Once upon a time there was as brutal dictator who ran his country with an iron fist. The people of his country suffered great hardship because of his harsh regime. Some of them had actually been killed by their own leader.
This dictator had a large and strong army and was a threat to the entire region, especially his immediate neighbors. In fact, he even attacked a bordering country – more than once. Even worse, this evil despot had weapons of mass destruction! Other countries in that part of the world were worried about what he would do with these weapons and even his allies fretted over what this unstable egomaniacal oppressor would do with them.
Internationally condemned, his country was “sanctioned” by the United Nations and other pan-national organizations. The dictator had a particular hate for the United States and her partners in the region.
This cruel psychopath threatened peace not only in that area of the world, but his actions had the potential to trigger another global conflict.
As tensions mounted and war in the region seemed imminent, what did the United States do?
When applying the above tale to Iraq, the United States invades, body slams the Republican Guard and occupies the country for almost eight years now. But when that same story describes North Korea, well … For some reason, there has never been the kind of urgency in marginalizing such an “unstable” force as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Some will argue that oil is the primary factor in our concerns with the Middle East, others will say it’s our national affinity for Israel. Both are true, but North Korea has been an international irritant for two generations, much longer than Saddam Hussein ever was and the DPRK actually has weapons of mass destruction.
So, why haven’t we invaded North Korea as we did Iraq?
The distance between Seoul and Pyongyang (119 miles) is less than one-quarter that of Baghdad to Tel Aviv (548 miles) or about the same as Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia. The United States has over 28,000 troops across the border in South Korea and tens of thousands of U.S. dependents. There is a United Nations Command in Seoul, the bulk of which are part of the U.S. contingent. The South Koreans have over 655,000 active duty troops and another 3 million active reservists. Further, there are 47,000 U.S. troops in nearby Japan, which, at their nearest points are closer than mainland Florida and Cuba.
The Republic of Korea is an economic miracle and a democratic mainstay in Asia. In the Middle East, there’s Israel and … well, that’s pretty much it for the United States. Although America is enjoying better relations with a number of countries in the region these days (Egypt, for instance), on the whole, the area is hostile to the west.
Asia, is different. Middle Eastern countries brag on being the “cradle of civilization,” but Asia is the birthplace of commerce. The People’s Republic of China, ostensibly a communist nation, owns and permits two of the world’s most dynamic capitalist sectors; Hong Kong and Shanghai. And Dalian, just 275 miles northwest of Inchon, South Korea (and 155 miles from the North Korean border and less than 300 miles from Beijing), “has enjoyed a continuous double-digit increase in GDP since 1992.” Dalian is a financial and information technology behemoth. When U.S. carrier groups sail into the Yellow Sea, they’re conducting operations in Dalian’s and Beijing’s driveway.
We haven’t engaged North Korea as we did Iraq because, as I’ve written before, “Not only is North Korea no threat, it is, essentially, nothing at all.” It is inconsequential to area stability (despite the public harumps of governments to the contrary) and economically immaterial. North Korea is run by punks, the ignorant, the unloved and the jealous. China would dropkick the North in a heartbeat if it could figure out how to do so without damaging its communist bona fides.
If the United States pulled all military personnel from South Korea and Japan, the region as a whole and the peninsula in particular, would be in no greater danger than today. China will not support significant North Korean aggression and most certainly will not tolerate a unilaterally launched war on the South. In fact, I will venture to say that without “foreign” forces in the area, tensions would actually lessen.
China must “support” North Korea if only to save face – no small point in Asian culture. Without a western military presence in Korea/Japan, China could put more pressure on the North to cooperate and, possibly, begin reunification talks. In essence, things would be better without the United States in Korea and Japan.
I’m beginning to think the same is true about Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan; but that’s another post.