Sunday, August 1, 2010

Military Exercises in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and the Cheonan Incident in Review

edit:  Aug. 1st, 2010, for grammar.

Contrary to what many may be thinking, including Christine Ahn in a New York Times editorial:
In a move intended to punish North Korea for its alleged sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, the United States and South Korea are flexing their military might by mobilizing American and South Korean ships, over 200 aircraft, including the F-22 Raptor fighters, and 8,000 troops.
I highly doubt the United States would go to that extent to "punish" or show North Korea.anything. The United States doesn't need to send warships to intimidate North Korea; all the United States has to do is -- as Josh Stanton advocates -- enforce financial sanctions on North Korea for which the United States (and South Korea) lacks the will to do.

Considering the highly visible show of force and also within context of the United States taking a position on the Spratly Islands and the Obama Administration's very tough stance against Japan's push for a more independent Japan or equivalently a diminished U.S. role, it seems that the audience for all this is definitely not for North Korea or even China, but for all actors in East Asia. Additionally, with respect to China, it seems that unlike my earlier postings about how this is being used to push China to control North Korea, I have come to believe that the ultimate objective of the United States' military exercises is that while the U.S. may be caught up in a couple overseas entanglements and, also, the aftermath of the worst recession since, well, the Great Depression, the United States is using the Cheonan incident to re-assert the United States in East Asia.

There's more than a couple things that led me to this view. 

For starters, unlike Joshua Stanton, I do not believe that the United States is levying any type of real financial sanctions against North Korea. "One hundred" bank accounts is extremely vague and this indicates that this is primarily for domestic (North and South) Korean consumption purposes. Moreover, when considering that the United States has finally decided to take a position on the Spratly Islands -- it seems to be more than mere chance that for the first time in history both U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense -- while en route to an ASEAN Security Dialogue -- visited the DMZ together. All this seems that the U.S. has finally in place  a coherent policy in East Asia that encompasses more than a "quick fix." Furthermore,  consider that the current administration did not take lightly to Japan's proposals for base relocation. Finally, the sheer scale, size, and scope of the recent military exercises off the East Sea (Sea of Japan) seems to be the icing on the cake. 

Problematically, and this is where I might suggest that previous analyses of the naval exercises has overlooked is how relatively unimportant North Korea -- and, unfortunately, South Korea is to the United States. It seems support of South Korea's global initiative is there just to send Japan a message and the naval exercises are there just to show China -- and the rest of East Asia -- that the United States is committed to engaging the region. Also, I might add that the "financial sanctions" the United States is adding is there just for Korean (North & South) consumption. I do not believe that freezing one hundred "bank accounts" is anything beyond mere symbolism. 
I say this not with any elation at all and actually wish South Korea was more important to the United States for its own sake, but as in the past -- most notably, the Cold War -- South Korea is  and will be benefiting. The  United States is supporting the current South Korean administration's global initiative (e.g. G-20 summit), a stronger US.- South Korea military alliance, and, hopefully passage of the KORUS, which would  really  reinvigorate the US-ROK notwithstanding the economic aspect.  If current U.S. domestic political trends continue, then I would be that passage of KORUS is not that far off.

Initially I had intended to originally post on the scale of the United States deployment to the East Sea (Sea of Japan). However, while I was thinking about the deployment it led me to this posting. Just check out these pictures over at ROKdrop. The picture in the back is of the ROKN Dokdo or a South Korean "mini-carrier" that transports troops and helicopters -- I believe. The two hundred planes -- and the USAF's F-22  stealth fighter -- is a lot when considering that South Korea initially procured just forty planes when the country decided to purchase F-15K from Boeing. (I believe there was an extension in this contract or that South Korea will attempt to purchase the upcoming F-35's...) 

But, anyways, consider that there are seventy planes on the 97,000 ton U.S. aircraft carrier and that two hundred planes are involved. Also, there seems to be a recently built new, Virgina class U.S. attack submarine that seems to be on its way to be deployed over at Pearl Harbor -- that would make it the third deployed in Pearl Harbor and sends a direct signal to China's massive military buildup. Furthermore, the South Korean navy has been very busy recently as well. Involved in the exercises were most likely KDX I/II/III destroyers. I believe the KDX III destroyers are equipped with the anti-air AEGIS missile system. The KDX III destroyers are actually larger in tonnage than their USN counterparts that are largely armed with US technology. Of course, there was also probably a nuclear submarine and a U.S. AEGIS ship that went along with the U.S. carrier. So, yes, it definitely does look like a show of force, but reading up or checking out how large -- or expensive -- these U.S. and South Korean ships may be to get a sense of why the U.S. is doing this is not necessary. The pictures linked at ROKdrop is probably a good analogy of the situation.

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