November 08, 2019 13:24
The U.S. has asked South Korea to pay nearly US$5 billion in upkeep for the U.S. Forces Korea (US$1=W1,157). That is five times more than what South Korea agreed to pay in the last round of defense cost-sharing talks between the two allies just a year ago. South Koreans are more than willing to cover their share of the costs to defend their country and know this is their duty, but a five-hold increase in one go would be tough to swallow even at the shady end of the real estate market where U.S. President Donald Trump cut his teeth.
The biggest single increase so far has been 25.7 percent, but under Trump the U.S. has abandoned all shame and seems determined to bilk South Korea by playing on its vulnerability to North Korea's nuclear threat. Trump has no idea what an alliance means. He hung the Syrian Kurds out to dry after 10,000 of the persecuted people sacrificed their lives for America in fighting ISIS. Now the U.S. president is treating the defense cost-sharing issue with South Korea as if it is unpaid rent. There is no telling what pressure tactics he may resort to if Seoul does not pay up. The chief U.S. negotiator said Trump could possibly consider pulling American troops out of South Korea. This is barely even a veiled threat. Trump has become a potential security threat to South Korea.
But he is not the only one. The South Korean government plans to reduce the number of soldiers from the current 620,000 to 500,000, even as 1.2 million North Korean troops stand ready to attack them any minute. Six Army divisions will disappear, while the amount of land front-line troops will have to guard will increase 1.2 times. A sensible government would extend the mandatory military service period if a chronically low birthrate is causing the number of conscripts to decline. But the exact opposite is happening here.
How could 500,000 troops who have only 18 months of military experience possibly take on 1.2 million North Korean soldiers who have been trained for up to seven years? Experts say at least 260,000 to 400,000 troops will be needed simply to stabilize the North in the event of an emergency up there. High-tech machinery cannot replace boots on the ground. Is this a time for experiments?
A Minjoo Party think tank said in a report on Thursday that a mercenary military system is an "unavoidable choice" to secure troops in an age of declining birthrates. The idea has supporters and detractors but is in any case a matter that should be debated carefully over an extended period. The only reason the ruling party wishes to bring it up now is to woo young voters ahead of general elections next year. That will not be the end of it. Presidential candidates will only propose a further shortening of the mandatory military service in every election to come.
In a speech marking the establishment of the Combined Forces Command, President Moon Jae-in asked the U.S. to "devote itself" to achieving the handover to South Korea of wartime operational control of its troops. That again is leaning on populist sentiment. North Korea has nuclear weapons, and South Korea does not. The nuclear threat can be suppressed only with extended deterrence comprised of conventional and nuclear U.S. weapons. The South Korean military alone does not have those capabilities -- it can barely monitor North Korea's nuclear weapons movements. How can it possibly command America's extended nuclear deterrence assets?
Over the last 70 years, South Korea enjoyed peace and prosperity thanks to its alliance with the U.S., which protected South Korea from threats from North Korea, China and Russia. But the populist political agendas of the U.S. and South Korean presidents are creating a potential tsunami that could topple these security barricades. There are some voices in the U.S. who support the nuclear armament of South Korea and Japan for self-defense, the sharing of nuclear assets and deploying tactical U.S. nuclear weapons. A solution to this crisis is urgent.
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