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Posts Tagged ‘North Korea’

So saith Doug Bandow in the American Spectator. (BTW, how far has the American Spectator come in publishing a piece like this?)

Why hasn’t the South put its resources to better military effect? Because it doesn’t have to.

So long as America offers a security guarantee, maintains a tripwire troop presence on the peninsula, and promises to do whatever is necessary to protect the ROK, the South Koreans have little incentive to take over their own defense. Granted, it’s a bit humiliating to constantly beg Washington for aid: it would be a bit like the U.S. going hat-in-hand around the world asking for help to defend against Mexico. Still, better for Seoul to get the gullible Americans to pay its defense bill than to have to cover the cost itself.

Making the ROK’s behavior even more outrageous has been Seoul’s attempt to buy off Pyongyang while relying on American military support.

The argument here is for an interesting combination of noninterventionism (on the part of the United States) and muscular deterrence (by South Korea). It just goes to show that you don’t have to be a dove to be a noninterventionist. Still, Bandow doesn’t go so far as to advocate withdrawal of the U.S. nuclear deterrent shield from South Korea.

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Apropos of North Korea’s bluster, the following from Kenneth Waltz – the arch realist – in his co-authored book The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate:

Deterrent strategies lower the probability that wars will begin.  If wars start nevertheless, deterrent strategies lower the probability that they will be carried very far.  Nuclear weapons lessen the intensity as well as the frequency of war among their possessors.  For fear of escalation, nuclear states do not want to fight long and hard over important interests – indeed, they do not want to fight at all.  Minor nuclear states have even better reasons than major ones to accommodate one another and avoid fighting wars.  Worries about the intensity of war among nuclear states have to be viewed in this context and against a world in which conventional weapons have become even costlier and more destructive.  (page 37)

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From the AP:

“If the (South Korean) enemies try to deal any retaliation or punishment, or if they try sanctions or a strike on us …. we will answer to this with all-out war,” Col. Pak In Ho of North Korea’s navy told broadcaster APTN in an exclusive interview in Pyongyang.

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Update: This (see below left) is something the South Korean government does not want to disrupt with a war:

The LA Times has an article in yesterday’s paper discussing the possibility North Korea used a submersible suicide bomber. 

Five day mourning period begins for South Korean sailors.

China says it was an “unfortunate incident.”  But what role will it play

Meanwhile, the U.S. – in my view – should still be slowly extricating itself militarily from the peninsula, especially if incidents like this one threaten to get the US involved in fighting there that is not in our national interests narrowly-defined.   An editorial from the Korea Times related to this issue.  Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute in Forbes on the US and South Korea

And a couple of thoughts from our comments section:

I’ve been reading a bunch of English language Korean websites and a Korean friend has read some in Korean for me. They all have editorials that basically end: If it can conclusively be shown that NK was responsible a strong response (whatever that may be; they don’t ever say) is required. Anything less will harm the government badly.”

Andy Jackson’s important bleg: “One issue I’d like to see more discussion of is the frequency of NK undersea incursions below the Northern Limit Line.”

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In case you miss it in the comments, Rob Farley at LGM responds to my post and adds more thoughts on North Korea and the Cheonan Incident.

In case you are wondering, Rob is not one of my senior colleagues on my P and T committee.  He’s just an interesting guy, hence all the links!

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North Korea distributes rice from military storage facilities.  So, is this related in any way to the Cheonan incident?

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The UK Times suggests that the apparent North Korean attack on the South Korean naval ship on March 26 may have been an attempt to provoke war with South Korea.  Specifically:

In some ways, a limited war might be exactly what the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, is hoping for. After decades of economic decline and famine in the 1990s, which killed as many as a few million people, his economy is in chronic decline. A military adventure, against the routinely demonised “imperialist” US and its South Korean “lackeys” could serve as a welcome and unifying distraction.

This is what political scientists call a diversionary or scapegoat war.   Such a war enables a leader facing domestic troubles to provoke a rally around the flag effect and raise flagging (pun intended) support. 

Now assuming that the incident was the product of centralized decision making rather than an unintended one ordered lower down the food chain (something I discussed earlier here), Kim Jong Il may simply be engaging in a tit-for-tat retaliatory strike for an earlier skirmish, something the Times itself suggests.  And while such a diversionary war would likely distract at home and provide some temporary relief from any internal pressure, is the “Supreme Leader” really so risk acceptant as to start something that could spiral into a bigger war that could see his downfall?

My guess is that the incident was not intended to start a diversionary war but was either retaliation or another in a long history of provocative displays of force by the North Koreans.  Then again, Kim Jong Il may be assuming – perhaps correctly given South Korea’s current lack of desire for a major war on the peninsula – that any South Korean response is likely to be quite limited and can provide some helpful distraction.  Of course, this is all premised on the notion that we are talking about a substantively (or even procedurally) rational, unitary actor – something that might be a stretch in this case.

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