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Beret lieutenant colonel, Gordon Cucullu is now an editorialist,
author and a popular speaker. Born into a military
family, he lived and served for more than thirteen years in East
Asia, including eight years in Korea. For his Special Forces
service in Vietnam he was awarded a Bronze Star, Vietnamese Cross
of Gallantry, and the Presidential Unit Commendation. After separation
from the Army, he worked on Korea and East Asian affairs at both
the Pentagon and Department of State as well as an executive
for General Electric in Korea. His first major non-fiction work,
at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin, is
based in large part on his extensive experience in
Korea and East Asia as a governmental insider and businessman.
[go to Cucullu index]
Redeployment – The China Connection
the dire predictions...
[Gordon Cucullu] 10/1/04
of its history China has lived under the threat of foreign
Manchu, Japanese and Russian forces
tested Chinese defenses and sometimes overran them. Attacking
China via the Korean peninsula is an old story. Japanese armies
marched northward from Pusan many times. To be fair, roads run
in both directions: following the Mongol conquest Chinese/Mongol
armies used Korea as a jumping-off point for abortive invasions
of Japan. Nevertheless, Korea was traversed by foreign armies
so frequently that Koreans developed a sensitivity to outsiders
bordering on paranoia. A favorite proverb describes Korea as ‘a
shrimp among whales.’ When the whales of China, Japan and
Russia collide, the hapless Korean shrimp are crushed. The 20th
century saw a new player added, the US: a potential invader to
China, another ‘whale’ to Korea.
Geopolitical circumstances made the US a primary player in Cold
War Asia. Original occupation forces in Japan altered their mission
to deter Soviet aggression. Later, Korea-based American units
prevented a resumption of North Korean or Chinese military intervention
against South Korea then struggling for survival. For decades
US forces were positioned trip-wire close to the Demilitarized
Zone. Protected by the US security umbrella South Korea bootstrapped
itself from an agriculturally-based economic basket case to a
healthy, manufacturing-based technological giant. Concomitantly,
i! t transitioned politically through a series of authoritarian
military leaders into a full-blown, democratic state.
South Korea’s coming out party was the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Since then South Korea has had several free elections each marked
by peaceful transition of power. Political parties have moved
from opposition to control and back. The military establishment
supports the constitution, not the leader. Democracy has taken
firm root. South Korea’s diplomatic successes mirror its
political and economic development. It has established cordial
bi-lateral relations with former enemies like the former Soviet
Union and China and has even invested heavily in them.
The Seoul Olympics
also marked the critical crossover point when North Korea fell
well below South Korea in the military
balance. Subsequently the disparity has grown. While North Korea
is still exceedingly dangerous – it maintains a 1.2 million
man army despite starving its people – it can no longer
realistically expect to defeat the South in a conventional war.
Instead its desperate leader, Kim Jong Il, threatens Seoul with
weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical and biological.
Responding to the threat the South Korean military improved training
and equipment, and transformed itself into one of the most professional
forces in the region. It is fully cap! able of defending the
Times have changed
in Northeast Asia; adjustments are necessary. Fixing large
numbers of US ground forces alongside the DMZ no
longer makes good strategic or tactical sense. If a deterrent
is necessary then a smaller number will serve the purpose. Relocating
combat units from the DMZ increases flexibility, converting them
from ‘speed bumps’ as the troops of the 2nd Infantry
Division call themselves, into an important reaction force capable
of influencing the land battle. Military analyst Ralph Peters
noted correctly that America can make the greatest contribution
to a future war through massive air and naval support of South
Korean ground forces.
It is a measure of
increasing confidence that the South Koreans are comfortable
discussing these redeployment issues. Twenty-six
years ago the Carter administration threatened a troop pullout,
causing Seoul grievous consternation and concern. The Koreans
were right to worry. In the late 1970s North Korea might have
interpreted a capricious US pullout as a green light to launch
an aggressive war. But no such illusions exist in Pyongyang today.
Kim Jong Il is back on his heels strategically. After decades
of ruining his country’s economy and abusing its populace
Kim is reduced to making hysterical threats. He fears for his
future. Photos of Saddam Hussein pulled whining from a hole did!
more to intimidate the North Korean dictator than any UN Security
Council resolution could ever do. There is no likelihood that
US redeployment will be misinterpreted by North Korea.
A further advantage to US troop redeployment is that China is
averse to having foreign troops stationed on its borders regardless
of the justification. Ancient fears die hard. In past times of
strained diplomatic relationships China might have interpreted
removal of US ground forces as a display of weakness. Having
come to an economically profitable bi-lateral relationship with
Seoul in the past decade and a half, Beijing is quite satisfied
that it can do business with a unified, free Korea. Limited reduction
of American military presence sends a signal that US forces are
willing to leave entirely when the North Korean threat is eliminated.
Contrary to hyperbolic,
politically motivated predictions of disaster, a well-conceived,
balanced redeployment of US forces
indicates recognition of new strategic realities. It is a quiet
announcement that once the most egregious dictator and human
rights violator in Northeast Asia is removed the US is prepared
to transfer security responsibility back to regional nations.
America’s troop redeployment may encourage China to work
with other consortium partners to contain North Korea and ultimately
force regime change. Redeployment is an overdue, confident step
that recognizes an end of the Cold War. It acknowledges both
the realities of evolving multilateral relationships and higher
priority strategic threats in fighting the war on terror. CRO
Gordon Cucullu 2004