With a title like that, you will think I'm writing about Afghanistan, or Iraq.
But I'm not. The U.S. has had a significant, continuous military presence in South Korea since 1950 – 60 years. That makes our time in the middle east, so far, seem pretty minor. Admittedly, once the cease-fire was signed with the North in 1953, Korea didn't have the kind low-grade, sustained civil war that U.S. troops have been having to cope with in those other countries.
Perhaps if we could have installed a cozily sympathetic, hard-ass dictator like Syngman Rhee was in South Korea in Iraq or Afghanistan, we could have reached a point where the U.S. troops were out of harm's way and a very long-term occupation would have been more feasible. It's been more than clear, among the "nation builder" neocons, that Bush and company believed that they could achieve some kind of sustainable situation of this sort.
But in today's geopolitical context, installing cozy, pro-U.S. dictators ain't what it used to be. Witness how precarious Karzai's position is in Afghanistan. He'd have been getting our unequivocal support if this were still the cold war.
Actually, though, I don't mean to be writing about the these Bushian adventures. I'm thinking about South Korea, and its love-hate, push-pull affair with the U.S. I'm particularly disturbed by a recent spat that has erupted over the issue of nuclear power, nuclear fuel reprocessing, and related issues. I was reading about it in the New York Times (q.v.).
Particularly relevant and important in that article is when it quotes someone named Mr Pomper: “It is understandable why Seoul would be frustrated that India, a non-N.P.T. state, would be given this deal while South Korea, a loyal U.S. ally and N.P.T. member now in good standing, would face resistance from Washington.” [NPT means "non-proliferation treaty"]
Why, indeed? If the U.S. trusts South Korea enough to keep 30-40 thousand troops on the ground in the country, after 60 years, and under nominal unified South Korean command, at that, why not trust them to reprocess their own nuclear fuel?
I'm not even sure the end of the article is entirely relevant – whether or not Seoul wants to build nuclear weapons isn't, and shouldn't be the issue. Given the North's transgressions, it seems hard to justify – in terms of sovereignty and peninsular security – making a carte-blanche judgment against the South pursuing its own nuclear security, either via a U.S. "umbrella" (as it currently has), or via its own program (as it once briefly pursued in the 1970's).
I mean, if India and Pakistan and Israel get to keep their bombs, and Iran and North Korea can't be stopped from making theirs… that's a dangerous world. Why not South Korea, too? Let's all have bombs, together. We'll all be super-safe, right?
But… seriously: how do we stop this? How do we take control of it? Shouldn't we at least treat each other as adults capable of rational decisions? That's all that South Korea is asking that the U.S do for them, I think, with respect to the nuclear fuel issue.