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I’ve been following the news about the Summit and the discussion on this thread, and there seems to be quite a difference of opinion. Not only about the wisdom and utility of the Summit and its outcome, but about our role in the region in the first place. Some of the Trumpier commenters say — and I have a certain amount of sympathy for this view — that keeping American troops in South Korea at this late date is both provocative and expensive.
It’s certainly the latter, and one of my great long-term fears is that like so many empires before us, keeping the Pax Americana over so much of the globe will eventually exhaust us financially. It is straining us now, and part of the “America first” theme on which Trump was elected was the notion that we should, first and foremost, take care of our own.
Yet we’ve made commitments to countries like Japan and South Korea. Good countries. Friends. With decent governments and important economies. Countries that it is in our interest, as well as theirs, to see continue to survive and prosper as democracies. And they are in close quarters with a 1.4 billion-person strong, nuclear-armed dictatorship in China, and that’s the good news. The bad news is that they’re also in close quarters with a poor, desperate, and possibly insane nuclear-armed North Korea. So abandoning our commitments would be a massive betrayal, and might genuinely be catastrophic for our friends. We’ve gotten ourselves into this. Can we get out?
The obvious answer is that both South Korea and Japan can defend themselves, given a little time and perhaps some help from us. The weapons that make the evil, hellish regime in North Korea unremovable would make South Korea and Japan safe from aggression as well. At least as safe as our guarantees can make them. Development of those weapons is well within their technological and economic capacities.
Why don’t they have them? Because we’ve asked them not to and they’ve signed up to a now 50-year-old nuclear non-proliferation treaty promising not to get them. I guess my question is, is it time to reconsider that treaty? Has a treaty that did some good and made some sense in a five nuclear power world outlived its usefulness?
Sort of like gun control, it seems like the good guys are disarmed by it (because they follow the rules) but the bad guys are undeterred. North Korea was once a signatory. Iran remains one. And you want leverage with China and North Korea in a negotiation? Tell them enough is enough — we’re going to help their historic adversaries become nuclear powers and keep them under our nuclear umbrella just long enough for them to join the nuclear club.
I fear the only reason we’re not doing this is that we become wedded to ways of thinking that become outmoded, and we fail to re-evaluate as circumstances change. Maybe a non-nuclear South Korea made sense in a world where North Korea was non-nuclear and the cost and time to develop were much greater than it is today. Does it still?