Regardless of how one thinks about the current President’s budget decisions, it is clear that some serious and difficult decisions need to made about our military obligations overseas. Some of these have been on the back burner for many years, especially in the aftermath of 9/11 and the War on Terror. In lieu of the changing geopolitical scene, the US must look more closely at foreign bases overseas, including those in South Korea.
Forty years ago, South Korea barely registered in the global economy. However, in the shadows of the Korean conflict and with the military muscle of the US, South Korea is nothing short of an economic miracle. The country now has an economy that places it
in the top 10 worldwide in GDP and its growth continues on a pace very similar to its neighbor Japan a generation ago. South Korea is a leader in manufacturing of automobiles and ship building and is a real presence in technology. This is in stark contrast to its North Korean brethren who would starve to death without the hard currency being sent across the DMZ on a regular basis. While South Korea is not a military superpower and has the Chinese regime just a few hundred miles from its borders, the US has to seriously consider reducing its military presence there.
Unlike other areas of the world where the US has bases and troops, South Korea has risen to a level where it no longer needs a 1950s style US obligation. They have the resources and the know how to take on that which the American people have provided for the past two generations. This may be in the best long term national security interests of the US and South Korea. The South Koreans have made the necessary leap into the first tier of nations economically and many elements of the political class have grown weary of our presence in their country. This fact, coupled with our technological advances in aviation and aircraft along with a severe budget and debt crisis make thoughts of ramping down our troop levels there a viable option.
Such a decision should not be made lightly, of course, but it is something our national security leaders should envision in the coming years. The US allocates several billion dollars in South Korea. This certainly made sense forty years ago or even twenty years ago but the rise of South Korea economically makes this a lesser priority. Budget decisions should not drive the readiness train but changing situations for both nations make this a reform to seriously consider in the coming next few years. Just like being in South Korea made sense in the 1950s, so does being Iraq and Afghanistan today. We must utilize our defense resources in places of utmost strategic importance and South Korea makes less sense as the years go by for both nations.