Freedom New Mexico
A fter several weeks of tensions, highlighted by military exercises in which South Korea fired live artillery near North Korea in a show of force and defiance, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, in what most news accounts described as a surprise, has called for the resumption of six-party talks over North Korea’s efforts to acquire usable nuclear weapons.
While the precise nature of the gesture may have been a surprise, the fact that, after ramping them up for awhile, President Lee made a gesture to defuse tensions should not have been a surprise. Despite some evidence to the contrary, the leaders of the North are not crazy, and the leaders of the South certainly are not. They both know that an actual war on the peninsula would be devastating to both sides.
Despite the sheer size of North Korea’s military establishment, the South’s military is far superior and would undoubtedly overwhelm the North in a real war. In the meantime, however, much of the South’s capital city of Seoul is in range of thousands of Northern artillery pieces. It is likely that, before the North succumbed, it would be able to kill millions of South Koreans with utterly conventional artillery fire — no nukes needed.
Both sides, therefore, however much they may ramp up hostile dialogue, have a strong interest in avoiding an actual war. At various times in the recent past it has seemed as if some kind of viable accommodation between the two regimes would be reached, but the goal remains elusive. The most recent hostilities served the interests of both governments. Lee Myung-bak needed to demonstrate to his constituents that he is not soft following the sinking of a South Korean warship in March and the shelling of a South Korean island in November. And, while the North’s government is frustratingly opaque, it seems likely that the planned ascension of Kim Jong Il’s young and inexperienced son, Kim Jong Un, to absolute power might be experiencing resistance, so ginning up a confrontation to show his toughness might have seemed appropriate.
These recent events suggest that the two Korean governments know how to manage their potentially unstable situation reasonably. Even so, there’s no guarantee that a future round of hostilities won’t get out of control. If things settle down for awhile, it would be a good time to announce the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. Given the overwhelming economic and military power of South Korea, U.S. troops’ only purpose now is to serve as a tripwire to involve the U.S. in yet another war that is really none of its business.