A Useful Strategic Change in the Korean Peninsula?

Withdrawing U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula would offer a rare win-win situation by reducing the United States’ defense burden and giving North Korea fewer reasons to increase its militarization, according to a new piece by Doug Bandow.

Writing for Cato at Liberty, Bandow notes that while it was once necessary, the United States’ presence in South Korea is an anachronistic holdover from the Cold War. South Korea now has double the population and 40 times the GPD of its northern neighbor.

South Korea’s military deficiency when compared to North Korea is a product of rational choice, Bandow reasons, because the United States subsidizes South Korea’s security with American dollars and service members. He argues that the “militarily stretched, economically embattled, and fiscally endangered” United States cannot “afford to subsidize the defense of prosperous and populous friends.”

Furthermore, Bandow contends that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un feels threatened by the presence of the U.S. military, given that the U.S. military has toppled numerous dictators in recent years. Thus, his regime’s only self-preserving recourse is to build nuclear weapons to use as a deterrent.

According to Bandow, absent a U.S. military presence, Kim “would have more reason to listen to China, which long has advised more reforms and fewer nukes.”

Of course, withdrawal is not a cure-all for peninsular problems. However, because no policy to date has been successful, Bandow writes, “an American withdrawal would be a useful change in strategy.”

The United States should think more critically about the costs of subsidizing the defense of wealthy allies, particularly when doing so may create increased tensions that damage long-term U.S. safety.

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