2008: As U.S. troop strength in South Korea continues to shrink, more South
Koreans are getting nervous. Many South Koreans don't really believe the better
trained, led and equipped South Korean forces can defeat another invasion from
the north. The American troops have been around for over half a century, and
the U.S. has always said it would stand by its South Korean ally. But the
numbers tell a different tale. At the end of the Korean War, in 1953, there
were over 350,000 U.S. troops in South Korea. Within a year, that shrank to
223,000, and by 1955 it was only 85,000. By the mid-60s it was 63,000. By the
mid 70's there were only 42,000. There it stayed for over two decades. Then
came the September 11, 2001 and the war on terror. By 2004 the U.S. force in South
Korea was down to 37,000. In 2006 that dropped to 30,000 and this year will go
to 28,000, as a AH-64 helicopter gunship battalion leaves. There is fear that
the new U.S. president will cut the American force in South Korea to token (a
few thousand troops) size. Meanwhile, more Americans are getting quite vocal
about the need for any U.S. troops in South Korea at all. Enough is enough, and
over half a century of paying to supply South Korea with a protective garrison
should come to an end.
North Korea continues
its diplomatic policy of demanding gifts, and threatening to hurt itself if the
gifts do not arrive. This absurd approach to negotiations has become more
common since the great famine, and economic collapse (because of the withdrawal
of Cold War era Russian subsidies) of the 1990s. The "give me your wallet
or I'll shoot myself" approach has lost its shock value and is not just
seen as bizarre and unproductive. So it was with dismay that South Koreans
watched the north shut down the year old rail link between the north and south.
The north now threatens to shut down a South Korean industrial park in the north,
where 35,000 North Korean workers earn, by northern standards, excellent wages
($70 a month).
North Korea refuses
to allow verification that it has dismantled its nuclear weapons program. In
response, the five countries (U.S., South Korea, China, Russia, Japan) involved
in the six way talks, have halted most food and energy shipments. Without that
food and oil, over a third of the North Korean population faces starvation. North
Korea does not express any alarm over this. The food donors are insisting on
monitoring food distribution, because they have ample evidence that earlier
shipments were sent to military stockpiles, or to China (to be sold). The
donors don't want to starve North Koreans, but see no point sending food north
if it is not going to feed the starving. North Korea refuses to allow food
monitors or nuclear weapons inspectors, and threatens to hurt itself more if
the donor nations continue making threats..
leader Kim Jong Il continues to make public appearances, that no one can
verify. There are still enough foreigners in the north to get questions asked
and attempt to find witnesses to these Kim Jong Il public appearances. No
credible witnesses can be found. Apparently Kim Jong Il is still not well, but
his staff feels pressured to pretend otherwise.
South Korea recently
received the first 24 of 48 second hand Patriot anti-aircraft missile launchers,
along with radars, missile reloads and support equipment. These systems were
bought from Germany, which is still getting rid of Cold War era armaments it no
longer needs. The vast Russian and East German air forces the Patriots were
originally purchased to deal with, no longer exist. The North Korean Air Force
is not that big, and mostly grounded for lack of fuel. South Korea bought the
German Patriots to deal with North Korean ballistic missiles.
Korean leadership is increasingly threatened by a cultural invasion from the
south. In comes in many forms; leaflets carried by balloons, illegal cell
phones smuggled in from China and, worst of all, a growing number of South
Korean TV shows, especially soap operas and other dramas that casually reveal
the much higher living standards in the south, and a half century of social
change, in the south. This is changing attitudes among North Korean women, who
are still treated like property (because North Korea has had no social change,
and treats women according to centuries old customs). Communism talks about
"liberating women," but largely fails to deliver on that promise,
especially in North Korea.
measures are being taken to try and stop this invasion. Special police units
prowl the Chinese border, equipped with expensive German cell phone signal
detectors, seizing illegal phones and sending their owners to labor camps.
Smugglers make big money sneaking videos of South Korean TV shows and movies.
This is impossible to stop, because you can put lots of this stuff on a tiny
flash memory drive. This digital media is then copied endlessly, and viewed
eagerly. There's not much entertainment in the north, and the South Korea video
fare is very welcome. Meanwhile, in a desperate attempt to stop the balloons, North
Korea ordered pro-North Korean political groups in the south to use physical
force. This stopped about ten percent of a recent batch of leaflets being
released to drift north, and got some of the pro-democracy leaflet people sent
to the hospital. But it got a lot of the pro-North Korean thugs arrested, and
was not the kind of PR the north wanted.