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FACTDROP: Taking More Responsibility for Its Own Defense, Korea Holds Lessons for U.S. Policy in Iraq and Afghanistan
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5/23/2012

Taking More Responsibility for Its Own Defense, Korea Holds Lessons for U.S. Policy in Iraq and Afghanistan

South Korean honour guards hoist the national flag to celebrate the recapture of its capital from North Korea in a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the 1950-53 Korean War at the Gyeongbok palace of the Joseon Dynasty in Seoul on September 28, 2010. Lee said his military will try to play a bigger role in global security and peace as part of efforts to repay the international community for its help in the fight against the North Korean invasion six decades ago.

Πηγή: Forbes
By James K. Glassman
May 23 2012

As America winds down involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should look closely at the lessons of Korea, which is now preparing to take on a larger share of its own defense, both on the ground and in the air.

The globe is still littered with unfinished business from both world wars, which established new nations and artificial divides that have threatened security for nearly a century in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Asia. The good news is that we haven’t had another world war; the bad news is that keeping the peace requires discipline, imagination and perseverance – the kind we are at risk of abandoning in the Middle East and South Asia.

South Korean honour guards hoist the national flag to celebrate the recapture of its capital from North Korea in a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the 1950-53 Korean War at the Gyeongbok palace of the Joseon Dynasty in Seoul on September 28, 2010. Lee said his military will try to play a bigger role in global security and peace as part of efforts to repay the international community for its help in the fight against the North Korean invasion six decades ago. (Image credit: AFP via @daylife)

Throughout its long history, Korea suffered invasions and indignity at the hands of its neighbor, Japan. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and stole its sovereignty. Then, with Japan’s defeat in World War II, Korea won its freedom again – sort of. Like Germany, the peninsula, which today has a combined population of about 72 million, was divided under Soviet control in the north and American control in the south. The division was supposed to be only temporary, but it persisted. Then in June 1950, North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel and invaded the south, igniting a war that lasted three years.

Since then, North Korea has become the last of the hermetically sealed communist states, along with Cuba. Its economy is in shambles, with an estimated GDP per capita of just $1,800, lower than Chad and Senegal. By contrast, South Korea, which started in roughly the same place, has a GDP per capita of $31,700, ahead of Italy and Israel.

A visitor to Seoul, the South’s capital, with a population of 11 million, is continually reminded that the border with the belligerent North is only 35 miles away. The North has the largest artillery forcein the world, and there’s an ominous feeling as you walk around the cosmopolitan city, bustling around the clock, that a shell could land any second.

Although the war ended 59 years ago, the United States keeps 28,500 troops in the South, in part as a reminder to the North that an attack on the South would literally be an attack on America. But the threat of North Korea now extends far beyond South Korea. Unlike Iran, North Korea is frank about developing weapons of mass destruction.

It is moving toward a third nuclear test, perhaps, as Reuters reports, “using highly enriched uranium for the first time.” Just last week, the North resumed work on a light-water reactor that would accelerate its ability to build weapons. And while a rocket launch on May 11 failed, the attempt underlined the North’s desire to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear warhead.

The Korean peninsula, poised between Japan and China, remains a very dangerous place, so it’s heartening that, starting in 2007, the South Koreans began planning to take a greater role in their own defense – and, by extension, the defense of Western democracies like the United States.

At first, the impetus was sovereignty – the leaders of the Republic of Korea (ROK), at the time leaning well to left, complained that they wanted to run their own show, without what some of them viewed as U.S. domination. But with the election of the Lee Myung-bak government, with a more clear-eyed view of the North Korean threat, the shift gained a stronger justification – close coordination and burden-sharing with the U.S. as a critical ally.

The new changes were set in a plan called Strategic Alliance 2015, established at a meeting of U.S. and ROK foreign and defense ministers last July. The Center for U.S.-Korea Policy, a project of the Asia Foundation, reported some of the conclusions:

South Korea needs a single ground component command that is able to coordinate closely with air and sea components. The ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff will lead warfighting while the U.S. Korea Command [American troops] will become a supporting command, and the current U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command will disappear.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assured the South Koreans that U.S. troops won’t be reduced “as long as it takes to protect the Republic of Korea.” But don’t miss the importance of the crossroads that has now been reached. The ROK is assuming a far greater role in its own defense. Perhaps even more dramatic than the change in troop leadership is the fact that South Korea will assume responsibility for airborne operations in and around the peninsula by 2015.

This move fits into South Korea’s overall strategy, embodied in what is called Defense Reform Plan 2020. Like practically every other government in the world, the ROK is trying to find ways to hold down its defense costs. The solution in this case is to reduce troop levels – in part out of necessity, as birth rates drop – and to make this smaller fighting force more efficient through strategic, capital investments in defense.

Specifically, South Korea wants to compensate for fewer troops by procuring advanced fighter and surveillance aircraft, naval platforms, and ground combat vehicles. The 2020 plan calls for “replacing nearly every outdated major weapon” and “transition[ing] to a more professional force with a smaller fraction of draftees.”


A US F-16 fighter jet releases flares during a joint gunnery exercise at a military firing range in Pocheon, near the heavily-fortified border with North Korea, on April 15, 2010. The Korean peninsula is the world's last Cold War frontier as Stalinst North Korea and pro-Western South Korea have been technically at war since the 1950-53 conflict. (Image credit: AFP via @daylife)
As an example, the ROK Air Force is upgrading its fleet of F-16 fighters. These jets were introduced in 1978 by a division of General Dynamics that is now owned byLockheed Martin. With consistent upgrades, more than 4,500 of them are deployed by 25 governments. South Korea has a total of 180 F-16C/D aircraft, and, to handle its new role in air defense, it wants to acquire new radars and more modern avionics and computers.

“With these upgrades,” saysDefense Industry Daily, “the aircraft will be able to carry GPS-guided weapons, AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles, and other new equipment.”

The new radar – called an active electronically scanned array (AESA) system — appears to be essential. It can track multiple targets horizontally and vertically, with a wider range and greater accuracy than current systems. A U.S. company, Raytheon, has developed the only combat-proven AESA radar systems that are already in production. They have been retrofitted to several hundred U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft.

The Korean Air Force is also looking to acquire advanced cruise missiles from such U.S. manufacturers as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon. The missiles “would give South Korea a way of striking even North Korea’s most heavily defended targets if necessary, while remaining out of range of the North’s air defenses.”

Gen. James Thurman, who commands U.S. forces in Korea, put the situation well last October: “There’s one thing I’ve learned: When we try to predict the future we get it wrong.” As a result, both the ROK and the U.S. have to “have the equipment, organization, and training in place to lead the joint-combined fight.” South Korea needs “persistent surveillance; interoperable joint command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence systems; anti-submarine and counter-mine warfare naval capabilities; and capabilities to offset asymmetric threats.”

South Korea did not gain its current prosperity and security by having the U.S. cut and run. We have been at it across seven decades, carefully calibrating our own role and that of our ally. It hasn’t been easy, but, in a dangerous part of the world, the South Korea-U.S. relationship is a true success story, with important lessons to heed for U.S. policy in the Middle East and South Asia.



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