Thursday, January 18, 2018

Stephen G. Patten

For years the U.S. Government has said America will not tolerate a nuclear armed North Korea.  Today the terrorist state of North Korea led by Kim Jong-un is armed with nuclear weapons.  The failure of U.S. policy to prevent the communist government in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, from developing these weapons means we must rethink U.S. policy that obviously has not worked out so well.

North Korea maintains it is only defending itself from an aggressive America that seeks to dominate and control the Korean peninsula.  It cites the presence of 30,000 U.S. troops in the South and what it calls the provocative joint military exercises the U.S. and South Korea periodically conduct.  It says the two Koreas could reunite peacefully if only the U.S. would get out of the South.

Okay.  Let’s get out.  Withdraw our troops, conditioned upon a verifiable agreement that North Korea would dismantle its nuclear arsenal as we withdraw.  We would leave only a security force manning the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North from South Korea, from which we would also withdraw once the two Koreas peacefully reunite. 

This removes the excuse for the North building its nuclear arsenal.  Even more importantly, it sends a clear signal to China, North Korea’s principal benefactor, it has no reason any further to prop up the North Korean regime.  A neutralized and neutral Korean peninsula would pose no threat to China which shares a 850 mile border with North Korea and would gain international acclaim for the Chinese for no longer supporting a brutal North Korean regime that is the world’s pariah.

But, doesn’t withdrawal of U.S. troops invite an invasion of South Korea by the North?  Not really.  The American forces we have in South Korea are there not to stop a North Korean invasion with the number of troops we have in the South.  They would be quickly overrun by the massive North Korean army should it decide to invade.

The Americans are in the South as a deterrent because any attack on U.S. troops would bring an overwhelming response from the United States.  American naval and air power could destroy North Korea in a matter of days and the North Koreans know it.  That same purpose would be achieved by keeping the U.S. security force on the DMZ.

The South Korean military – known as ROK troops, for Republic of Korea – would stand and fight if the North invaded.  ROK forces are highly trained, very capable, and organized to repel a violation of their territory.  And they are tough.

When I served in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War the headquarters for our Marine Corps battalion – 1st battalion, 1st Marines – was stationed in the South Vietnamese city of Hoi An, about half way between Da Nang and Chu Lai in the northern region of South Vietnam.

A South Korean battalion was headquartered right next to our battalion headquarters.  These South Korean troops, after a hard day’s work of finding and killing the enemy, would come back to their battalion headquarters and, to kick back and relax in the evening, would beat each other up using their Tae Kwan Do martial arts.

On patrol one evening I and about 10 or 11 other Marines walked into a South Vietnamese village.  It was the middle of the night and the village was deserted.  I walked into one of the huts and an old woman was squatting on the dirt floor of the hut holding a baby and shaking in fright.  I tried to calm her fears and motioned it was all right, we were not going to harm her or her village.  I asked her, “VC a dao, VC a dao.”  “Where are the VC?  Where are the VC?,” the Viet Cong communist guerrillas.  She continued to shiver and wouldn’t answer me.

I walked out of the hut and we left.  A minute or two out of the village we started taking small arms fire from this village.  The VC had crawled out of their holes in the ground or wherever else they were hiding, and were firing at us.  Our troops returned fire and we continued on our way.  There was no point in going back into the village, for the men would just disappear again.

If that had been a South Korean unit, fired upon after leaving the village, it would have gone back in the village, killed any men they could find, killed all the women, the children, dogs, chickens, anything living, burned the village and destroyed all their crops.  Then,
the Koreans would leave, in their wake a village that no longer existed. Interestingly,
South Korea’s TAOR - tactical area of responsibility - was more peaceful than ours.

The South Korean military is not to be trifled with.  North Korea knows that and would be unlikely to test the South backed up as it will be by American military might.

Once peaceful reunification between North and South is a reality, we remove our troops
from the DMZ, which would disappear.  Follow that up with a clear commitment to Korea’s reunification that, if violated, would prompt U.S. forces to go back in in force.

Will this plan work?  Maybe.  We cannot say for sure.  But it is worth the effort, for it is a far better scenario than a nuclear armed North Korea bearing down on the South and threatening the United States and the rest of the world.  Which is what we have now.


Steve Patten ( is editor of Lee & Grant International based in 
Los Angeles ( that reports on national security and 
the War on Terror.  He was a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War 
and after his military service was stationed as a CBS News reporter in Seoul.