Here's an idea: Pull all troops back from the southern side of the Korean border!

The U.S. and South Korean governments should evacuate all the troops they’ve got patrolling the southern side of the DMZ – not as an admission of weakness, but as a show of strength. In essence, we’d be telling the North (and the whole world): We don’t even need to guard this border! You want to smuggle some spies south? Go ahead. We won’t even try to stop you. We don’t care. Because you know and we know that if war comes, there’s no way you can win and no way your dysfunctional, exhausted regime can survive. Spies won’t help. And it’s likely half of them will decide they don’t even want to go home.

How would Kim Jong Il react?

  1. Invade – no, out of the question. Suicide.

  2. Keep things as they are – which would leave thousands of North Korean soldiers patrolling their side and looking south at . . . nothing and nobody. What starts going through their minds then? “Hey, what are we doing here?”

  3. Evacuate troops from the north side of the DMZ. Saves money. And then, after a few years without active border defenses on either side, somebody will say, hey, why do we need all those walls and fences and minefields? Let’s get rid of them. And after that, civilians might start traveling back and forth across the border, in both directions, out of curiosity or to visit long separated relatives – illegally, but the governments might decide to turn a blind eye. And after that . . .

If Kim has even a shred of sanity (who knows if he does?), he should be able to see that his regime is on its last legs. What he should want, in the future, would be a peacefully unified Korea where his Communist Party is one of the parties in government, even if it doesn’t run the whole show. Kim could still be a major political player then – a smaller fish than he is now, but still a big fish, in a bigger pond. And that is a result that SK and the US should be willing to accept. Anything that brings that day closer is worth doing.

For that type of dictator, it would be suicide not to invade. He’d be dead within six months.

Maybe I’m being wooshed.

You assume sanity.

So we go the the massive expense of rebasing long-entrenched troops for no gain.

And kittens and bunnies and you, too, Mr. Wigglesworth!

  1. Citing “aggressive troop movements” by the South, Lil’ Kim moves and seizes as much territory as the South Koreans allow. Given that the border is not that far from Seoul, it won’t be much, but he can take enough so that a couple dozen farmers in Kangwon-do are run off their land. The SK government promptly is voted out of office as incompetents.

Why the fuck should he want to do this? Once the charnel horror that is North Korea is exposed to the world, you think a guy that starved his people while living in insular luxury is going to become a well-oiled pol and successfully shill for votes? On what Fing platform? Who the hell would vote for him? Why not suggest he go into business and open a chain of North Korean-themed restaurants featuring all-tree-bark menus?

If he’s acting in his rational self-interest he’ll keep the supreme demi-god thing going as long as he can. It might last till he croaks, and if not, he keeps a pistol handy and goes out on top. If he’s not rational, all bets are off.
I can only surmise that you do not fully grasp how horrible the situation in North Korea is. If you’ve read the accounts and think that the monster behind that house of horrors can somehow play down his complicity in the deaths of millions … I have no words.

Please tell me you were pulling our chain.

Toned down a bit, I would have to generally agree with Furt’s assessment. Pulling troops from the border with NK would be a Bad Thing. Expecting NK to react to such a development in a rational way is wishful thinking. Thinking that NK ‘spy’s’ would be harmless pests likely to simply defect…well, I have no words for that. Do you have any idea BG what NK ‘spy’s’ DO when they cross the border?

Over all, it would be nice if the world worked the way the OP portrays (and some of the world actually does work that way)…unfortunately harsh reality tends to rear its ugly head and crush such pipe dreams.


Putting aside the question of whether the OP is a whoosh, or whether or not Kim is either somewhat, mostly, or totally bonkers, the problem is that there are no assurances that your “de-escalation” scheme will work out this way – that is, end up giving Kim’s Communist Party (band name!) a reasonably-powerful position in a unified Korean government.

I mean, suppose we play this scenario out, and Kim responds by evacuating troops from the north side of the DMZ. He’s now got to deal with a number of restless soldiers and lieutenants and what-have-you, wondering why their country is impoverished and eff’ed up when there isn’t a South Korean/United States threat against them. And instead of invading the now-sorta-defenseless South Korea and getting some resources that’d set their country straight, Kim is… just sitting there, watching old movies.

Can you say “assassination coup,” boys and girls?

Kim knows, as George W. Bush knows, the point that Michael Moore makes in Fahrenheit 9/11: “It’s not a matter of whether the war is not real, or if it is, victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. … The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia but to keep the very structure of society intact.” As long as Kim can wage his never-ending war (okay, standoff) against South Korea, his power is assured. A US/SK pullback would threaten this, and Kim would have to respond by making more aggressive moves of his own – to keep the war going.

Remember, North Korea has a nuclear capability, and probably honest-to-God nuclear weapons. So they can invade the South, and when the S. Koreans and whoever else gets their act together and starts a counterattack, Kim can drop the big one in South Korean territory. Sure, the U.S. will strike back, but that will be too late.

What I would want if I were Kim would be a peacefully unified Korea where my Communist Party is the only party, and to run the whole show.

I’m emotional about totalitarianism in general; in this case, I lived in S Korea and have a good freind whose mother was taken south by relatives when she was a little girl and never saw her parents again. At age fifty or so, she still wept when she told me her story.

I get worked up.

And then the next SK government invades NK and Kim dies. How else could that story possibly end? How else could Kim possibly expect it to him?

Kim Jong Il has only been in charge a few years – most of the horrible shit happened on his father’s long watch, and he can plausibly dissociate himself from it. As for who would vote for him – the North Korean people might, out of habit if nothing else. At any rate they might vote Communist out of habit – it’s the only party with which they have any familiarity at all – and Kim, if he finessed it properly, could remain the party’s leader. Remember, the North Korean people probably don’t think their society is a “charnel horror,” they think it’s normal because they haven’t been allowed to know about anything else; and that won’t change overnight, even if the government changes.

(Nitpick: That line wasn’t original with Moore – as he acknowledged, he was quoting from George Orwell’s 1984.)

In other words, what Kim wants is to indefinitely maintain the status quo, with North Korean and South Korean soldiers impotently glaring at each other across a barbed-wire fence. If that’s what Kim wants, why should we oblige him?

And then the U.S. Army and the South Korean Army roll in and flatten NK, with troops if not with nukes. Kim must know that outcome is inevitable if he drops the Big One.

Well, of course, but can even Kim be crazy enough to expect that can ever happen? His army is inferior to the South’s. His nuclear arsenal is negligible compared to America’s. And by now, he probably realizes that when the chips are down, not even the People’s Republic of China will have his back. He’s got no friends in the world outside his own borders.

Not neccesarily. If the South Korean government collapsed that way, you’d see massive anti-government rioting, which North Korean agents would do their best to encourage, and the South Korean government would really have to put down the rioting before they dealt with the invasion. Plus, the South Korean government wouldn’t be all that enthusiastic to launch a military response without overt US approval, and pulling our troops back from the DMZ will send the message to them that we’re not committed to the current border, which would discourage them from acting. Under those circumstances, if the North moves in and seizes territory near the border, and doesn’t look to drive on further down the peninsula, the South might just let them have it.

Even if your reading of the situation is correct, and it would be irrational for North Korea to try an invasion, keep in mind that Kim Jong Il can not be counted on to act rationally or to take a practical view of the situation. Remember, this is the man who ordered a South Korean film director kidnapped so that the director would make him a monster movie.

Most of the troops guarding the south side of the DMZ are South Korean. The bulk of American forces are stationed well to the south. It would actually make some military sense to pull back many (but not all) of the forces piled up on the border as their placement is poor defensively. Forces piled up on the border are exposed to the danger of encirclement in a surprise offensive. Defending in depth would make more sense.

You’re all late to the party. It’s already being done. One link among many:

Ah, yes. Just invade, across a border that’s been fortified for the last 50 years, sustaining thousands of casualties in order to conquer a barren wasteland and then spend billions upon billions to bring it into the 20th century. That plan’s great.

“Hey, I’ve only been supreme dictator for 13 years! I had no idea people were starving!”

Yes, I’m sure after they find out that they’ve been lied to all their lives they’ll still harbor affection for Kim. “He’s a parisitical tyrant, sure … but he’s our parisitical tyrant!” The people there have been brainwashed, to be sure, but how long is that going to last when they start getting massive food and medical aid from the evil capitalists? When they start meeting distant relatives who are healthy, well-fed, and rich beyond imagining (Their own car!)? Six months? A year?

Any future for KJI that doesn’t involve full immersion in pig excrement and slow death at the hands of flesh-eating insects is far too merciful.

BG you posted an un-thought-through OP; we’ve all done it. But you’re putting yourself in the position of minimizing the sins of one of the most horrid bastards on the planet.

So what? In international politics, there are many far more important considerations than punishing the wicked. We Americans, with our extremely moralistic culture, sometimes tend to forget that.

One big factor that can’t be ignored: China. How would they react to a unilateral reduction of troops south of the DMZ?

My impression is that China would not be happy. Their primary concern on the peninsula is stability, political and economic. They want to avoid any crises. I do not see how reducing our troop presence will increase the peninsula’s stability.

Of course, I’m not sure what China would do beyond complaining about unilateral actions.

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Instead of U.S. and R.O.K. pulling back from the DMZ unilaterally, I think a more multilateral approach would be better. First, deploy a joint Chinese-American peacekeeping force actually inside the DMZ. Then over several years, a gradual reduction of forces of both Koreas. Eventually we’d end with about 50k peacekeeping forces, and no more than about that number from either Korea within about 200 km of the DMZ (have to special allowances if the South Korean capital is still in Seoul).

This would allow China and the U.S. militaries to build some relationships. I think both Koreas could feel some measure of trust with this joint peacekeeping force. Both Koreas would be able to decrease their military budgets (which is especially crippling to the North). Presumably even Kim Jong-il would take a peace dividend if he could (China as a rationalizing influence is essential here).

Unfortunately, any scenario reducing convential armies in the peninsula is contingent upon the current nuclear disagreement being resolved.

But how could China possibly complain about SK unilaterally scaling down its troop presence on the border? How would that sound? “Hey, no fair making peace! I wasn’t ready!”

Because South Korea unilaterally pulling back from the DMZ is not making peace, it’s destabilizing the border. It’s destabilizing because the action requires a reaction by North Korea. And North Korea may not react in any sensible manner. That’s the instability–fear of an unpredictable reaction by Kim Jong-il or the DPRK military.

There’s also diplomatic “ego” to take into account. The Korean peninsula is within China’s neighboorhood. China is trying to expand its diplomatic influence and would feel jilted if South Korea (with implicit U.S. support) started messing with the status quo.

China would ultimately be much happier with reduced tensions on the peninsula, but sudden moves by either side would not be appreciated.

I’m not sure either Korea is ready to give up something like 500 years of mistrust of the Chinese.

No sir, it doesn’t require shit!

Ok, require is too strong, how about begging for a response?

And to answer the OP: How would Kim Jong Il react? I don’t think North Korea would actually invade. The regime would do better with small commando-type raids. Probe the R.O.K. forces, make a few captures, get a little glory. Enough to grab attention from the U.S., but not enough to actually provoke a full-scale counterattack.

kunilou, I hadn’t considered that. Good point. Although I was thinking more in terms of the Koreas trusting that the other would not invade through such a peacekeeping force. Not necessarily that either Korea would trust the peacekeepers.

But North Korea owes its existence to the People’s Republic of China – the SK and UN troops had forced the Communists back almost to the Chinese border, when the PRC intervented and drove them back. Without that intervention, Korea would now be united under the Southern regime. How can Kim Jong Il ignore China’s wishes?