Tag: korean peninsula

Who Should Defuse the Korean Bomb?

Fear of war has become a new constant for the Korean peninsula.  On Monday South Korea initiated a military exercise in the Yellow Sea and North Korea threatened to retaliate.  Seoul went ahead without any response from the North, but the region retains the feel of a bomb with an unstable fuse.

In the short term Washington has no choice but to uphold its alliance obligations to the South.  However, Pyongyang’s increasingly erratic behavior offers a dramatic reminder of the most important cost of the unilateral security guarantee:  the threat of war.

The alliance was created at a different time in a different world—1953, after the conclusion of a war which had devastated the peninsula.  Only U.S. military support preserved South Korea’s independence.  Since then the South has developed economically and is well able to protect itself.  The U.S. should begin turning over defense responsibilities to Seoul, with an expeditious withdrawal of all American troops.  The defense treaty, with America’s promise to forever guard the South, irrespective of circumstance, should be turned into a framework for future cooperation in cases of mutual interest.

The U.S. no longer can afford to maintain Cold War alliances as if the Cold War still existed.  Commitments like that to South Korea are expensive, since they drive America’s military budget.  More important, as we see in Northeast Asia, alliances also increase the possibility of war for the U.S.  It is time to update America’s military commitments to reflect today’s world.

Needed: A New U.S. Defense Policy for Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has resigned, just eight months after leading his party to a landslide victory.  The Democratic Party of Japan meets Friday to replace him.  The finance minister, Naoto Kan, is the favorite, though nothing is certain.  The party is an amalgam of factions and the party secretary general, Ichiro Ozawa, who did the most to bring the DPJ to power, also is stepping down.

Prime Minister Hatoyama was hit by a campaign scandal—a regular of Japanese politics.  But the most important cause of his resignation was his botched handling of American bases on the island of Okinawa.

In early 1945 Okinawa became the first part of the Japanese homeland to fall as the U.S. closed in on imperial Japan.  Washington held onto the island after the war and loaded it with military installations.  Only in 1972 was Okinawa returned to Japanese sovereignty.  Despite some reduction in U.S. forces, American military facilities still account for roughly one-fifth of the island’s territory.

Okinawans long ago tired, understandably, of the burden and have been pressing for the removal of at least some bases.  The DPJ campaigned to create a more equal alliance with America and promised to revisit plans by the previous government to relocate America’s Futenma facility elsewhere on the island.

However, under strong U.S. pressure Hatoyama reversed course.  He said the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula reminded him about the value of America’s military presence.

Japan’s military dependency is precisely the problem.  American taxpayers have paid to defend Japan for 65 years.  Doing so made sense in the aftermath of World War II, when Japan was recovering from war and Tokyo’s neighbors feared a revived Japanese military.  But long ago it became ridiculous  for Americans to defend the world’s second-ranking power and its region.

Of course, having turned its defense over to Washington, Tokyo could do no more than beg the U.S. to move its base.  After all, if Americans are going to do Japan’s dirty defense work, Americans are entitled to have convenient base access.  Irrespective of what  the Okinawans desire.

Unfortunately, Hatoyama’s resignation isn’t likely to change anything.  The new prime minister won’t be much different from the old one.  Or the ones before him.

If change is to come to the U.S.-Japan security relationship, it will have to come from America.  And it should start with professed fiscal conservatives asking why the U.S. taxpayers, on the hook for a $1.6 trillion deficit this year alone, must forever subsidize the nation with the world’s second-largest economy?

Cliches about living in a dangerous world and defending freedom are no answer.  America is made not only poorer but less secure when it discourages its friends from defending themselves and when it accepts their geopolitical conflicts as its own.  To coin a phrase, it is time for a change.

And not just with Japan.  There’s also South Korea.  And especially the Europeans.  It’s not clear who they have to be defended from, but whoever their potential adversary or adversaries may be, the Europeans should defend themselves.  The Obama administration is impoverishing Americans to support a growing welfare state at home.  Americans shouldn’t have to help pay for the Europeans’ even bigger welfare state at the same time.

The U.S. should maintain a strong defense.  Of America.

Washington should stop subsidizing the defense of prosperous and populous allies.  When the Constitution speaks of “the common defense,” the Founders meant of Americans, not of the rest of the world.  A good place to start ending foreign military welfare would be Japan.

Monday Links

  • Podcast: When Germany enacted their own “Cash for Clunkers” scheme, some of the old vehicles were illegally exported and sold out of the country before being destroyed. Could it happen here? Would that be so bad?

Troublesome North Korea Strikes Again

The North Koreans have been busy, testing a nuclear weapon and shooting off missiles.  It seems that nothing upsets North Korea more than being ignored.

President Barack Obama expressed the usual outrage:

These actions, while not a surprise given its statements and actions to date, are a matter of grave concern to all nations. North Korea’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile program, constitute a threat to international peace and security.

However, this really is all old news.  Although the nuclear test reinforces the North’s irresponsible reputation, the blast has little practical importance. North Korea has long been known to be a nuclear state and tested a smaller nuclear device a couple years ago. The regime’s missile capabilities also are well-known.

Contrary to the president’s excited rhetoric, the North has little ability to project force beyond the Korean peninsula.  So Washington should treat the North’s latest offense as an opportunity to reprogram the latter’s negotiating formula.

The U.S. should not reward “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il with a plethora of statements beseeching the regime to cooperate and threatening dire consequences for its bad behavior. Rather, the Obama administration should explain, perhaps through China, that the U.S. is interested in forging a more positive relationship with North, but that no improvement will be possible so long as North Korea acts provocatively. Washington should encourage South Korea and Japan to take a similar stance.

Moreover, the U.S. should step back and suggest that China, Seoul, and Tokyo take the lead in dealing with Pyongyang. North Korea’s activities more threaten its neighbors than America. Even Beijing, the North’s long-time ally, long ago lost patience with Kim’s belligerent behavior and might be willing to support tougher sanctions.

Washington should offer to support this or other efforts to reform North Korean policy.  But without Chinese backing there is little else the U.S. can do.  War on the peninsula would be disastrous for all, and Washington has few additional sanctions to apply.  Beijing has the most leverage on Pyongyang, but whether even that is enough to moderate North Korea’s behavior is anyone’s guess.

North Korea is a problem likely to be long with us. The U.S. has limited ability to influence the North. Washington should offer the prospect of improved relations as a reward for improved North Korean behavior, but should let the North’s neighbors, most notably China, take the lead in managing this most difficult of states.