Saturday, July 24, 2004

About Time Too

Looks like South Koreans are going to have to shoulder more of the burden of defending themselves from the North going forward.

The US and South Korea have agreed to relocate all of the US troops based in the South Korean capital, Seoul, to a new base further south.
The US said it would move the 8,000 troops to Pyongtaek, 80km (50 miles) to the south, by December 2008.
The Pentagon said both sides also agreed to eventually relocate 14,000 troops currently based between Seoul and the North Korean border.
There are 37,000 US troops stationed in South Korea.
However the US has already said it plans to redeploy 12,500 troops to other countries by 2006, as part of a global review of its forces.
The Pentagon says it will continue to defend South Korea from any threat from the North, insisting that longer range weapons and better technology will compensate for the reduction in numbers.
Excellent - a troop relocation combined with a 33% slash in force numbers is just what's called for. South Korea is more than wealthy enough to defend itself unaided, and if American help does end up being needed, Okinawa will serve just fine as a base of operations. The story does mention another development that's of strategic interest, however.
Last month, South Korea announced four candidates to replace the northern city of Seoul as the nation's capital.
Government and administrative functions will be moved, and possibly parliament and the supreme court, in a move scheduled for completion in 2030.
The potential new sites are all in the centre of the country. It is hoped the move will ease regional rivalry and re-balance Seoul's economic dominance.
I don't buy the notion that "regional rivalry" and "re-balancing" of Seoul's economic dominance have much to do with anything. This is clearly about relocating government functions further away from the Northern artillery arrayed just behind the DMZ, a very sound consideration.

These two developments, along with South Korea's steadfastness in the face of the whole Kim Sun-Il business, indicate that regardless of the popularity of anti-American sentiments amongst younger Koreans, those who hold the reins of power are still thinking clearly about the issues that matter - which isn't to say that they necessarily see their interests as being in complete alignment with those of the United States.

Beyond all the mushy rhetoric about "brotherhood" and so forth, the cynical reality is that South Korea's politicians aren't at all eager for reunification, as the prospect conjures up images of a more populous and far poorer version of East Germany ending up a burden on a populace that still lacks the economic and demographic heft of the former West Germany. Were North Korea to collapse tomorrow, the South would be flooded with destitute refugees, and if it takes cozying up to Kim Jong-Il to stave off this scenario, so be it, nuclear proliferation concerns be damned.