08 March 2013

Your Humble Correspondent in Korea

What can I say about the Korean War?

I'd like to know more. My initial impressions all have in common that they reflect  a profound underestimation, from an American perspective, of its importance. For the Koreans in the south, it represents the defeat of an opportunitya united Korea that was nearly realized at the end of WWII.

That disappointment mirrors the frustration that their northern brethren have become so isolated and backwards as to make the two nations increasingly unrelated. The photo below was taken at the national Korean War museum, and shows the rift in heartbreaking artistic beauty. 

Thomas PM Barnett talks about the need for a SysAdmin Force to deal with stabilization operations in the failing and failed "gap" states that account for most of the world's security problems. The gap, according to Barnett, is the collective of "countries that either refuse [to align with the global rule set] or cannot achieve it due to political/cultural rigidity or continuing abject poverty."

Whether you agree with Barnett's framework of gap versus core, or his criteria for assessing of who belongs in which category, or not, it is beyond dispute that North Korea is not really engaged with the international community in a productive way.

On the other hand, its sister state mostly below the 38th parallel is a full member of the functioning core. Seoul is a vibrant city, home to happy people and productive, global business enterprises.

It is also home to nearly 30,000 U.S. forces and billions of dollars in materiel.

U.S. Forces Korea has largely acted in that SysAdmin capacity for the last 60 years. While it maintains combat readiness, the United States military has spent more of its resources advising, training, and providing the stability necessary for the South to be able to do it on its own.

In fact, this year's major exercise defending the Republic is the first in which the Korean Joint Chiefs are taking the lead

So much of the fretting is about whether the North has become so disconnected that it has little to lose from challenging that military advantage and reopening the war. It is, after all, a conflict that hasn't really ended. The armistice signed six decades ago this year  is in force, but the communist regime has shown no qualms about violating it.

So the fears about a reprise of the Korean War are real, I suppose, but it is hard to imagine that it could turn out well for the North. All the key players are very different than they were in 1950 – 1953.

But that analysis is for another time.

Korea is fascinating, and more and more it appears to me to be less defined by the civil war of the 50s as by the growing chasm between the two Koreas caused by ROK's ascendancy in global political and economic affairs. 

Maybe a world-class military buys you something after all.  

Photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston


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