Posts tagged ‘Asia & Pacific’

04/11/2012

Korea: Time to Close Military Bases

The U.S. has roughly 39 disclosed military bases in South Korea, 57 years after an armistice put an end to the Korean War (1950-53), and the question now is whether they serve any purpose, or has our ongoing American military presence actually become an obstacle to reunification, and a roadblock to demilitarization?

A U.S. presence in Korea followed a vacuum caused by the defeat of imperial Japan in WWII. After trade started with Korea in 1875, the Japanese decided to simply take resources by force in the 20th Century, and their abuse did not stop until 1945, when the U.S. occupied South Korea, and the Soviets entered North Korea.

While the U.S. and Soviets forced Japan to grant independence, neither of the wartime allies was particularly focused on the needs of the Koreans. As the American and Russian forces withdrew in 1948, they divided Korea into a North Korean People’s Republic, north of the 38th Parallel, and the Republic of South Korea, south of it.

Two years later, the North invaded the South in an effort to reunite Korea. The United Nations, with Russia absent from the vote, found a breach of the UN Charter, and authorized the use of collective force to repel the invasion, in what became the Korean War (1950-53). Mao’s China soon entered the conflict on the side of the North, causing a stalemate, and an ultimate ceasefire. A 2½-mile Demilitarized Zone has separated two Koreas ever since.

After both North and South Korea joined the UN in 1991, train travel between the two was attempted to ease tensions, but the labeling of the North as a terrorist state, and fear of conflict, has kept both sides on edge, and has caused occasional flare-ups.

From the perspective of the North, since the Americans still have 30,000 troops stationed at various military facilities in the South along with their weapons, they must maintain a large military to repel a possible attack.

So what would really happen if the U.S. unilaterally withdrew all forces? Hawks may in a knee jerk fashion predict an invasion by the North. What is much more likely is a demolition of the barrier between North and South, and the commencement of trade. The North would gladly take the benefits of trade from the Southern economy, one of the strongest in Asia.

While a total unilateral withdrawal is largely a pipe-dream given the dysfunctional American political system, since very few American politicians would have the courage to do something so bold, progress always begins with an idea, and the idea is to unilaterally close our bases in Korea, and withdraw from their soil. Such a move would ease tensions, lead to reciprocal demilitarization, and eventual reunification.

04/10/2012

Japan: Close All Military Bases

The U.S. still has at least 22 military facilities in Japan, 67 years after the end of World War II, a conflict that transformed the Japanese government from a militaristic chain of command into a liberal democracy, such that now they pose no threat whatsoever to the U.S. So why do we still have a military presence in Japan?

While Korea is in the neighborhood, where the U.S. military has an even greater presence, Japanese bases add little to their needs. China, also nearby, is really no threat to the U.S. Since Hong Kong and Taiwan are part of sovereign China, the U.S. could not act lawfully, even if unrest developed in those enclaves. In the 1960s, we listened in on the Soviets from undisclosed bases in Northern Japan, but the Cold War ended over 20 years ago, and Russia has been our ally ever since.

While reports show some U.S. forces are now being moved to Guam, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and the Philippines, the best place for them is back home in the U.S. We should work on withdrawing all of our forces from the following Japanese bases:

TOHOKO REGION (N Honshu)
Air Force: Misawa Air Base, Misawa-Aomori

KANTO REGION (SE Honshu, Tokyo)
Army: Camp Zama
Air Force: Yokota Air Base

SHIZUOKA PREFECTURE (SE Honshu)
Marines: Camp Fuji

KANAGAWA PREFECTURE (SE Honshu)
Navy: U.S. Fleet Activities Yokosuka
Naval Air Facility Atsugi

YAMAGUCHI PREFECTURE (SW Honshu)
Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni

KYUSHU ISLAND (Far SW)
Navy: U.S. Fleet Activites Sasebo

OKINAWA (Far S, Ryukru Islands,  Kyushu Region)
Army: Torii Station
Army: Fort Buckner
Marines: Camp Smedley Butler
Marines: Camp Courtney
Marines: Camp Foster
Marines: Camp Gonsalves
Marines: Camp Hansen
Marines: Camp Kinser
Marines: Camp Lester
Marines: Camp McTureous
Marines: Camp Schwab
Marine Corps Air Station Futenma
Naval Forces Japan, Okinawa
Air Force: Kadena Air Base, Okinawa

04/07/2012

Guam and Marianas: Go Independent

The Southern Marianas, whose population of 173,450 is mostly on the island of Guam; and the Northern Marianas, whose 88,662 mainly live on the island of Saipan, are two Pacific U.S. Territories, roughly 6,175 miles from San Diego, that should be consolidated and granted independence.

The Spaniards first sent explorers to the Marianas in 1521. Following the Spanish-American War (1898), Spain surrendered the Southern Marianas (Guam) to the U.S., under the Sixth Treaty of Paris (1898), and sold the Northern Marianas to Germany.

After Germany surrendered in WWI, the Northern Marianas were transferred to Japan, under a League of Nations Mandate (1920). The Japanese then used the Northern islands in WWII as a base in 1941 to invade and occupy the U.S. Southern Marianas (Guam). In 1944, Americans defeated Japanese troops in a bloody battle at Saipan, as they seized the Northern Marians, and retook Guam.

The Americans subsequently governed the Northern Marianas under a UN Trust, through 1978, when a U.S. Commonwealth was created. Meanwhile, Guam received a limited form of U.S. Citizenship in 1950, which denied them a vote for U.S. President, but gave them a Congressional Representative (since 1972), who can participates in committee, but not on the House floor.

The idea of independence should not be alarming as it would not change their military relationship with the U.S., since Guam will most certainly want to lease land for U.S. Air Force and Navy bases, as their economy heavily depends on it. Guam’s population is slated to increase through 2015, when 8,000 U.S. Marines and 10,000 dependents, currently at Okinawa, are scheduled to arrive.

It is time to end our quasi-colonial arrangement, and for the Marianas to stand up on their own. Since they are never going to become a U.S. State, they should now be granted independence.

12/19/2011

North Korea: Kim Dead; Time to Reunify

The People’s Republic of North Korea fell silent today, because their leader, 69-year-old Kim Jong II, passed away, following 17 years in command. He had assumed power when his father Kim Sung died, after ruling for 46 years, from 1948 through 1994, during a term that included the Korean War (1950-53). With the passing of Kim II, the North now has a chance to move away from a family dynasty, reunite with the South, and formally end the Korean War, which only stopped in 1953, due to an armistice.

Over the past 136 years, Korea has gone through change. As a Chinese Province, trade treaties were forced upon them by Japan in 1875, before Tokyo invaded, in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), and simply seized the entire Korean Peninsula. When Russia tried to wrestle Korea away, Japan humiliated Moscow in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), and proceeded to industrialize the region, under the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty (1910).

In the last days of WWII in 1945, as U.S. troops were poised to enter South Korea, the Soviets quickly declared war on Japan, and occupied North Korea. Korea remained partitioned at the 38th Parallel in 1948, when the Soviet Army withdrew, giving rise to the North Korean People’s Rep., and the U.S. Army ended their occupation of the South, giving birth to the Rep. of South Korea.

Just two years later, the Korean War (1950-53) erupted, as troops from the North invaded the South, in what they believed was a mission to reunite their nation, artificially divided by the U.S. and Russia. The UN instead determined the conduct was a “breach of the peace,” and resolved to take collective military action.

UN forces, led by the U.S. Army, landed near Seoul, and drove a wedge through the North Korean supply lines, forcing them to withdraw from the South. As they were pushed back, nearly into China, Chinese volunteers entered the war in Nov. 1950 on the side of North, and drove the UN troops back down into the South, by March 1951. Shortly afterward, President Truman fired Gen. MacArthur for making insubordinate comments about the war. The Korean conflict then dragged on for two more years, until a ceasefire was signed in July 1953. Korea would remain divided, with a 2½-mile De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) between the two states.

While the Kim family firmly controlled the North for 63 years, dictators, propped up by the U.S., ruled the South, at least initially. Following the 1987 South Korean elections, the two states started talks as to re-unification. Progress slowed in 1988, when the North was labeled a terrorist state, for allegedly selling missiles to Iran, but despite this, and speculation the North was building a nuclear bomb, both Koreas joined to the UN in 1991.

In 2000, progress towards reunification advanced when the two Korean leaders shook hands, but it slowed again in 2002, after 911, when President George W. Bush labeled the North part of an Axis of Evil. With the start of Six-Nation Talks in 2003, hope re-emerged, as some travel between South and North was allowed, and passenger trains started crossing the border in 2007, but progress slowed again, when the train travel stopped in 2008.

Now with the death of Kim II, the UN is should be poised to bring about change, particularly since Ban Ki Moon, a South Korean, has been serving as Secretary-General since 2006. The UN has the right leader to dismantle the De-Militarized Zone, and to finally end the Korean War. President Obama could help by re-deploying to other locations, the 30,000 U.S. troops we no longer need in South Korea. The time is now to reunite the two Koreas.

11/15/2011

Peace Corps: Real Home of the Brave

We often see government TV ads promoting the Marines, as the place for strong men and women, but not often enough do we hear about the Peace Corps, that overlooked army of mentally tough young Americans, who physically survive each and every day in cultural settings totally foreign to the comforts of American life.

While the military is sometimes sent abroad to engage in armed combat, the Peace Corps is always overseas on the front lines in challenging foreign environments that present risks of the sort most Americans would not endure for very long, if at all.

Unlike the Armed Services, where individuals serve with Bands of Brothers, who vigilantly guard their backsides, Peace Corps volunteers go it alone, (think about that for a moment), and they go unarmed, in a world where they win over hearts and minds with nothing more than words and deeds.

The 8,655 volunteers of the Peace Corps, now living in 76 countries throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere, are brave people, often assigned to villages where no one looks like them, or where no one speaks their language. Their single greatest hardship is the disconnection from the people back home.

But every day they also go without many conveniences we in the U.S. take for granted. A simple drink from the kitchen sink in the U.S. can for a volunteer require a trip to buy bottled water. A warm shower for most volunteers is a dream of something they once experienced back in the states, as water heaters are a luxury. If running water exists, poor pressure often reduces it to nothing more than a cold dribble. While they may have a toilet, toilet paper cannot be used as it only plugs up their outdated systems. The volunteers deal with these hardships, and a multitude of others. They adjust to conditions on the ground, and they survive.

If you ever thought service in the Peace Corps was a piece of cake, try it for a two-year hitch, or at least visit a volunteer, as I did these past 10 days in West Africa, where my son is serving. You will quickly realize how tough these young people are. All Americans should tip their hats to the Peace Corps volunteers, the finest group of unpaid Ambassadors the U.S. has ever had.

10/13/2011

Myanmar: Prisoner Release a Good Move

Myanmar, an Asian country surrounded by Thailand (southeast), Laos (east), China (northeast), India (northwest), and Bangladesh (west), witnessed the release of political prisoners yesterday, in what appears to be a thawing in the brutal regime that has gripped the country for past several decades.

Historically, Myanmar was known as Burma. British-India captured Burmese coastal areas in 1826, and expanded into Rangoon and Lower Burma in 1853. After Britain annexed the rest of the country in 1886, they administered it from India. Burma became a separate colony, when it was severed from India in 1937. In WWII, the Japanese occupied Burma (1942-45).

As Burma gained total independence from Britain in 1948, they slipped into civil war (1948-51), which was not settled until the Karens Tribe was awarded a separate area (1954). The country then lost their grip on democracy in 1962, as 50 years of military rule began. Under the first military junta, one ruler presided for the next 26 years (1962-88), 750,000 Indians were returned to India in 1965, when their businesses were nationalized. By 1970, 50,000 guerillas were fighting the government from Thai bases.

The second tragic episode in Burmese history commenced when another military junta deposed the first in 1988, causing things to go from bad to worse. Burma renamed itself Myanmar in 1989, as a hard-liner became Head of State and imposed Martial Law. Opposition leaders were put under House Arrest. When the junta lost the 1990 election in a landslide, they refused to step down, prompting 200,000 to demonstrate for democracy, and the regime to torture and kill pro-democracy activists. 160,000 were moved into resettlement areas in 1990, as many others fled to Thailand.

The West finally stepped up pressure against the brutal government in the past decade, as sanctions were imposed by the U.S. in 2003. Following the suppression of protests by Buddhist monks in 2007, the Red Cross accused Myanmar of abuse, prompting the EU to impose sanctions. Despite these measures, relief was delivered in 2008, after a cyclone had killed 80,000.

Although elections were held in 2010 for the first time in two decades, they were labeled fraudulent by the West, because a key opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was not released from House Arrest, until one week after the balloting. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party won 80% of the seats, and in March 2011, their leader, Thein Sein, who had retired from the military in 2010, became the first civilian President in 50 years.

Perhaps Myanmar is now finally moving in the right direction with civilian leadership, and the release yesterday of political prisoners. The world can only wait and see if they are now on track towards serious political change, or if the past practices of the repressive regime will continue.