At the tactical level, these ship-based interceptors can only be used for defensive purposes, in this case supporting an overall defensive strategy of deterring North Korean aggression and provocations while reassuring South Korea and Japan that they don’t need to develop their own nuclear arsenals to achieve such assurance since the United States has the capacity and intent to defend them. Last year’s outrageous North Korean provocations against the South – the sinking of the Cheonan warship and the shelling civilians on a border island – affirm the importance of preventing further North Korean aggression through a combination of deterrence and defence combined with diplomacy and dialogue.
At the regional level and beyond, the US ships at the base can add to the maritime network of naval assets designed to prevent North Korea from exporting or importing additional weapons of mass destruction components or their means of delivery, acts that contribute to horizontal and vertical proliferation. Selling these and other contraband has become a major source of North Korean revenue, used to prop up the ruling elite, as well as a source of regional and even global instability.
To curb the export of WMD-related material and their means of delivery from North Korea, the George W. Bush administration launched the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in 2003. The Obama administration has vigorously supported the PSI, including through legitimizing UN Security Council resolutions. Both administrations have helped secure unilateral and multilateral sanctions on North Korea that mandate international cooperation to curb the flow of these items, as well as the financial transactions that underpin them. The South Korean government has supported these measures.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
But South Korea has also become a global player in its own right, one with worldwide interests. In terms of economics, it clearly ranks as one of the most powerful. But even in the security realm, South Korea has entered the elite global ranks, as seen by its hosting of the G-20 summit last year and the second nuclear security summit next year. Albeit with little enthusiasm, South Korea became a major force contributor to the US-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, South Korea has sent a warship to join the international flotilla that’s patrolling the Gulf of Aden against maritime pirates.
Still, future instances of South Korean foreign military operations will more likely occur within the framework of the bilateral alliance than independently. South Korean and US planners have discussed ways that they two militaries can support each other in humanitarian and disaster-relief missions, as well as other extra-Korean contingencies, by building on their existing Peninsula-based cooperation.
All this means that not only does South Korea accept the necessity for US Forces Korea to contribute to extra-peninsular missions, but South Korea’s own military modernization programme, the Defense Reform Project 2020 adopted in 2005, has increased its capacity to participate in out-of-Korea missions. While reducing South Korean ground forces from 680,000 to 500,000 troops, and grouping the remainder into more agile, modular structures, the South Korean Air Force and Navy will receive enhanced long-range surveillance and strike systems, including some AWACS planes and UAVs as well as KDX Aegis-equipped destroyers, Dokdo class amphibious warships, and longer-range Type 214 attack submarines.
In this context, asking the inhabitants of Jeju to help their compatriots and the American soldiers risking their lives to protect them and others in Asia from another Korean War seems a reasonable, if regrettable, request.