Sunday, January 18, 2004

Red Flag on North Korea

According to the wires, as reported by the CSM U.S. troops with the cooperation of South Korea are going to relocate south of Seoul. This is being touted as a diplomatic breakthrough and a concession to Seoul residents who have long complained about the U.S. housing taking up valuable residential real estate.

Under a historic plan to end the US presence in the capital dating from the 1950-53 Korean War, about 7,000 US forces and their families will be moved to an expanded facility about 45 miles south of Seoul. The move is to be completed by 2006.


Residents have long complained that the base occupies prime real estate and contributes to the city's chronic traffic congestion. Younger generations also see the foreign military presence in their capital as a slight to national pride.

However as the article notes:

Taking US forces out of the capital also removes them from the front lines of a potential North Korean attack.

The problem with this is that this move could be preparations for military conflict on the Korean Peninsula. The reason why is that in the event of a conflict, Seoul would be bombarded with artillery and be rushed by the North Korean massive infantry forces because it is so close to the demilitarized zone dividing Korea. As Stanley Kurtz notes in his excellent analysis of options on the Korean-situation:

"Yet war with North Korea would be a horror. True, the United States and South Korea would ultimately win... But in the initial stages, the North would probably kill hundreds of thousands of South Koreans. They would quickly destroy Seoul with a massive artillery barrage from hardened bunkers, and would at first overrun much of the Korean and American army with a massive land attack."

Families are of course the hardest to evacuate in case of an emergency. Soldiers on active duty could always be moved rear of the forward engagement zone of an artillery barrage by an emergency deployment order. Spouses and little kids who may be about town attending school or shopping could never be evacuated in time except with days of advance warning. Even a night-time emergency evacuation order would be a chaotic mess with some families possibly left behind as commanders moved to save as many as they could. An essential step to planning for a Korean conflict would be moving the family residencies out of the danger zone well beforehand. Forty five miles south of Seoul is about an hour's drive, and enough of a buffer zone to make evacuation less than a nightmare while remaining close enough for necessary commutes to the capitol city by any serving soldiers stationed in Korea.

It would be possible to argue that reading too much into a single relocation is alarmist, but consider that Bush Administration insiders David Frum and Richard Perle have recently sent a book to the White House advocating exactly such redeployment steps as precursors for an armed confrontation with North Korea. As reported by Stars and Stripes, the article quotes them saying:

“We fear that it is unlikely that North Korea will accept such terms. If those fears are correct, then the United States must ready itself for the hard possibility that our choices really shrink to two: tolerate North Korea’s attempt to go nuclear — or take decisive action to stop it,”

This article in Asia Times Online contains actual quotes from their book and includes this ominous note:

"Decisive action would begin with a comprehensive air and naval blockade of North Korea ... Next, we must accelerate the redeployment of our ground troops on the Korean Peninsula so they are beyond the range of North Korean artillery and short-range rockets."

Of course, military commanders would prefer to put the redeployment of hard to move units like family residences well before hand, and reserve full pullback from the front-lines as a last-minute response to imminent hostilities. North Korea has already stated that it would treat sanctions or a naval blockade as an act of war. Any imminent blockade attempt would have to be treated by the American military command as a provocative step that might generate immediate military retaliation.

This otherwise innocent seeming step of moving families back from the frontlines, while not ruling out the possibility of peace with North Korea, is certainly far more ominous sign that is being popularly reported.

Read more about the oldman's views in his posting 'Damned if you do and damned if you don't, North Korea'.

UPDATE: Time Magazine argues that North Korea will never renounce nuclear weapons. Time also explores issues of Pakistani nuclear proliferation. Read more about it at the Weekly Standard's article on the nuclear technology smuggling by Pakistan.

UPDATE 2: Op-ed on North Korea in the NYT indicates that the United States is running out of time.

WASHINGTON — "Time is not on the American side," Kim Gye Gwan, vice foreign minister of North Korea, told me a few weeks ago. "As time passes, our nuclear deterrent continues to grow in quantity and quality." Those words are an indictment of United States intelligence as well as a potential epitaph on the Bush administration's failed policy in North Korea.


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