Category Archives: An Alliance?

Craig Urquhart: Withdraw U.S. soldiers from Korea

Writing at NK News, Craig Urquhart makes a punchy but powerful case for withdrawing U.S. soldiers from South Korea:

South Korea has been allowed to act like an overgrown child for decades. The U.S. exercised exclusive military command because South Korea could not be trusted not to start a world war, and now resists the American push to transfer operational command. It relies on U.S. protection when it flubs its own diplomatic efforts. It carved out a state-sponsored industrial policy that flouted fair trade rules, but was given a generous pass, and now pretends that this was entirely a South Korean achievement. It received aid from the IMF during the Asian Currency crisis, but has made little headway in financial reform.

The United States has been bailing South Korea out militarily, politically and diplomatically since UN troops landed at Incheon.

The “Miracle on the Han” is indeed miraculous, but it came prepackaged with serious design flaws that South Korea is too smug to address. South Korea was allowed access to foreign markets without reciprocating; sheltering industries breeds inefficiency and creates justified resentment overseas. “Get-rich-quick” economic policies artificially concentrate wealth and power into the hands of a tiny class of fratricidal, laughably dysfunctional and incompetent elites.

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Roh Moo Hyun’s ex-campaign manager just hates it when politicians exploit tragic isolated incidents

The good news is that Ambassador Mark Lippert has been released from the hospital, and is recovering well.

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[Joongang Ilbo]

Give the South Koreans credit for making lemonade from lemons — the news coverage here has been filled with images of well-wishers greeting Lippert, or expressing regret for the attack on him. The greetings look both staged and sincere,* but because of that reaction, most Americans will see Kim Ki-Jong as one small turd in a vast, sweet, fizzy bowl of gachi gapshida.

lippert 2

I’m not sure I quite agree with that image now, and I certainly wouldn’t have agreed with it nine years ago. In today’s environment, however, I’d guess that Kim’s actions, Lippert’s obvious gift for public diplomacy, and the imagery of the pro-American reaction will shift public opinion in a more anti-anti-American direction, at least until something shifts it back. But as we’ll also see in a moment, the reactions of other Koreans seem oddly conflicted.

Lippert’s assailant, Kim Ki-Jong, has been charged with attempted murder. The Men in Blue have established that Kim visited North Korea not six, not eight, but seven times between 1999 and 2007. Which does raise a rather obvious question:

“We are investigating whether there is any connection between the suspect’s visits to North Korea and the crime committed against the U.S.

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Seoul finally decides it needs a missile defense plan

South Korea and the United States are drawing up a joint contingency plan to employ Washington’s missile defense (MD) system against growing threats from North Korea’s ballistic missiles, a government source here said Tuesday.

The joint contingency plan would employ not only missiles and surveillance equipment the U.S. Forces Korea and South Korea have been developing under their Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) project, but also key assets of the U.S. MD system, according to the source.

The U.S. air defense includes the X-band radar system, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system and the high-altitude, unmanned aerial vehicle, Global Hawk. [Yonhap]

Better late than never. Despite the objections of China, North Korea’s number one supplier of missile technology and a major exporter of chutzpah, the arrangement under discussion would have the U.S. sharing intelligence, technology, and backup, and the South supplying its flat refusal to join in an integrated air defense system with the U.S. and Japan. Seoul also seems to be leaning toward the deployment of THAAD.

Great. So now tell me who’s going to pay for it.

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So, you really, really don’t like North Korea, do you?

I’m just glad to have done my small part:

North Korea has topped the list of countries that the American people feel most unfavorable toward, a biennial survey showed Monday, amid the communist nation’s prolonged detention of three U.S. citizens.

North Korea received a favorability rating of 23 points out of 100 in the Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey conducted on 2,108 adults from May 6-29. The North was followed by Iran with a rating of 27 points, Iraq with 31 points, Pakistan with 33 points and Russia 36 points. [Yonhap]

Also interesting: just 47% of Americans think U.S. troops should be “used” (Yonhap’s word) if North Korea invades South Korea, compared to 51% who were opposed. Even that is a significant recovery from 22% support in 1982, when memories of Vietnam were relatively fresh. It’s nearly unchanged since 2004, just after the peak of the anti-American fad in South Korea.

Also, it would be a completely meaningless statistic as soon as the first shots were fired. Even my views on that question are very, very complicated, and they would also be subject to dramatic shifts, depending on what the next South Korean government is like.

Yonhap also points to high levels of support for diplomacy with North Korea, but doesn’t mention that the use of targeted sanctions also enjoys overwhelming support.

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Does this mean we’re paying for THAAD for South Korea?

The United States has wrapped up its survey of candidate sites for its advanced missile defense (MD) system to be deployed in South Korea, with a final decision likely to be made before their annual defense ministers’ meeting in October, sources said Monday.
Washington has made no secret that it is considering deploying a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, an integral part of its MD system, to South Korea, citing evolving threats from North Korea. [Yonhap]

Does the “it” mean that U.S. taxpayers are going to pay for that expensive missile defense system, even as South Korea — burdened with far less public debt per capita than this country — continues to reduce the size of its own military? Well, apparently it does mean that.

But take some comfort in this — if you’re not South Korean, that is: South Korea, under pressure from the ChiComs and the neo-Soviets not to deploy THAAD, is saying that the system is only for the protection of U.S. Forces Korea. Tough luck, people of South Korea.

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Gates: Roh Moo Hyun was “anti-American” and “a little crazy,” and Lee Myung Bak wanted to bomb the crap out of Kim Jong Il.

This must be the most controversial understatement of the year, so far:

Reading a new memoir by former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, South Koreans may be quite surprised by his characterization of the country’s late President Roh Moo-hyun as “a little crazy.”

I estimate that approximately 63.8% of them won’t be in complete shock about that.

Gates recalls a November 2007 meeting in Seoul with the liberal-minded president, whose diplomatic and security policy is still being debated. He calls Roh “anti-American and probably a little crazy.”

Roh was quoted as telling Gates that “the biggest security threats in Asia were the United States and Japan.” [Yonhap]

He said that to the U.S. SecDef’s face, and the SecDef thinks he’s a little crazy? If anything, Gates was too kind. I’m tempted to make the case that Roh’s policies were detached from reality, but I did enough of that when Roh was alive, and besides which, there’s someone willing to argue that about every politician.

Instead, evaluate Gates’s description on its literal, medical merits. If you must, pick some less pejorative adjective, like “unbalanced.” A retrospective examination of Roh’s public statements while in office, which clearly foretold his cause of death, could have been grounds to commit him to an institution for his own safety.

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Obama Administration’s N. Korea policy evolves from the 90s to the 60s.

Not surprisingly, North Korea’s missile test is bringing out a lot of criticism of President Obama’s North Korea policy, but sometimes, that criticism writes itself.  Writing at The Cable, Josh Rogin tells us that just as Kim Jong Un was counting down the launch sequence between drags on a smuggled Marlboro, Wendy Sherman and the State Department’s crack team of Asia experts were relaxing at a cocktail party in honor of — smack your forehead now — the Emperor of Japan, while silently thanking Kim Jong Un for not ruining their holidays:

But several attendees at the Japanese emperor’s birthday celebration told The Cable that the fact so many Asia officials were not at their desks illustrated how surprised the administration was about the timing of the launch.

“Everybody stood down. Nobody thought they were going to do it this week. It was a real head fake by the North Koreans,” another top Asia expert and party attendee said. “DOD, State, and the White House were just stunned by it. They were shocked.”

There were varying explanations as to why the Obama administration was caught off guard. North Korea said Dec. 10 said that “technical issues” were forcing it to push back the launch window.

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A Quick Thought on this Psy business

My ten year-old can already tell you that one of my life’s newer objectives is to die an old man without having heard “Kangnam Style” even once. Pop culture has never been my thing, but I sure did get tired of all the forced Kangnam-Style allusions and cliches in just about everything written about Korea during Psy’s 15 minutes.  Anyway, if you’re wondering whether I’m even a little bit surprised that Psy once sang, “Kill those fucking Yankees …. Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers …. Kill them all slowly and painfully,” well, no, I’m not surprised.  Not even a little.  In fact, I’m sure there was a whole mob cheering those applause lines when he sang them. Some of the rhetoric in South Korea in those days would have made Hamas blush.  It also enjoyed a significant amount of encouragement from — and exploitation by — South Korea’s ruling party. If you doubt me there, then you haven’t read that last link.

You know who made a lot of good points about this? Someone I disagree with more often than not, The Metropolitician.  I agree with him that Psy’s apology was certainly insincere, and the fact that Psy’s “art” has as much to do with Korean culture as a Samsung knockoff.

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What Don Rumsfeld Got Right

Writing at Korea Real Time, Evan Ramstad quotes from a memo written by Don Rumsfeld in late 2002, shortly after Roh Moo Hyun was elected President of South Korea on a wave of anti-American rage:

“As you know, the new President-elect [Roh] has stated that he wants to review the relationship,” Mr. Rumsfeld wrote. “Rather than pushing back, I think we ought to accept that as a good idea. If we had recommended it, we could be accused of destabilizing the peninsula, but he recommended it.

Over the next two years, Mr. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon and Mr. Roh’s defense ministry negotiated a substantial drawdown of U.S. troops in South Korea, from about 39,000 to about 28,000. As well, they began the discussions that led to an agreement in 2006 for South Korea’s military to take control of its own troops in wartime. Since the Korean War of the 1950s, U.S. commanders have had wartime control of South Korean troops.

Mr. Rumsfeld so wanted to see a change in the U.S. position in South Korea that, in 2005, he quickly agreed to Mr. Roh’s request for wartime control. “You’re pushing through an open door,” Mr. Rumsfeld told Mr. Roh’s defense minister at the time.

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Heritage Scholar Calls for Asian Missile Defense Alliance

Bruce Klingner at the Heritage Foundation is proposing an idea whose time has come: a comprehensive, multi-national missile defense system for Asia. Klingner’s argument begins with an explanation of what should be obvious — that diplomacy has failed to disarm North Korea, as China’s own missile arsenal is growing rapidly. The land- and sea-based system Klingner proposes would protect Asian democracies from both North Korea and China, and enhance U.S. national security, as well. Here’s the abstract:

The United States and its allies are at risk of missile attack from a growing number of states and non ­state terrorist organizations. This growing threat is partic ­ularly clear in East Asia, where diplomacy has failed to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them on target, and where China continues the most active nuclear force modernization pro ­gram in the world. To counter these growing threats, the U.S. should work with its allies, including South Korea and Japan, to develop and deploy missile defenses, including ground-based, sea-based, and air-based components.

Read the rest here.

Until recently, only cranks like me could propose things like this, and few would have thought we’d see much interest in this in Asia.

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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.

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Plan B Watch: Clinton Announces Tightening of N. Korea Sanctions

Well, it’s about damn time:

The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it would impose further economic sanctions against North Korea, throwing legal weight behind a choreographed show of pressure on the North that included an unusual joint visit to the demilitarized zone by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

The measures, announced here by Mrs. Clinton after talks with South Korean officials, focus on counterfeiting, money laundering and other dealings that she said the North Korean government used to generate hard currency to pay off cronies and cling to power. [N.Y. Times]

Clinton announced the sanctions as she visited the DMZ, while accompanied by SecDef Gates, and while displaying her supernatural frost-projection powers against a hapless North Korean border guard. I count at least three priceless expressions in this photo.

clinton-dmz.jpg

The Treasury Department announcement I linked here yesterday now looks to be just the first part of the Obama Administration’s dangerously overdue and initially weak response to the sinking of the Cheonan, using at least some of the legal and financial tools I’ve advocated using for the last several years.

“Today, I’m announcing a series of measures to increase our ability to prevent North Korea’s proliferation, to halt their illicit activities that helped fund their weapons programs and to discourage further provocative actions,” Clinton told a news conference in Seoul after high-level security talks with South Korean officials.

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A Good Week for Lee Myung-Bak, But What America Gained Isn’t So Clear

On balance, Lee Myung Bak seems to having a pretty good week — at least better than last week’s failure to secure a serious response to the Cheonan incident abroad or even at home. This week, Lee has already won a three-year delay in the dissolution of the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command, a/k/a OpCon transfer. He also secured a commitment by President Obama to push for an FTA that had faced strong opposition from some American labor unions and Max Baucus, the patron saint of cattle ranchers in God’s country (if you must know, it begins at the Rockies and ends where the eastern bank of the Missouri River cedes to the flat, glacial topography beyond).

Lawmakers from Obama’s Democratic party who had campaigned against the deal appear ready to approve it. “The president’s announcement of a concrete plan to move the Korea agreement forward is great news for America’s economy,” said Democratic Senator Max Baucus, head of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. He called it “the most commercially significant trade agreement in more than a decade.”

“But I’ve long held serious concerns about the unscientific barriers Korea has erected against American beef — barriers that must be removed. I intend to work with both the administration and Korea to craft a plan to fully open Korea’s market to safe and delicious American beef,” he said.

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Lee, Bush Commemorate 60th Anniversary of the Korean War

Golly, this was a nice thing of President Lee to say:

As we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, I offer our deepest, most sincere gratitude to all the American veterans and their families for what they did. The friendship and bond that we share is reinforced by the strong and robust military alliance, which in turn was the basis for the Republic of Korea’s remarkable twin achievements of the past six decades, namely achieving economic growth and becoming a true liberal democracy. [President Lee Myung-Bak, Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

If only President Lee’s own constituents actually believed this. I was ready to suggest that it’s them President Lee should be addressing until I saw that George W. Bush had emerged as our newest global goodwill ambassador. The former president, who is best known and loved by Koreans everywhere as the man who removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, was in Seoul the other day, also commemorating the anniversary, where he addressed a crowd of 60,000 (!) at a prayer meeting in a stadium:

“While South Korea prospers, the people of North Korea have suffered profoundly,” he said, adding communism had resulted in “dire poverty, mass starvation and brutal suppression”.

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Where’s the Outrage?

South Koreans’ unifiction mania may have cooled for the moment, but B.R. Myers tells us that public anger toward North Korea doesn’t approach that directed against America after the 2002 accident, and that plenty have made the decision to disbelieve the evidence that North Korea sank the Cheonan:

It would be unfair to characterize these skeptics as pro-Pyongyang, but there is more sympathy for North Korea here than foreigners commonly realize. As a university student in West Berlin in the 1980s, I had a hard time finding even a Marxist with anything nice to say about East Germany. In South Korea, however, the North’s human rights abuses are routinely shrugged off with reference to its supposedly superior nationalist credentials. One often hears, for example, the mistaken claim that Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Il-sung, purged his republic of former Japanese collaborators, in alleged contrast to the morally tainted South. [….]

South Korean nationalism is something quite different from the patriotism toward the state that Americans feel. Identification with the Korean race is strong, while that with the Republic of Korea is weak. (Kim Jong-il has a distinct advantage here: his subjects are more likely to equate their state with the race itself.) Thus few South Koreans feel personally affected by the torpedo attack.

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The Coming OpCon Debate

Rumors in Washington are building that the South Korean government will soon ask President Obama to delay the dissolution of Combined Forces Command, a/k/a OPCON in 2012.

The Stars and Stripes has a rather unbalanced piece on the preposterous idea of South Korea assuming the lead command role in its own defense, which this piece by Doug Bandow more than balances.

I think that on the one hand, most conventional thinkers on both sides of the Pacific still see America’s contribution to an alliance in terms of boots on the ground, but I think it’s politically outdated and a recipe for defeat for us to default to those terms. North Korea is clearly aware that it can’t match us conventionally, and is assuredly looking for unconventional and deniable ways to attack Americans — military and otherwise — in South Korea. This means that a war in Korea this time isn’t going to start with T-34’s rolling down the Western Corridor. It will start with truck bombs, subway bombings, gas attacks by sleeper agents using materials obtained locally, and God-knows-what horrible device transported into South Korea by tunnel. Having observed on a daily basis the easygoing vulnerability of our installations in South Korea, this could mean hundreds of American casualties on day one.

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Just for the Paulbots: Why the U.S. Army Should Leave South Korea

Even an imbecile like Ron Paul accidentally happens on the truth now and then. And while the election of Lee Myung Bak has reduced the degree to which South Korea actively undermines U.S. policy toward North Korea, the continued existence of Kaesong and Kumgang up to this moment refutes any suggestion that South Korea has really joined it, either, or restored South Korea as a bona fide U.S. ally on a global or regional scale, or tapped into South Korea’s considerable tax revenue to modernize its own Army and relieve U.S. taxpayers of the cost of defending one of the world’s richest nations from one of the world’s poorest. Instead, South Korea seems to have decided that dependence is cheaper than — and therefore, superior to — independence, and that it can sleep under America’s blanket without contributing anything to America’s own security.

I’m not blind to the fact that for the moment, South Korea’s anti-Americanism seems dormant, until it isn’t, and that either the soldiers in Hongdae are on their best behavior or the Korean press is more occupied with its other xenophobic obsession: hippie Canadian English teachers who goes to bars and hit on Korean girls. Fine, but does anyone expect that trend to continue through the next election season?

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Rand: South Korea Still a Military Parasite

Years ago, I quoted extensively from a Rand report on then-President Roh Moo Hyun’s plans to cut the ROK military budget and settle into a cozy military and economic parasitism on the country Roh’s supporters loved to hate. But now that Roh is a fading bad memory, the alliance stands on firm ground again, right? Wrong:

The ROK has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a strong economy. Yet despite this economic strength, the ROK still depends in major ways on the United States for its deterrence and defense. In recent years, U.S. leaders have urged the ROK to bear more of its military costs. For example, during his visit to Seoul for the Oct. 22 ROK-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “We encourage the Republic of Korea’s political leaders to make an investment in defense appropriate to Korea’s emerging role as a contributor to global security and commensurate with the threat you face on the peninsula.”

Many U.S. leaders wonder why the ROK is not taking more responsibility for its own defense. Why is it that the ROK spends only 2.8 percent of its GDP on defense, despite the threat they face on the peninsula, while the United States spends roughly 4.5 percent of its GDP on defense?

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