Why America Must Defend South Korea

by Victor Davis Hanson


The Cold War is over.  Why on earth should we expend American blood and treasure to defend South Korea? George Washington warned us about this kind of entanglement. Why should we expend American blood and treasure to defend South Korea? (Ricochet member Kenneth)

Let us count the ways and considerations:

1) We are not talking of sending hundreds of thousands of soldiers to Korea, but mostly sophisticated naval and air contingents with overwhelming firepower. There are only between 25,000 and 35,000 American military personnel there on the ground, depending on how we calibrate US area defense forces, that augment one of the largest forces of any democratic nation, roughly 700,000 active and more than 3 million reserve South Korean military personnel. South Korea is no paper tiger, but spends vast amounts on its own defense. Our mission thus is not to defend Korea alone, but to act as advisors, supply sophisticated technology and follow through on our treaty obligations by visible examples of US forces on the ground. Note unlike Afghanistan or Iraq, this is a conventional crisis, one in which Western air and naval power would be far more effective, as was true in the winter of 1951, against concentrations of communist forces.

2) We help South Korea also because of the past heroic sacrifices of thousands of Americans who saved South Korea when at one point it was little more than the Pusan perimeter. Their heroism, and the subsequent vigilance of generations of Americans, have helped South Korea to become one of the most successful democratic and capitalist nations in the world, as we see from brands from Hyundai to Samsung, constitutional and peaceable changes in government, and 50 million free and prosperous South Koreans. Had we not done that, 50 million South Koreans would now be eating grass in the manner North Koreans are sometimes forced to. South Korea, then, is not a matter of optional engagement such as Somalia or the Sudan, but the pillar of US Asian defense policy, in both moral and strategic terms.

3) Should we fail to support the South, then governments in the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan will assume the US either cannot or will not honor its obligations that have led to these successful democracies, and will in turn either make accommodations with the communist Chinese or seek to go nuclear to obtain their own deterrence — a capability well within the ability of all four such countries.

4) If North Korea were to invade and if we were to do nothing in support — whatever the outcome — China would see this as a green light to raise its global profile among vulnerable Western nations with deleterious consequences for democracy in general. Remember, just as Chinese clients like North Korea or Iran cause untold trouble in the world, by things like threatening Japan or arming Hezbollah, US allies such as South Korea are positive global players who obey laws, enrich the world with their industry and genius, and prove model global citizens.

©2011 Victor Davis Hanson

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