our moves in Korea will have repercussions for the South Korean political and economic situation that need to be mitigated. The secondary and tertiary consequences of our moves in Korea could affect the rest of East Asia — China, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and others. Our forward-deployed 2nd Infantry Division is not just a “tripwire” to give early warning; it’s what has maintained an uneasy peace for more than 50 years. We should be very careful about giving up this posture.

I agree with the last part. Emphatically. And add that we’re not just playing with de-stabilization here, we’re playing with a potential nuclear war. I believe that–this time–NKorea genuinely fears an invasion. This time, they’re not bluffing. If the Neocon Wonder Boys mistake the NKorean buildup for some kind of gamesmanship and try to force a “regime change” in Pyongyang, millions could die.

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