Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Restraining South Korea

We are sending a carrier battle group to exercise with the South Koreans:

The nuclear-powered USS George Washington, which carries 75 warplanes and has a crew of over 6,000, left a naval base south of Tokyo and would join exercises with South Korea from Sunday to the following Wednesday, U.S. officials in Seoul said.

"An aircraft carrier is the most visible sign of power projection there is ... you could see this as a form of pre-emptive deterrence," said Lee Chung-min of Yonsei University in Seoul.

Deterrence? Sure. But clearly this is designed to be an alternative to a military response by South Korea. We would never have agreed to send a carrier into those waters if it coincided with a South Korean air strike against the North Korean artillery units responsible for the barrage.

These are sad days when we seem more interested in deterring South Korea from retaliating than in deterring North Korea from committing acts of war.

On the way home from work, an NPR story reported that responding with force would just bolster the "hard liners" in North Korea. What a convenient argument for passivity in the face of murder.

And it is based on assumptions that may not be true. Why would striking back reinforce the hard liners? Did the hard liners argue that they could provoke a war? Wouldn't it be far more likely that "hard liners" promised the weak South Koreans would never dare respond with force? Doesn't inaction bolster such theoretical "hard liners" by showing they are right that they can get away with any outrage?

Second, what does the term "hard liner" even mean in the North Korean context? Are there notional "soft liners" who oppose warmongering "hard liners" and who want peace and denuclearization and acceptance by the community of nations?

In North Korea, aren't all the ruling elite effectively "hard liners" with perhaps a distinction to be made by hard liners who are "reckless" and willing to provoke the South Koreans with attacks on the one hand and hard liners who are "realistic" because they understand that provoking a war with South Korea and America would lead to the destruction of North Korea's regime or possibly the destruction of the entire country? And if so, don't we encourage the reckless faction by doing nothing in response? Wouldn't we bolster the notional realistic faction by standing firm and acting?

As far as we are concerned, this crisis is over. Is restraining South Korea really the best course of action here?

UPDATE: While China does nothing to restrain their little psycho-pet aggresssor regime, we manage to restrain our victim ally. I assume this is so because South Korea's defense minister resigned:

South Korea's defense minister resigned Thursday amid intense criticism two days after a North Korean artillery attack killed four people on a small island near the Koreas' disputed frontier.

I imagine nothing is planned in retaliation if the defense minister is gone. South Korea will add troops to their islands which does exactly nothing to stop another North Korean bombardment and just puts more troops in the line of fire.

So North Korea gets away with murder. Boy, we sure have taught them a lesson. Why would they ever dare strike again?