In the May-June issue of the National Interest, Doug Bandow of the CATO Institute calls for the withdrawal of American forces from the Republic of Korea, continuing a career of attempting to gut America’s security cooperation with the Republic of Korea.
Articles by Bandow, for example, in 1996, 1998, 2010, 2011, among others, repeatedly called for the complete withdrawal of American forces from Korea. Some more recent ones put forward the amazingly bizarre idea that only by withdrawing our military forces from the Republic of Korea would Pyongyang get rid of its nuclear weapons.
This position dovetails precisely with Pyongyang’s stated strategic policy requirements as it has repeatedly said that only the complete withdrawal of American military forces from the peninsula would allow a process of denuclearization to proceed.*
Despite these efforts, none of Bandow’s arguments have stood the test of time. Here are ten reasons why Bandow’s proposition makes little sense and in fact might well be deadly for America’s security.
First, Bandow has adopted the Glen Greenwald paradigm that terrorism against America is almost exclusively the result of bad American policies, especially the deployment of American military force overseas.
In his latest attempt to scuttle the US-ROK security agreement, he claims North Korea is only interested in attacking the United States because we are interfering with inter-Korean relations. So the implied solution is simple: we withdraw, Pyongyang holds hands with Seoul, everyone sings Kumbaya.
The ROK people, however, support the US-ROK partnership and military presence by over 93% according to one recent poll. That’s important. They understand their security situation.
Second, Bandow insults the ROK government by claiming Seoul likes the US presence only because they, (the South Koreans), get a “free ride” because “they are not willing to spend what is needed for their own defense”.
Third, Bandow argues the ROK has far greater military capability than the DPRK and thus what is there to worry about?
On both counts his arguments hold no water. Seoul spends 3.2% of its GDP of roughly $1.2 trillion on defense, compared to 3.8% the US spends on its base defense force. The ROK spends a GDP percent higher than some 175 other nations in the world. And the ROK also contributes $870 million annually to the non-personnel costs of US forces or close to 50% of the total of such costs for our 28,500 troops.
While it may be true a bean counting exercise would show Seoul better than Pyongyang in some areas of military equipment, and certainly the ROK army is well trained, the nuclear weapons capability of the North may trump the ROK military capability, especially in the absence of the US security umbrella.
This Bandow implicitly accepts by arguing that perhaps a solution would be for Seoul to build its own nuclear weapons once the US withdraws. This of course completely contradicts the bizarre idea of Bandow that by withdrawing from the Korean peninsula the US action alone would eliminate the nuclear program run by the DPRK.
This leads to the fourth problem with Bandow’s arguments. He asserts the US should, like Pontus Pilate, wash its hands of the Korean security issue and as noted above, let the ROK build its own nuclear weapons to defend itself. Thus he contradicts his long held argument that the ROK military capability trumps that of Pyongyang and thus can the ROK defend itself absent the US military presence.
He thus admits without realizing it that obviously if ROK needs nuclear weapons its military is now less capable overall than Pyongyang’s. The fact is the spread of nuclear weapons to Seoul would blow up the already weakened Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and accelerate greater global nuclear proliferation. This is not exactly a great idea in a world still awash in serious nationalistic, religious, tribal and ethnic conflicts, especially the totalitarian impulses within Islam.
Fifth, Bandow seems oblivious to the negative geostrategic consequences of the US abandoning such an important ally. China will see it as a further signal of our retreat. While Russia will also see this as a strong evidence that even a once top security concern of the United States is now being dumped cavalierly.
Sixth, Bandow assumes the presence of American forces in the ROK are somehow a great burden on the US and without a counter-balancing benefit. But since 1953 there has been no war on the Korean Peninsula. The US presence has also strengthened Japan’s security. As the former premier of Singapore explained, it was under the US military security umbrella that the Asian economic “Tigers” built both unprecedented prosperity and expanded freedom, while being strong US allies.
Seventh, Bandow discounts the extraordinary benefit of a prosperous Asian Pacific region. From the perspective of the rubble of World War II and August 1945, it is a miracle what has been accomplished. And not the least of which was able to take place due to the US military presence.
Trade now between the Republic of Korea and the United States exceeds $104 billion a year. If the ROK becomes part of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, it would join a group of nations including the US with nearly 30% of the world’s GDP and 20% of its trade. Risking war on the Korean peninsula would devastate those numbers.
Eighth, Bandow joins hands with such radical leftists as William Appleton Williams, Noam Chomsky, Reverend Wright and Glen Greenwald. He says the North will attack us because as many others, they “hate our policies”.
And he explains what those policies are. “Unseating democratically elected leaders, supporting dictatorships, backing Israel’s Apartheid-like treatment of the Palestinians, and promiscuously waging war in Muslim lands”. He approving quotes Greenwald: “If we continue to bring violence to that part of the world, then that part of the world–and those who sympathize with it–will continue to want to bring violence to the U.S.” He concludes, “That’s why many people in other nations not only hate us, but are trying to kill us.” So much for terrorism. It’s our fault.
Ninth, this straight forward “always blame America” world paradigm of Mr. Bandow apparently is completely oblivious to the objectives of the North Korean regime. As I have previously mentioned, Bandow has the strange notion that the North would have no interest in attacking the US or the south if Pyongyang simply wasn’t faced with what it sees as US interference in Korean affairs. (That “interference” is with the complete cooperation and acceptance of the democratically elected government in Seoul.)
Unfortunately, we tried Bandow’s prescription once before.
Under similar fiscal and geostrategic circumstances, the United States Secretary of State said UN and collective security was adequate to protect Seoul from any potential aggression from the North. The Secretary also said that as far as US policy was concerned, the ROK was beyond our security perimeter.
Shortly afterward, Congress then failed by one vote to help ROK with a modest aid package endorsed by President Truman to counter-balance removing Korea from our security perimeter.
Unfortunately, at the same time, the US defense secretary was suggesting that a $14B defense budget be cut to $7 billion, which further undermined what deterrent value the US Pacific forces then provided even in the absence of a security guarantee for Seoul.
We know how this ended–the North invaded the South with the support, coordination and planning of the Soviet Union, with China bringing up 200,000 soldiers to enter the war that year. When the war ended, close to 1.2 million soldiers were killed, wounded or missing on all sides, plus millions of civilian deaths.
Tenth and finally, Bandow risks a repeat of the 1950 tragedy. At least 3 million citizens of Seoul is the estimate by US military commanders of the initial death toll caused by a North Korean invasion of the South. Including thousands of Americans now living as private citizens in Korea.
The top ranking defector from the North, Hwang Jang-Yop, warned a senior American military officer in a rare 2001 interview that the objective of Pyongyang was to drive US military forces from the peninsula. It would then use its nuclear weapons capability to “hold American cities at risk, to prevent the US from returning to aid Seoul”.
This defector was the tutor of Kim Jong-Il and a top official prior to fleeing the DPRK. He emphasized the single most important strategic objective of Pyongyang was “to remove US soldiers from the peninsula”. According to a 2014 report from the Congressional Reference Service of the Library of Congress, the North’s demands would require: “…the United States to disengage from its security commitments in Northeast Asia, remove its nuclear umbrella from South Korea, withdraw U.S. military forces from the peninsula, and develop a U.S.—DPRK ‘strategic relationship’ paralleling the U.S.—ROK alliance. North Korean officials also asserted that normalization, presumably entailing a peace agreement to supplant the armistice accords of July 1953, would have to precede denuclearization.”
Nuclear weapons will thus become a lever and cudgel with which to support military aggression against the South and to once and for all reunite the peninsula under communist rule. Far from eliminating their nuclear weapons in response to our withdrawal, the North would invade the South and kill millions.
Bandow makes a subsequent fatal error in asserting that while North Korea has nuclear weapons—a fact he cannot dismiss– it has “no delivery capacity” according to his May 8, CATO piece. Thus, the implication is that we can all relax.
According to an internal study done by the Department of Homeland Security, and laid out by the executive director of the bi-partisan congressional advisory Task Force on National and Homeland Security, North Korea could use its Unha-3 space launch vehicle to deliver a nuclear warhead as a satellite over the South Pole to attack the U.S. from the south, a dangerous situation in that the US has no early warning radars or interceptors currently deployed to stop a missile from the south.
North Korea has already successfully tested and developed nuclear weapons. It has also already miniaturized nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery and has armed missiles with nuclear warheads. In 2011, three years ago, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. General Ronald Burgess, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea had weaponized its nuclear devices into warheads for ballistic missiles. (To read more about North Korea’s offensive military capabilities, you can read more here.)
Separately, former U.S. Ambassador Henry Cooper, who was the first director of the Strategic Defense Initiative under then-President George H.W. Bush, said that North Korea generally tests its missiles by launching toward the South Pole.
He also underscored that the U.S. does not have its missile defense system oriented toward an attack from a southern polar missile launch attack on the U.S. Instead, all missile defenses are positioned for an attack from the north.
In addition, he said, the U.S. lacks adequate missile defenses against an attack on the East Coast although some significant capability could be deployed from existing defense systems as well as those developed over the next few years.
In early March 2013, President Park of the Republic of Korea rightly stated that “provocations by the North will be met by stronger counter-responses,” and the chief operations officer at South Korea’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was widely quoted as saying that if South Korea is attacked, it will “forcefully and decisively strike not only the origin of provocation and its supporting forces but also its command leadership.”
The ROK has also developed a new “proactive deterrence” approach that calls for a more flexible posture to respond to future attacks. This also involved the US to relax restrictions on South Korean ballistic missiles, coinciding with an additional $550 million investment by the ROK for high-tech force capabilities as well as significant funding to accelerate South Korea’s missile defense system.
In 1970, I returned to America from Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea after two-years of study at the International Division. My favorite professor and family host was Ham Byeong-chun (함병춘), who later became Presidential Chief of Staff. He always told our small class of 3 American students that the dominant objective of the North Korean communists was to reunify the peninsula under communist rule, and that I should always remember that.
In October 1983, during a state visit to Burma, Dr. Ham and 15 other senior government and cabinet officials were murdered by a bombing carried out by three officers of the North Korean Army.
Millions of more murders are being planned by Pyongyang. Withdrawing American forces now from the Republic of Korea will speed up that North Korean timetable considerably. The North Korean terrorist clock is ticking as is that of its partners and accomplices Iran and Syria.
Is America willing to risk its security and that of its allies by believing the promises of our most mortal enemies? Forget trust but verify. Now its trust and don’t worry!
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Peter Huessy is the President of Geostrategic Analysis located in Potomac, Maryland outside of Washington, D.C.
* For example, “U.S. troop withdrawal is key to denuclearizing North Korea”; (April 2010);
“America should withdraw its troops and eliminate its defense guarantee as part of an orderly withdrawal” (in Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World by Doug Bandow, 1996); “Washington should begin withdrawing its forces from South Korea and transfer primary responsibility for North-South relations to Seoul” in Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World by Doug Bandow ( May 19, 1998); “Time for a Change” by Doug Bandow and Ted Galen Carpenter “… Seoul’s troops are better trained, have superior leadership” (July 24, 2010); and “Washington should begin a quick and complete withdrawal of forces from the South” (Dec 5, 2011).