January 09, 2012 14:07
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta commented on Washington's new military strategy on Thursday. "The reality is that you could face a land war in Korea and at the same time face threats in the Straits of Hormuz," Panetta said. "We have the capability with this Joint Force to deal with those kinds of threats, to be able to confront them and to be able to win."
The comment appears aimed at calming jitters among Washington's allies caused by U.S. President Barack Obama's unveiling of a new, more austere defense strategy. Obama said the U.S. is unable to take on the challenges it faces on its own and that the cooperation of its allies is crucial. But while Panetta said the U.S. is capable of dealing with simultaneous threats, he added, "We will emphasize our existing alliances, which provide a vital foundation for Asia-Pacific security," hinting that America's partners must take on a bigger military role.
A plan devised by South Korea and the U.S. involves the deployment of around 690,000 U.S. backup troops, 160 naval vessels and 2,500 aircraft within 90 days if a war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula. One of the main arguments cited by opponents of South Korea regaining full operational control of its troops from the U.S. in 2015 was that the shift will dismantle the Combined Forces Command and lead to a drastic cut in the number of troops Washington would deploy. Seoul and Washington agreed to the handover during the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
Washington's new defense strategy does not mention specifics about how many troops would be deployed to South Korea in an emergency, but experts forecast between 100,000 to 200,000 troops at best. It is unclear how far the South Korean military has come in preparing for the handover, but the fears of critics seem to be becoming a reality.
The top priority of South Korea's defense strategy is to suppress North Korean provocations. Washington's decision to place top priority on Asia shows that it wants to protect its interests in a region where China's economic and military might is increasing quickly. At the same time, China and Japan are bolstering their military spending. It would be both unrealistic and unwise for South Korea to compete in an arms race with the world's top three economies. It is time for South Korea to revise the country's defense system, which has depended solely on the Seoul-Washington alliance, and consider a more diversified diplomatic strategy in line with changing conditions in Northeast Asia.
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