Doug Bandow Still Wants USFK Out

You’d think that the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong should have a lot of people questioning what deterrent value American ground forces really add in South Korea now, in light of the risk of having them within North Korean artillery range, and the great expense to American taxpayers. So amid the questions about how to respond — and the bad decisions of former presidents have brought us to point where we don’t really have many ways to respond — Doug Bandow reminds us to ask why American soldiers are in South Korea at all.

My view may not be quite as extreme as Bandow’s. I can see reasons to keep an Air Force and Navy presence there, because those provide us with stand-off power-projection capabilities and secure the other end of a logistical pipeline, should we decide to intervene on our own terms. I certainly don’t agree with Bandow that South Korea’s dependence on us is more shocking than North Korea’s many atrocities, or China’s abetting of those. South Korea lets America subsidize its defense for the not-at-all-shocking reasons that it saves South Korea money, and because the Pentagon is willing to pay. But Bandow is correct that South Korea can and should bear the cost of conventional deterrence. Each new North Korean outrage makes it more indefensible that South Korean money is instead going to Kim Jong Il’s regime, through such failed experiments as the Kaesong Industrial Park. What Bandow doesn’t say and may not know is that every Friday night in Hongdae is a disaster-in-waiting for our political position there, the potential trigger for a Chung Dong-Young presidency (you say it can’t happen?). Such a development would do far more harm to South Korea’s freedom and security than the redeployment of the Army from South Korea.


  1. Joshua,

    I just wanted to point out that South Korea does NOT get the US military stationed there for free. South Korea pays approximately $1.5 billion annually in cost sharing for the 25,000 US soldiers stationed there. Most of the US troops are support and there is only 1 combat brigade of ground forces and 100 air force fighters. There are also 1,000 KATUSAs, South Korean conscripts assigned to serve in US units.

    In context, South Korea spends $30 billion annually on its 600,000-man military.

    It is true that the US in the past paid a much larger monetary share. In the 1960’s Korea was so poor that it could not afford to build the fence along the DMZ and the US foot the bill. But the US-Korean alliance has always been a two-way street. Korea had 50,000 troops fighting in Vietnam for years. The South Korean contingent was the largest any of your allies sent to that war (The next largest contingent was the Australians with 7,000 troops at their peak). Among the 300,000 Korean soldiers served in Vietnam, 3,000 were killed there and many more came back with injuries, PTSD and Agent Orange poisoning. More recently, we had 3,000 troops in Iraq. That was the third largest contingent in Iraq (after the US and UK forces). So what we did not pay in treasure, we paid far more than our fair share in blood in your wars.

    It is true that having the US forces in Korea is a tremendous boost to Korea’s defense. We would be spending far more than $1.5 billion a year to replace the surveillance and intelligence assets only superpowers have. We would have probably armed ourselves with nuclear weapons years ago, and probably Japan would have done the same.

    Overall, even if war had not broken out in that region, East Asia would be a far rougher neighborhood, the economic development in Japan, Korea and China would have been much slower, and everyone, especially the US would be a lot poorer. The greatest economic beneficiary of the handful of US combat units in Korea is probably the US companies who trade $500 billion a year with China, Japan and Korea.

    In spite of all the crimes, mishaps, and countless embarrassments and insults that we suffer from (and also inflict upon) the US forces in Korea, overall the US forces in Korea have been good for all. Especially for the Americans back home. It seems keeping 1 brigade of ground forces in Korea is well worth the peace and stability they make possible.