I just got done reading a Cato Institute study by Doug Bandow recommending a US military withdrawal from South Korea. Since the Cato Institute almost invariably recommends an isolationist military policy, I read its studies skeptically, but this one appeared pretty convincing to me.
Basically it says that South Korea has a 700,000 man military service, far better trained and equipped than the North’s, and in all likelihood capable of repulsing any attack from the North. Since South Korea’s economy is about 40 times bigger than the North’s, it can more than afford to replace the US presence (which only amounts to 37,000 troops). If South Korea isn’t already able to defend itself, it darn well ought to be able to in the near future. It also emphasizes the friction between our soldiers and the South Korean populace (I suspect it overstates this somewhat; Korea and America both have xenophobic yahoos, but they don’t necessarily represent the whole population).
Still, if South Korea can take care of itself, I think it should take care of itself. What with Afghanistan, Iraq, KFOR and God knows what else coming, I think America could use those 37,000 troops elsewhere.
The only thing that concerns me about withdrawing American troops from South Korea is that it might be interpreted by the North as a reward for breaking the Non-Proliferation Treaty and developing nuclear weapons. Maybe America should work out a guarantee that a North Korean nuclear attack on the South will be met by an American nuclear counterstrike against the North as a precondition to our withdrawal. Otherwise, the South Koreans would have little choice but to abandon the Non-Proliferation Treaty themselves in order to build a nuclear deterrent against the North.