Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement

By Selig S. Harrison | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
The United States and the Military Balance

IN SEPTEMBER 2000, the United States maintained conventional forces in South Korea totaling 36,388 Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine personnel. This military presence consisted primarily of ground forces and their logistical support, including the combat infantry force of 15,000 deployed in forward positions as a “tripwire.” President Bush removed U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea and from Pacific aircraft carriers in 1991. But the United States has not ruled out their reintroduction and the use of both tactical and strategic nuclear weapons against North Korean conventional forces. Successive U.S. administrations have pledged to maintain a U.S. “nuclear umbrella” over the South and have threatened to use nuclear weapons in Korea first, if necessary, a threat that was made most explicitly during the cold war but has never been withdrawn. Article 3 of the 1994 nuclear freeze agreement between Washington and Pyongyang provides that the United States will make a formal pledge not to use nuclear weapons against North Korea, but the two sides have yet to agree on the language of such a pledge.

The policy choices confronting the United States with respect to the future of its “nuclear umbrella” over the South will be examined separately in part 4. This chapter will focus specifically on the conventional military balance between the North and South and the impact of the U.S. force presence on the balance. At the same time, in my analysis of the conventional balance, I will take into account the changes in North Korean military strategy resulting from the erosion of its conventional forces and the growth of its nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities. Based on my assessment of the impact of the U.S. presence on the conventional balance, I will consider the future of the U.S. presence in the broader context of arms control and tension reduction in Korea.

To be sure, much of this book shows that another North Korean invasion of the South is unlikely. Parts 1 and 2 present evidence that North Korea is preoccupied with its economic survival, fears a U.S.–South Korean invasion, and has lost confidence in its ability to “liberate” the South militarily. Part 5 emphasizes that Moscow has severed its security treaty commitment to North Korea and that Pyongyang cannot count on mili-

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