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Dale Brown’s Ops Report
February 2003
Copyright © 2003, TDPI

TAC DOCTRINE: Be Careful What You Wish For: Ask the U.S. to go home, and hopefully they will

I think it’s about time we collect up our marbles and leave South Korea.

I am disgusted by the level of anti-American rhetoric during the recent South Korean elections. Listening to college students protest American presence on the Korea peninsula is bad enough—but watching a South Korean presidential candidate win an election by pandering to the vocal but misguided and uninformed radical left in his country is even worse.

Yes, I believe the Korean Conflict is the “forgotten war,” and the military members who fought, died, and were injured in that horrible conflict did not receive the appreciation and thanks they deserve. But I do not believe that leaving Korea before a true and proper armistice is signed would be yet another slap in the face to them. Their sacrifice created the world that exists today on the Korean Peninsula: it shows the utter failure of Communism and the success of democracy, capitalism, and a free market economy.

The current standoff between North and South Korea seems like some kind of cruel joke. Contrary to the term “Demilitarized Zone,” there are about one million armed troops from North and South Korea opposing each other in the DMZ. The capital of South Korea is well within short-range rocket and long-range artillery range of North Korean forces. The United States has a “trip-wire” force of less than forty thousand troops in South Korea. In the past elaborate infiltration and espionage plans and plots by the North have been uncovered, including extensive use of tank-sized tunnels under the DMZ and midget submarine missions to insert spies into the South.

Recently North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile over Japan and is supposedly building an intercontinental-range version of the missile that could presumably carry a nuclear, biological, or chemical warhead. This rocket could easily threaten Japan, Alaska, and possibly even the west coast of North America. North Korea pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is reportedly restarting its breeder reactor at Yongbyon, which is capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

But although North Korea has continued its call to reunify the peninsula by force if necessary, and there is no doubt that the North is a well militarized state that is a definite threat to U.S. interests in the Far East and possibly even to the United States as well, the same dynamics that fueled the fires of war in the 1950s no longer exist in Korea. In the 1950s and 1960s, when South Korea was a struggling fledgling democracy with a dictator-like president, there was little difference between the two countries. The Cold War dictated that the U.S. use trip-wire forces, backed up with the threat of all-out nuclear war, to secure the helpless South Koreans against threat of attack by the Chinese-supported DPRK.

Today, South Korea is an Asian economic and industrial powerhouse—there are many nations in the world with an economic stake in what happens to South Korea, and an invasion would not help the North win any friends. North Korea would also be killing its own Golden Goose by launching attacks on South Korea’s factories, airfields, ports, and telecommunications centers—the very things that North Korea would need to help rebuild if its attack was somehow successful.

Not that North Korea has many friends now: it is unlikely China or Russia would support the North if they launched a surprise attack on the South, as they did in the 1950s. I think the provocation would have to be enormously high for China, which is the United States’ leading import nation, to oppose the United States in its defense of South Korea.

So why are we still in South Korea?

There are still all the usual reasons: we are bound by treaty obligation to be there; the Korean War is technically still on since no armistice or even a formal cease-fire was ever signed; and, like western Europe, there are still plenty of living soldiers and politicians, and too many dead Americans still buried there, who fought too hard to liberate South Korea to just give up and sail or fly away.

It is also said that the United States is there not to protect the southern Korean peninsula and its people, but to protect the South Korean government from its own people. The last persons who want the Americans to leave, say these government opponents, are the Korean politicians who rely on the military to stay in power—without the military, the government would collapse. I’m not so sure of this theory, but it’s another theory nonetheless.

Let’s dispense with the political postulating. On a purely tactical military level, there is little doubt that the American military presence in South Korea is nothing more than a trip-wire force, albeit a very high-tech one, very much what it was like in the 1950s. In an age of satellites, spy planes, listening posts, and high-speed information exchange, I doubt very much if North Korea can make a major military move without the rest of the world knowing about it in very short order.

We should pull our ground forces out of South Korea and, if requested by the South Korean government, step up surveillance and intelligence operations to keep a close eye on any North Korean military activities that might signal an impending invasion.

Whether or not American forces stay in Korea, there is no doubt in my mind that if North Korea wants to invade, there’s little anyone can do about it. If they employ all available weapons, they can kill millions of soldiers and civilians in mere minutes.

All the more reason for us to pull our forces out. Americans are not trip-wires. If we pledge to protect South Korea, then our allies should believe we’ll do it with all the air, naval, and land forces in our arsenal—they don’t have to be stationed thousands of miles from home, or standing right on the border waiting to be pulverized.

The age of permanently stationing American forces on foreign soil should come to an end, not just in South Korea but all over the world.

Robert Gottlieb
Trident Media Group
(212) 262-4810

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