With war potentially looming between the United States and North Korea in the next few years (or even months), you would figure that the Trump administration would be trying to strengthen its friendly bonds with South Korea. Any armed conflict with North Korea would see the U.S. responding with its allies, especially South Korea and Japan. The war against Kim Jong Un’s forces will be won quicker, and with fewer casualties, if we can work closely with our allies to develop good, solid, comprehensive plans and strategies.
But, instead of playing nice with South Korea, President Donald Trump is actually throwing political jabs. Trump wants to renegotiate trade deals between the U.S. and South Korea, which he feels is detrimental to the American economy, and also wants South Korea to pay $1 billion for the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile system. THAAD, hopefully able to shoot down North Korean missiles, has already caused geopolitical tensions by angering China.
South Korea has already taken a political risk by allowing the U.S. to install a missile defense system that neighboring China doesn’t want around, and now we demand that they pay for it? Not surprisingly, some have taken to calling Trump’s recent demands on South Korea “shameless.” Tensions between the U.S. and its longtime ally may begin rising at an inopportune time, with South Korea feeling stuck in the middle between Trump’s naïve bluster and the hard realities of China and North Korea.
For example, the U.S. sending an aircraft carrier to the region as a show of force against Kim Jon Un’s threatened missile tests has put South Korea’s military on high alert. Any outbreak of war will see North Korea attempt to inflict as much damage on South Korea, and its capital city of Seoul, as quickly as possible. The United States, separated from North Korea by the Pacific Ocean, will suffer comparatively little loss. At most, the hardline regime in Pyongyang could launch a handful of long-range missiles at the West Coast, likely without any accuracy or the necessary range.
South Korea, however, could suffer millions of casualties as North Korea uses its vast arsenal in its death throes. Seoul, which sits close to the highly militarized border between the two nations, is within North Korean artillery range and would be bombarded heavily. Even without using nuclear weapons, which North Korea possesses, Kim Jong Un has enough conventional firepower to potentially destroy Seoul. The young dictator also commands chemical weapons, and possibly biological weapons as well.
Given that North Korea would lose the war, quickly overwhelmed by the modern weaponry possessed by everyone surrounding them (China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, and the United States), it has nothing to lose by engaging in total warfare and going out in a twisted “blaze of glory.”
With the stakes so high, it seems amazingly bad form for Trump to be quibbling over a mere $1 billion, especially when South Korea has been instrumental in giving the U.S. a key operating base from which to keep an eye on its main adversary, China. The demand for payment for THAAD also seems outrageous given that Trump similarly tried to give Germany a bill for defense services allegedly provided by the United States. Germany has publicly rejected the bill and has defended its current defense expenditures regarding UN Peacekeeping, NATO missions in Afghanistan, and in helping to fight terrorism.
Hopefully, Donald Trump trying to stick allies with bills for defense services will not become a laughably awkward trend. For one, it is amazingly hard to justify trying to bill a foreign ally for defense services when we go out of the way to spend so much of our own money on them. Trump has loudly sought a 10 percent annual increase in military spending, bringing us back to the peak levels of the Cold War… despite there no longer being a Cold War.
If we are eager to spend so much money on defense, doesn’t it make sense for our allies to expect us to be generous with it? U.S. defense spending exceeds that of Russia, China, and North Korea combined, so why on earth would any of our allies feel the need to increase their own military expenditures? It’s a fool’s errand to hike your military spending and then demand that your loyal allies pay you back for military equipment and facilities that you practically demanded they take from you.
While Trump’s bluster is unlikely to sever any ties with South Korea, especially since they need us to back them up against Kim Jong Un’s nuclear-tipped regime, it could cause other nations to reduce their cooperation with us. If other nations fear an exorbitant bill and trade bluster for cooperating with the United States, they may prefer to steer clear… or be more open to offers of military assistance and trade deals from Russia or China.