Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Punishing South Korea

This article over at the New York Sun blog demonstrates clearly the flaws in the "with or us against us" school of international relations.

Essentially the South has said that it will not be taking any significant new action to contribute to the intercepting of North Korean ships suspected of moving nuclear weapons materials. Freedman dislikes this as the logic that "American troops are defending South Korea and they won't support us in halting Kim Jong Il's nuclear proliferation?" is apparently unacceptable. His solution is to punish the South Koreans by threatening to remove US troops.

This would have two concrete harms even if we only ever threatened to remove troops and did not actually remove them:
1) It undermines the deterrent power of the US military by making it appear that we might not necessarily defend the South Koreans if the North attacked. I.e. they might assume US troops would just leave if they came under fire.
2) It would heighten concern about an attack in the South, as their defences would appear weaker, and make it less likely they might stand up to the North.

It would also be a bad idea from our perspective if they were being terribly robust with the North. If we do need to search North Korean vessels this has the danger of creating an international incident. Now, if such an incident involves Americans and makes the North Koreans want to lash out there is little they can do. If that incident involves the South Koreans, on the other hand, they have Seoul within range of their artillery. As such, threatening the South Koreans into being robust with the North is entirely misguided. We want the North Koreans to see as little connection between the people they are fighting and the civilians of Seoul as possible. There are plenty of ships capable of searching North Korean transport available to us; there is no need for the South Koreans to prove their loyalty by providing us with theirs.

The same goes for other actions against North Korea whether military action or economic sanctions. The plan with the highest probability of a good outcome which doesn't involve massive civilian casualties is one that has the least involvement from the South Koreans. At this point the best position for our friends in South Korea to take is to play the sunshine policy good cop to the Western bad cop. Only in economic sanctions is this less clear thanks to the South Korean involvement in the North Korean economy but even here it is probably best if their responsibility is as diluted as possible.

Some states are expected to, and should be judged, by what they contribute to an alliance; Britain, France and Germany, for example, should be judged by what they contribute. For others that is manifestly not the right criteria, Israel, Taiwan and South Korea are states that we defend because it is right and their contribution to any objective but their own survival is not how they should be judged.

1 comment:

Gracchi said...

Yes I agree- states have different priorities and building an alliance like the one that we want means recognising that.