- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

"The anti-American demonstrations here have suddenly gone poof," began a story, datelined Seoul, in The Washington Post March 14. "The official line from the South Korean government is: Yankees stay here."
Until recently, the South Koreans have been behaving as if they were the French of Northeast Asia. The new government of Korean President Roh Moo-hyun implied that the U.S. was as much to blame for tensions on the Korean Peninsula as were the North Koreans. In a poll in January by the Korean Gallup Organization, 53 percent of respondents said they disliked the United States.
What caused the sudden change in attitude? The subhead above The Washington Post story provides a clue: "Change follows Rumsfeld suggestion of troop cut."
As the thought sunk in that they might actually have to defend themselves from the murderous madmen in the North, South Koreans have come to view Americans with new respect. Mr. Roh ran nearly as anti-American a campaign as did German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Now he wants more American soldiers in his country, not fewer.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the United States was considering withdrawing Army troops from the Demilitarized Zone, and pulling some out of South Korea altogether.
The step is long overdue. When the United States intervened after North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, we did so because North Korea was part of an international communist effort to conquer the world, and because South Korea was too weak to defend herself.
Russia is no longer communist, and China is communist more in name than in fact. South Korea today has more than twice the population, and nearly 40 times the national wealth of North Korea. South Korea has the resources to defend herself by herself, if she has the will to do so.
That will has been waning. South Korea spends only about 2.8 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, about 25 percent less than we do. This is not prudent when you have a nuclear-armed madman for a neighbor. But, as with the French and some others in Western Europe, the South Koreans felt they could rely upon us for protection even as they kicked us in the shins.
Having (inaccurately) criticized President Bush's approach to Iraq for being "unilateral," Democrats are insisting he abandon the multilateral approach he has taken toward North Korea, and accede to North Korea's demand for bilateral talks. This is crazy.
Geopolitically, we don't have a dog in this fight anymore. North Korea is a nation on the verge of collapse, a nation which would have collapsed by now if the Clinton administration, Japan and South Korea had not supplied it with massive aid in exchange for North Korea's swiftly broken promise to end its nuclear program.
North Korea is a big danger to South Korea, but probably couldn't defeat South Korea even if we didn't intervene. North Korea is a problem for Japan and China, and a lesser problem for Russia. But North Korea is a problem for us only to the extent to which it is a supplier of weapons of mass destruction to other rogue nations and to terror groups.
As in 1994, North Korea is trying to extort aid with threats of violence. North Korea's trump card is that no matter how a second Korean war would come out, it can devastate Seoul, which is in artillery range of the DMZ.
Seoul is to South Korea what New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington D.C. combined are to us. We cannot, morally or politically, take unilateral action that puts Seoul at risk without South Korea's explicit consent.
North Korea has this trump whether we have the two brigades we have now on the DMZ, or 20, or none at all. We should withdraw all but two battalions of soldiers from South Korea, and redeploy these to defend our air bases in that country. This will reduce the ability of the North Koreans to claim Yankee provocation. And if the prospect of an American withdrawal forces the South Koreans to act like grownups, so much the better.

Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration and is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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