Interesting. Long a minor actor in geopolitics, South Korea is preparing to play a larger role in global security matters:
More than 56 years after the end of the Korean War ushered in a long period of relative military isolation, South Korea is finally taking steps towards a regional security role commensurate with the country’s advanced economy. But South Korea’s rise as a military power is complicated by its domestic politics — and a belligerent North Korea.
Despite a technologically advanced military and a Gross Domestic Product that, at just shy of $1 trillion, makes it the world’s 15th-wealthiest country, the Republic of Korea has rarely deployed troops outside its borders. In 1999, Seoul sent 400 soldiers to boost a U.N. force trying to stabilize East Timor when that country broke away from neighboring Indonesia. The Timor deployment was South Korea’s first overseas military operation. South Korean troops had fought alongside the U.S. in Vietnam.
South Korean medics and engineers subsequently joined the U.S.-led coalitions in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003. The Afghan mission was curtailed after the Taliban kidnapped a South Korean church group in Afghanistan and murdered two of its 23 members. The extremists released the surviving captives when Seoul promised to stick to a planned withdrawal by the end of 2007. The Iraqi mission ended peacefully in 2008. That year, Seoul also sent a warship to patrol Somali waters for pirates.
But South Korea’s planned second deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 will mark its true debut as a regional military power. In response to U.S. President Barak Obama’s call for a bigger international coalition in Afghanistan, Seoul has pledged a Provincial Reconstruction Team and a powerful infantry force to accompany it, for a total of around 500 troops.
The author argues that the PRT is merely a political cover for the deployment of combat troops, meant to keep South Korea’s rather pacifist Left from putting up too strong an opposition. But the move seems not to be engendering much resistance in South Korea, regardless, as there seems to be public sentiment for the nation pulling more of its own weight after decades of being protected from Mordor North Korea. South Korea has gone so far as to commission three small aircraft carriers. Once fitted with aircraft, this will give Seoul a power-projection capability few Asian nations have.
In my opinion, this is can be an unalloyed good for the world: a stable democracy with a powerful economy should shoulder some of the burden of protecting constitutional government and freedom of the seas in a dangerous world. (While recognizing the political difficulties for Tokyo are much, much greater, I’d love to see Japan do something similar.) The United States should be mentoring South Korea in this, just as, under George W. Bush, we agreed to promote democratic India as a potential global power. The time is now to strengthen old alliances and build new ones among democratic, capitalist powers facing the twin threats of jihadism and the rise of Russian and Chinese aggressive nationalism and geopolitical ambition.
Sadly, we are lead by exactly the wrong president.
(via Real Clear World)