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South Korea's Secret Weakness

February 21, 2013 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Call it the Korean conundrum, a question to baffle students of international relations. Why is the Republic of Korea—the ROK, or South Korea—so militarily weak?

Ever since the ROK was established in 1948, the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has posed a threat. DPRK dictator Kim Il-sung launched an invasion in 1950, which was rebuffed only after much bloodshed and with the aid of U.S. troops who remained in the South after an armistice was signed in 1953. They are still there.

In the early years the South was vulnerable. But the balance of power gradually shifted. During the 1960s the South liberalized its economy, triggering sustained growth and propelling it to become the world’s 13th or 14th largest.

As South Korea was taking off, the North was stagnating. By the late 1990s the DPRK was devastated by famine. A regime that celebrated Juche, or self-reliance, ended up dependent on handouts from Beijing.

Today there is no comparison between the two Koreas. The South is an important international player; the DPRK is a national wreck. South Korea has upwards of 40 times the North’s GDP. The ROK also has a vast technological lead, full access to global credit markets, and the political clout that comes from extensive trade and investment. The South’s population is twice as great as that of North Korea.

Our military aid to Seoul gives Pyongyang its only edge.”

In short, the conditions that left the South open to North Korean aggression no longer exist. Yet South Korea remains dependent on America. And U.S. policymakers assume that Washington must defend the ROK, apparently forever.

Only in military affairs is the South’s superiority in doubt—and the DPRK’s advantage lies in the quantity, not quality, of its arms. ”Military clashes between South and North Korea over the past years in West Sea have proven that the conventional weapons equipment performance of NK is inferior to that of ROK,” Dr. Sungpyo Hong of Ajou University reports. “Altogether, the ROK is superior to the North in conventional weapons and equipment in general.”

The DPRK has roughly twice the number of men under arms, nearly 50 percent more main battle tanks, and twice as many artillery pieces. Rolling that mass southward would do damage but would not conquer the South. Pyongyang’s greatest advantage is defensive. In any war the DPRK could wreck Seoul—which lies some 25 miles from the border—with artillery and SCUD missiles, a very high price for the ROK to pay even for victory.

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Source: OP-EDS

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