Posts tagged ‘South Korea’

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.

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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.