In the midst of all the Second Korean War hype, Fareed Zakaria gathered a roundtable to discuss this issue. One line stuck out to me from the April 7th episode [emphasis mine]:
“RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT of COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: And the problem is not simply the Chinese are worried about immigrants, they are worried about unification of Korea with Seoul as the capital as part of the American security orbit.
That's part of ...
ZAKARIA: Nuclear weapons and 40,000 American troops.
HAASS: And even -- one of the interesting diplomatic things (inaudible), U.S. what we tell the Chinese, look, we're prepared to negotiate about that. It doesn't have to have nuclear weapons. Indeed, we'd be against the unified Korea with nukes.
Another possibility is we can talk about American troop presence. We can talk about a lot of things...”
From what I gather, Fareed Zakaria just asked Richard Haass, “If the price of a unified Korea was the removal of U.S. troops from Korean soil, would you take that?” and he said, “Well, we can talk about it.”
This whole conversation literally blows my mind.
We’ve written before about the massive, excessive, costly and needless presence of U.S. troops overseas. It does more to antagonize our opponents than provide specific security gains. (I stop short of calling it a burgeoning “U.S. Empire” the way many netizens tend to exaggerate. Though it wastes money, it isn’t an empire, or it’s the weakest empire in history.)
In the past, we had good reasons to station American troops overseas. Take the start of the Cold War in Europe, for instance. Having tanks in Western Germany definitely helped deter Soviet aggression. Maintaining a presence in Japan did the same thing, as well as helped stabilize that post-war nation.
And for decades, having troops in South Korea helped enforce the armistice. I don’t think any observers of international relations could doubt this.
But, man, inertia is hard to overcome, especially when it could make you “look weak” to the larger world.
Only inertia could explain how an American national security expert--Richard Haass--wouldn’t want to immediately pull American troops from South Korea if the Koreas merged. We station troops in Korea because of the Korean war and the continuing threat posed by Pyongyang. Remove that threat, and what are the troops doing there? What border are they standing on? Why wouldn’t we pull our troops back? Why risk antagonizing China, and in the meantime, prevent China from distancing themselves from North Korea?
Because Richard Haass wants to “talk about” a lot of things? To maintain “naval superiority” in Asia? To keep an ongoing “pivot to Asia”?
Our politicians and general don’t react quickly. The military and government are loathe to change when events on the ground change. This is why conservatives advocate for a smaller, more nimble government. Because they hate inertia, specifically systemic inertia (bureaucracy). We don’t need troops in Germany and Italy. We have no geo-political reason for them to stay. Yet, every time America tries to bring them home, somehow it never happens.
Unfortunately, war hawks hate weakness, and will cling to inertia to maintain strength. And war hawks simply want to maintain U.S. strength even when it adds little to our security besides perception.