by Dr. Kun Kim
Thus far, the presence of U.S. forces in South Korea has been a major deterrent to North Korea’s always present aggression. The presence of U.S. troops, currently 28,500, means that an attack on South Korea would also be an attack on America. Such an attack would trigger an automatic response and massive counter attack, not only from occupying U.S. troops, but also from U.S. bases in Japan, Hawaii and America.
The fact that U.S. has always been the defender of South Korea is indisputable. We, as Koreans, have much to thank the U.S. for this role. No doubt, without U.S. involvement in the region, all Koreans would be speaking Japanese right now. Just like, without the U.S., all Europeans would be speaking German.
Now, let us analyze the current situation. South Korea is now a G-15 economy. When I grew up in the 1960’s, we were one of the poorest nations in the world. South Korea desperately needed U.S. assistance, as well as military protection. Since then, South Korea has greatly improved the standards of living for its people. With a population of 50 million, $26,000 per capita GDP, South Korea’s economy is 35 times the economy of North Korea, which has a population of 25 million people and just $1800 per capita GDP. North Korea is poorer than Cuba, Guatemala and Ethiopia; whereas South Korea ranks among top 15 nations, economically.
So, why must South Korea continue to depend heavily on U.S. protection?
It is often estimated that 28,500 U.S. troops in Korea costs roughly $100,000 per soldier. That means it costs $2.85B dollars to keep the U.S. troops there. In exchange for U.S. presence, South Koreans paid the U.S. $800M dollars in 2014. This roughly estimates to about 30% of the cost. It is debatable how much it actually costs to keep troops in South Korea. Others have estimated that $800M dollars represent much more, about 70% of the total cost.
Whether it is 30% or 70%, I believe it is time that South Korea be dignified by paying 100% of the costs associated with U.S. presence.
I wish to argue on the behalf of Donald Trump on this issue. Trump has stated, “why do we continue to protect South Korea and they pay us peanuts?” Yes. Why does America still pay for the bulk of this cost when South Korea is now a G-15 nation? Would not South Korea be stronger, more dignified and respected, by paying for its own defense? Better yet, why does U.S. continue to be in Korea? I believe that within a few years, South Koreans can achieve the military might that is necessary to fight off the threat from North Korea.
Currently, North Korea’s army is 1 million strong, compared to South Korea’s 650K. However, North Korea’s tanks and warships are aging fleets that are 40-50 years old. South Korea’s military is one of the most technologically advanced in the world, with many fighter jets and tanks similar to those in America. South Korea recently purchased 40 F-35 jets at $120 million dollars each, to add to our fighter jets squadron. This is more than enough to contain and shoot down the obsolete MIG 29’s that North Korea has. If South Korea invests in developing its own anti-missile defense system alongside the U.S., then within a few years, continued U.S. involvement will be unnecessary.
Granted, North Korea may use nuclear/chemical/biological weapons against South Korea in a war. Seoul, which is just 40 miles from the border with 15 million residents, would likely be decimated in any war scenario. This is the probable outcome of any major conflict Korean Peninsula faces, and the use of weapons of mass destruction will be a murder-suicide for North Korea.
South Koreans have lived with this fear of mutual destruction for 60+ years.
Military strength is the only way to deter the threat of North Korean aggression. Simply put, that is the only language that Kim Jong Un understands. The only cards that North Korea have to play are: 1. There will be mutual destruction in a war and 2. South Korea has far more to lose than the North. However, this is true whether the U.S. is involved or not. I believe it is time, that South Korea had national destiny and defense, in its own hands. South Korea is more than capable, from an economic, military, and technological standpoint.
I ask again, Why must a G-15 nation depend so much on U.S. military, to defend against one of the poorest nations in the world? Why?
Trump has also stated that he would like to see South Korea and Japan defend with its own nuclear weapons. Most politicians and foreign leaders are horrified to hear this deviation of U.S. foreign policy from last 70 years. Since World War II, U.S. foreign policy has opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, countries like Israel, India, Pakistan, and of course, North Korea are presumed to have nuclear weapons. South Korea has the technological ability to develop nuclear bombs very quickly, if desired. Combine this with anti-missile technology, South Korea will be able to defend against the North Korean threat on its own. S. Korean lawmaker Won Yoo-cheol recently declared, “It is time to possess a peaceful nuclear program for the right of self-defense.”
If Donald Trump becomes President, South Korea must view his proposals as an opportunity to greatly strengthen its own defense. In the 1970’s there was a nationalistic desire for South Korea to develop nuclear weapons under President Park Jung Hee. It is time that we revitalize that interest. If South Korea wishes to become the independent, dignified, and respected nation that it deserves to be, it cannot continue to depend on another country’s military forces.
It is out of pride for my Korean heritage that I wish for South Korea to be a proud, independent nation.