South Korean Gameplan

I keep thinking if I was a South Korean, I would be quite nervous about the North Korean arms build-up. Here you have an already powerful country next door about to go nuclear, and a country that likely considers itself the rightful ruler over you. And if they do take you over, the likelihood is that your life will collapse, considering the vast difference in living conditions between the two Koreas. Essentially, you have one country with vast military power and terrible economics and no political freedom, and the other country exactly the reverse.

What is puzzling to me is that the sentiment in South Korea seems to be that the US is the bad guys, and the North Koreans can be negotiated with, despite what seems to me to be overwhelming evidence to the contrary. (See here for but one example). So my question is what the SK strategy and mindset are. Are they completely deluded? Could they be right? What do they want the US to do? Pull out completely? I haven’t seen any in-depth analysis of this aspect, but the bits and pieces that I read don’t seem to add up.

South Koreans occasionally bitch and moan about the US military presence in their country but underneath it all they know it is necessary that we be there. It is pretty clear to them that their needs to be something menacing between themselves and North Korea. The alternative would be to provide their own military deterrence and that’s expensive. Further, no matter what they did with their military, NK would still be less likely to attack if they knew the US would step into the fray (which is what would happen as things currently stand now).

South Koreans pretty much want to see the status quo maintained (or ideally a reunited Korea but on South Korean terms but that is not likely to happen anytime soon). While they need the US presence to ensure their safety it also means that it is somewhat up to the US to decide how to respond to a belligerent North Korea. That lack of say on how things progress can only worry them. South Korea can certainly speak out about what they want but clearly the current US administration has shown an ability to ignore other’s opinions and do its own thing. That scares the South Koreans. Essentially their fate is in large part up to another country.

Understand that while a nuclear armed North Korea cannot be comforting to South Koreans a war right now is equally discomforting to South Koreans. North Korea has an insane number of artillery pieces arrayed along the DMZ right now. Last I heard it was on the order of 10,000 pieces capable of hitting Seoul (the South Korean capital). Those artillery pieces can lay down 500,000 shells per hour into Seoul. That equates to a nuke’s worth of power an hour (sans radiation so maybe marginally more ‘desirable’ compared to an actual nuke).

As happens all too often (and seen in such things as the appeasment of Hitler prior to WWII) people keep hoping for the best and that the problem will just go away. Are South Koreans trading a horrible war today for a truly horrendous war in the future? Or are they trading a horrible war today for no war in their future? An interesting and difficult gamble to decide on.