On March 26, the South Korean warship Cheonan was sunk of the western coast of the Korean peninsula, almost certainly by a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. Unsurprisingly, there has since been a sharp escalation in tension between South Korea and North Korea, who have been glaring at one another across the most heavily militarized border on the planet ever since the 1953 armistice that brought an end to the Korean War. Although tensions between the two enemies are a fairly routine matter, this is undoubtedly one of the most serious flare-ups on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the war.
American military personnel have been permanently stationed in South Korea since the armistice of 1953. Presently, something like 28,000 American troops remain deployed along the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and substantial American air and naval forces are also stationed in South Korea. These are part of America's security guarantee to South Korea, and would certainly be immediately drawn into any military conflict between North and South Korea.
The question is: why are American troops there at all? As Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute pointed out in a recent article on the subject, South Korea has forty times the GDP and twice the population of North Korea. Its military is qualitatively superior to that of North Korea in every category, and if its ready reserve troops are included, fully a match in terms of numbers as well. The South Koreans are perfectly capable of defending themselves in the event of a North Korean attack without American help.
As this blog has previously stated, the United States should withdraw its military forces from South Korea. The defense of South Korea is the responsibility of the South Koreans, and it should be paid for by South Korean taxpayers. There is no more reason for American troops to defend the South Korean border than there is for South Korean border guards to patrol the Rio Grande. And considering the current fiscal crisis, the billions of dollars we would annually save by withdrawing our troops from South Korea would certainly come in handy.
Indeed, North Korea would probably be very disappointed to see the American troops leave. So long as a large force of Americans remains deployed on the Korean peninsula, they present an attractive target for North Korean nuclear weapons. This gives North orea an unacceptable amount of leverage over the United States, which North Korea has often sought to use through its cosntant brinkmanship, essentially offering to back down from threat after threat if the United States buys them off. Such an intolerable situation cannot be allowed to continue.
Some will look at the Cheonan incident and the subsequent increase in tensions and claim that they are evidence that American military forces should remain in South Korea. In fact, the opposite is the case. Indeed, the very presence of American troops probably makes an ultimate peace settlement less likely, rather than more likely. While America should always be willing to use its good offices to help resolve international disputes, putting American soldiers in situations where they might get killed in disputes that have nothing to do with the United States is not only absurd, but criminally negligent.
The Founding Fathers warned us about the dangers of permanent entanging alliances. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent end of the global Communist threat, there is no compelling reason for American troops to remain in South Korea, as North Korea does not pose any sort of threat to the United States and South Korea is fully capable of defending itself. The current tensions on the peninsula merely reinforce this point. Let's bring our people home.