The ICAS Lectures


The US-ROK Alliance and North Koreaís Nukes

John Hamre

ICAS Fall Symposium

October 25, 2016, 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
The Heritage Foundation Allison Auditorium
Washington, DC

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: John Hamre

The US-ROK Alliance and North Koreaís Nukes

John Hamre
President and CEO, Center for Strategic and International Studies

October 25, 2016

President of ICAS: At this time, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker, the Honorable John J Hamre, President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, one of the most distinguished and respected thinkers and leaders in the policy and foreign relations committee in Washington DC. And I must tell you that I am particularly grateful to John for accepting our invitation to appear at our platform back in May. And he picked the day of this day, October 25th, and he kept his commitment for the last 5 months. And we had to fit around our schedule the October 25th day, and here we are. And we have the privilege of hearing Dr. Hamre speaking on the US-ROK Alliance and the North Korean Nuclear Threat. Thank you.

John Hamre: Well thank you. I forgot that I gave you a date that I could make. I didnít mean to tell you when to hold your conference today. I apologize for that. And Iíve a big thing this afternoon so I have to depart at 2, so I apologize. Let me begin by making kind of seven broad propositions and then try to, Iíll try to bring a little bit of focus to it and then Iíll count on you guys to help more sense out of this. First, let me just say, I think that when, weíll have a new President here in a couple of weeks, and theyíll be inaugurated in January. They will go through a strategic review just like President Obama ordered in 2011-2012. It led to what was called the pivot to Asia. Poor choice of words, but an exceptionally important thing that happened because that was the first time in 350 years of American History, a hundred years before we even became a country, 350 years where America said its first priority was Asia and not Europe. And itís really, you really need to pause and reflect on the significance of that. Weíve been Europe dominated in our strategic thinking for 350 years. And this is the first time that weíve said that Asia was the first priority. And it constitutes the recognition of the significance of the rise of China and the way in which it will affect the geopolitical reality in Asia and in the world. I think the next President is going to undertake a comparable review and I personally believe that the next President is going to conclude that Asia is our first priority. I think that will be continued. I do not think you will see a reversion. There certainly is some conversation in the campaigns, especially in the Clinton campaign, there is some conversation that we need to put more of a focus on Russia, and we probably do. But I do not think it will change the ranked prioritization of where we see our strategic interests. I think weíll see that our strategic interests will still be first in Asia. So thatís number 1.

The second proposition is that I think North Koreaís military is becoming weaker and weaker. When I was a young kid and you first start going to Korea when I was in the Armed Services Committee and even before that when I was at the Congressional Budget Office, at that stage the North Koreans would routinely have two exercises a year and have several divisions in the field to conduct exercises. They barely can get companies into the field now. I mean, this is becoming a weaker and weaker military. What happens when weaker and weaker, when militaries become weaker and weaker is they put priority on asymmetric resources in order to have impact. And I think thatís what the nuclear program is. I think they also have a focus on chemical and biological weapons and special forces. But those are asymmetric approaches toÖ it shouldnít mask the reality that this is a dramatically weakened military. And itís going to weaker, I think, as things go. Thatís number two.

Number three, I think that theÖ Number three is that what is very important for us is that the ROK leadership and, frankly the population, average citizens as well as elites, are starting to conclude with greaterÖ with a louder voice that they no longer can count on Americaís nuclear extended guarantee. This is a worry. Chosun Ilbo had an editorial maybe six months ago, nine months ago, that questioned whether they could count on Americaís nuclear retaliatory guarantee as the underpinning of their security. I think itís the byproduct of now seven or eight years of very rigorous activity on the part of the North Koreans developing nuclear weapons. And theyíre asking themselves does Americaís guarantee to extend its nuclear deterrent cover us? And itís no longer a fringe discussion. Ten years, fifteen years ago, this would be a conversation you would rarely hear in South Korea, and usually by kind of wacky people. But thatís not the case any longer. Itís now much more broadly being felt and argued. I took the Chosun Ilbo editorial to be a warning shot to America, to say this is heading in a direction weíre not confident with and weíre raising questions with you of can we still trust you. And I think thatís becoming a bigger and bigger factor. Itís a complicating factor. Weíll talk about that in a bit. But I think this third proposition is that I think thereís a great questioning in our extended guarantee commitment.

Number four, the Chinese, in my view, made a colossal mistake by opposing THAAD. I just met with morning with a Chinese ambassador and we were talking about this. I said you guys made a big mistake on opposing THAAD because youíre opposing a system that has only one application, and thatís to defend people. If we had proposed to bring LANCE back into the Korean peninsula with a nuclear warhead, a short-range ICBM that could attack China, youíd have a right to be upset. Instead, youíre upset about a system thatís entirely defensive. You guys really read this wrong, profoundly wrong. And you say, "well it can reach and cover China." Well thatís horse-hockey. So this argument that THAAD somehow affects Chinese nuclear deterrence is nonsense. Completely wrong. And intentionally wrong. And itís designed to try to intimidate the South Korean government and the South Korean people. And itís failed. Itís intimidated the left but they were already there. For rank and file, I think itís just backfired. The Chinese made a huge mistake on opposing THAAD because, if we take to a logical extension the South Korean desire to see a tangible American expression that our nuclear deterrent covers them, that means we would have to put nuclear weapons in the theatre that would legitimately be seen as a threat to China. They made a colossal mistake opposing THAAD. They really should recover from it as soon as possible, but I donít think they can do it. Thatís the fourth proposition. They really screwed that up.

Fifth, which is backdrop for this, but I think is still important to say. At no time in my professional history have we seen such close strategic alignment of our interests between the United States, the Republic of Korea, and China about what to do in that region. We all are unhappy with North Korea. Everybody. And the first and highest goal we all have is to try to reverse the nuclear momentum of the North Koreans. The question is how we do that. Now, I was in a meeting last week, with fairly senior people who I respect. They are very thoughtful people. But there was conversation about needing to change our policy on North Korea to formally embrace regime change. What does that mean? Does that mean we will use our military force to invade North Korea, to change the regime? Probably not. Does it mean that we will engage in both overt and covert means to destabilize North Korea? I wouldnít want to get in their way. Theyíre doing a pretty good job of doing that to themselves. But I donít know if we would, with keeping the strategic alignment of our interests and Korean interests, Iím not sure that gets stronger if we have an explicit campaign of destabilization. I think it would be quite counterproductive to it. I think thatís going to be the backdrop of thinking for the next administration when they do their strategic review, because thereís no question that weíve got a more difficult North Korea on our hands. Itís more difficult because weíve got a less predictable and less mature leader who has ruthlessly changed everybody around him. Of course, heís not likely to have very many people who are going to say to him, "Hey boss, I think weíve got this wrong. Maybe weíre thinking about this the wrong way." You donít live long in North Korea if you do that to Kim Jong Un. So I think weíve got a rather immature and maybe reckless young man who does not have many structures around him to help him think through complicated problems. And that becomes a real problem for us. But I do to think we have to keep firmly in mind our strategic alignment of interests with the Republic of Korea and China and how weíre going to take advantage of that moving forward. So thatís number five.

The last comment is, this is going to beÖ this is awkward because weíre going to engage in a strategic review with a new President. But itís going to come at a time when Korea goes into a year of elections. And of course, itís also a political year for China. This is the year of the meeting of the Party Congress. I donít think the date is set. Last time it was in November. The whole year is going to be on somewhat suspended animation. Itíll be hard to sustain policy momentum next year when two of the three key partners are going to have to be held back for different reasons. I am concerned. The politics in Korea, you all know better than I do, the wind blows in reverse direction in a very short time. Progressive forces are stronger these days. This would not be a good time for America to be looking like we will be creating problems for South Korea with, for example, statements about extended deterrence and introducing nuclear weapons. It would be a complicated time and would make it very hard for the outgoing administration. I think this next year is going to be, by necessity, weíre going to have to be very measured. And the question is how are you measured and thoughtful without conveying either confusion or weakness. And I think thatís going to be the central question that weíll have to wrestle through with the next administration.

So let me just wrap up to say a lot of people are quite alarmed about whatís been going on in the peninsula. Obviously, the frequent launches and demonstrations of nuclear capability is not helpful. Strategically I donít believe that it is as bad as it looks. The question is how do we manage the very complicated geometry of foreign and security policy that recognizes Ė thereís no solution if we donít have some strategic alignment with China and Korea. I think weíre heading in that direction. I think we have to be very careful about how we comport ourselves next year so we can sustain that. So let me stop there.

Moderator: Thank you very much, John. Joe?

Joseph Bosco: Thank you Dr. Hamre for an incredibly comprehensive overview of the situation. I detected, however, as I listened to your points, a fundamental paradox in the situation. You pointed out how significant and strategic the pivot has been historically and that you predict that it will continue under subsequent administrations. So weíve told the world, weíve told Asia, weíve told our own people that our main focus, our primary focus internationally, must be Asia. But yet, you then describe, quite accurately I believe, a sentiment that is growing in South Korea that they cannot rely on the US policy of extended deterrence. Weíre also seeing sentiments like that, not quite as pronounced yet, in Japan. And then in recent weeks, we have the Philippines, a treaty ally, pulling away, saying theyíre going to shift their cards and their bets to China instead of the US. Now some of that is just a function of this guyís erratic personality, so we donít know how serious and how fundamental it is. But overall, thereís a sense of disquiet in the region among very important allies and friends of the US that we may not be the most reliable ally. The question is whether thatís a function simply of the policies of the last administration, of maybe even the last two administrations, and whether the new administration, whatever it is, can turn that sense and that perspective around. So itís a dilemma that youíve put forward for us and I shudder to think how it will be addressed in the new administration. You probably have some insights on that as well.

John Hamre: You have, I think, rightly captured the central paradox of this period weíre in. Yes, Asia is our most important strategic focus now, and there is great questioning around the world about our reliability as a partner. And part of that, I think, stems from the understandable conclusions country would draw when we draw a red line in Syria and we donít back it up and thereís the question of what does that mean. The Bush Administration did the same thing when we said to Georgia "itís not if, itís when you get into NATO," and they invaded and we do nothing. So thereís a lot of questioning of what will America really fight for. I tell my Korean friends itís different with Korea. I have a Korean god-son. Iíve got five friends that have adopted Korean kids. We have a very different relationship with Korea. And if Kim Jong Un did something really wacky and dangerous, I promise you that within three days, weíd have a thousand airplanes on their way to Korea. I just know thatíll happen. Iím not concerned about that. I am concerned about the image we are conveying through our diplomacy about our steadiness. Thatís only partly because itís so complicated when youíre the only global superpower, and you have to deal with regional superpowers Ė they have to integrate one problem at a time. We have to integrate seven simultaneously. So itís a much more complicated environment. I think our basic trajectory Ė now I will say this election had caused me to pause because weíve had a large percentage of both Republicans and Democrats that have expressed a disinterest in the orthodoxy of foreign policy Ė but I still think that a strategic assessment would put Asia at the top and then we have to find sensible ways where we can convince our allies that weíre still reliable. I think there are some ways to do that without necessarily putting nuclear weapons on the ground in South Korea. I think that that would probably really be a difficult problem with the Chinese if we were to do that. But this is again why the Chinese made such a colossal mistake on THAAD. And I think we ought to be doing a much better job explaining why theyíre wrong. They are flat out wrong and we ought to call them out on it. I think we could engage in a foreign policyÖ we could reconcile, but thatíll be tough.

Moderator: Thank you. Larry?

Larry Niksch: First, a couple of comments in response to Dr. Hamreís very cogent points, which I think raise a lot of food for thought for all of us. On the US security guarantee to South Korea. It seems to me that one of the reasons that this has come up has been a big, I would call, public, if you want to use the word propaganda, or public statement mistakes that the United States has been making ever since we announced in March 2013 the conclusion with South Korea of a counter provocation agreement. This was a very important agreement and a very important announcement. I said at the time that this is basically an amendment to the Mutual Defense Treaty, basically telling the North Koreans that provocations such as those in 2010 would now be met with military retaliation, first by South Korea, but backed up immediately by American military power. What has bothered me ever since has been, especially from the Obama Administration, but to some degree also from the ROK government, the relative silence about this agreement. Whenever I see a high-level meeting, I never see statements reaffirming this or warning the North Koreans that we mean what we say in this agreement. This relative silence about it, I think, will, if it has not already, raising in the minds of the North Koreans the thought that we might be able to get away with a repeat of 2010 in the near future. And I think the apparent reluctance of the Obama administration to really talk affirmatively about this agreement and what it means, I think is one of the reason for these doubts to emerge. Now Joe is right, this is a regional problem as well as just a South Korean problem in terms of US credibility. But we need to be talking much more visibly about this agreement and that what we mean what we say, continually sending these very public, verbal warnings to the North Koreans. Weíre not doing that, and weíre not doing it enough in relation to this agreement.

Now secondly, I agree with Dr. Hamre with his suggestion that the US should not be openly embracing regime change. Whatever we think about influencing the Chinese, whether it be on human rights, as we talked about earlier, or the nuclear and missile issues, getting them to enforce sanctions more tightly, if we keep talking about regime change openly, to the Chinese, this is turnoff number one frankly. This, in their minds, raises huge doubts about real American intentions, and to them raises huge doubts about increasing any cooperation they think about giving to the Americans at this point. We need to talk about reform, rolling back the nuclear and missiles issues, human rights and political reforms, economic reforms, which we never talk about when we talk about North Korea. Those things, frankly, I think would come across better to the Chinese than to talk publicly about collapse or regime change. Weíve been talking about collapse since 1994. Letís get over it after 22 years of talking about North Korean collapse. Now, I do have a question, and this is a question that our colleague Bill Brown raised two weeks ago at the Korea Economic Institute, and I think an important question about the major elements in the Alliance. And thatís the new big base project at Pyontek that we and the ROK is developing to establish a huge American military base complex at Pyontek, south of Seoul, moving most elements of the 2nd Infantry Division there, taking our command from Yongsan in Seoul, moving it down to Pyontek, and also bringing in over 20000 American civilians, family members, to live in this huge base complex. Billís question was this, and I think itís a good thing to at least talk about. With North Korea, as we now finally acknowledge after frankly knowing about it for three years, that North Korea has nuclear warheads on its Nodong missiles, do we really, as Bill put it, should we rethink this Pyontek project because we may be creating a new big target for North Korean nuclear warheads on the Nodongs that they can use or at least threaten to use against us in the future? Is there need for some rethinking about this project and how we distribute our forces and what kind of civilian presence we ought to be bringing in to South Korea?

John Hamre: Very good question. Can I first make an observation about your counter- provocation agreement? Not to disagree with you, but to highlight the central ambiguity that weíre dealing with on this. After South Korea was attacked in 2010, the ministry really adopted a very explicit new policy of immediate retaliation. You are under orders to retaliate and under orders to escalate one echelon. So if you are attacked by a company level unit, you are under obligations to directly retaliate to the company and to go to the battalion over them. If itís an artillery brigade, you are in obligation to go over that to their divisional headquarters. There was a very explicit direction for retaliation. And I think it had an impact. I thought it was the right thing to do. We were nervous about this, we, the US government, were nervous about this because it does indeed pull us in. And so the effort to have this counter-provocation agreement was an effort to create this deliberate process to manage, on the one hand, the automaticity of orders given to the ROK military versus the geopolitical flexibility the country needs when undertaking what could be acts of war. This is a problem that every serious government person faces. Deterrence depends on high confidence in what comes next. Deterrence really depends on knowing what is going to happen. But governments do have to have flexibility to avoid being on a conveyor belt to war. And I think it was an effort to try to reconcile those two. I donít think itís happened happily and I think we need to work on this. Obviously, we cannot automatically say a firefight that escalates at the local missile automatically guarantees America will start flying a thousand airplanes and goes to war the next day. Weíre going to have some mechanism that strikes balance to that, and I think they tried to capture that in this agreement. But I agree that what they did was largely just promulgated the statement and then havenít spent much time talking about it. And thatís a problem. Thatís something we need to work on.

Let me shift to this question about Camp Humphrey. Iíve been to Camp Humphrey and itís pretty impressive. Itís unbelievable actually what weíre building down there. And I have never thought of it the way you expressed it, the vulnerability. Itís a very valid point. I have been more concerned frankly about the use of chemical weapons, and the complexity that poses when you have a single target like that. Nuclear weapons, theyíre in the scale of things whether you have one major base or five major bases, it doesnít change the dynamic that dramatically, whereas chemical weapons tend to be both terror weapons and are operationally restrictive. Their footprint isnít so big so actually one great big target poses a much bigger risk. Thatís worth rethinking. To be candid, a lot of this was directed by our ROK friends that are looking to develop a region and, in many ways, create the design that ended in Camp Humphrey. And it also reflected the way in which our commitment to South Korea has evolved away from a ground army presence to an air reinforcement and indirect fire presence. But it is worth rethinking. On the issue of companied or unaccompanied tours, this is complicated. Socially complicated. Weíre now a myriad army. Our officer corps is a myriad officer corps. Just to be candid, historically having unaccompanied tours led to rather primal instincts dominating some of our officers when they live there for a year. So this is an issue we have to sort out.

Moderator: Thank you. General Chun?

In Bum Chun: Sir, I cannot express how I enjoyed and appreciate your comments. I donít think the group truly can appreciate the insights you have given, not to insult all of you. As a man who has been on the ground, let me just tell you that the counter-provocation plan that Larry spoke of, to the ears of the thousands of South Korean troops stationed at the front line: theyíre not hearing a counter-provocation plan. Theyíre hearing "be immediate, accurate, and efficient." That means if a round hits your unit, fire 100 rounds. Now theyíve reduced it to three, but you know. This is very complicated and sometimes very concerning to people who need to think about the consequences of such actions. And the other downfall is that in many cases, it is interpreted that the alliance restricts self-defense, which is absurd. The alliance does not restrict self-defense at all. Having said that, my question to you is, you said strategically not as bad as it looks. Can you elaborate on that comment?

John Hamre: Well, what I mean by that, General, isÖ I never thought in my lifetime I would live to see the President of China visit Seoul before he visited Pyongyang. I never thought in my lifetime that would happen. I never thought there would be a time where the President of South Korea would be invited to Beijing before whoever Kim is in charge. There are been a real shift in how the Chinese are thinking about this. Now, they donít want North Korea to collapse and they do want North Korea as a buffer. They want Korea divided. Itís a cynical thing that they want for their own interests. But weíre seeing a strategic alignment of their interests and our interests and ROKís interests that we havenít seen before. Now will they be willing to take the next step to put more pressure on the North over their nuclear program. So far, their stance is "Well we really donít have that much influence over North Korea." I think thatís nonsense. So they havenít been willing to take that next step. But Iíd say compared to Chinaís attitudes ten years ago versus Chinaís attitudes today over how they look at North Korea, thatís a huge change for the better. So in that sense, I say strategic.

Moderator: Thank you. Tong?

Tong Kim: Yeah, I just want to make a couple comments and then I will ask the speaker one question. I just read the joint statement coming out of the Pentagon a few days ago as a result of their, what they call, their security consulting meeting, the Defense Ministerís meeting. Everything is the same as itís been for the past fifteen, twenty years, except for two points. One, the issue with THAAD, they made it clear that THAAD is not targeting any third country, an apparent message to China as you said. And then, there is one clause which actually was an agreement among the two plus two date before that Pentagon meeting took place, which was to create a new coordinating committee on extended deterrent. They did not specify what theyíre going to do. That said, I want to go back to the counter-provocation agreement. The basis assumption upon which they came to that agreement was that, according to Walter Sharp, the former commander of US forces in Korea, was thatÖ everyone was concerned about possible escalation of the situation once we started counterattacking as you pointed out. But Kim Jong Un would not be ready to commit to a full-time war unless he is convinced that his days are numbered, and until that point, he will not do that. The question is whether that assumption still holds today here in Washington. And the last question was that, other than what you covered already, what specific recommendations would you have for the next incoming administration with regards to its policy to North Korea and especially on North Koreaís nuclear program? Would you have any ideas going differently other than staying the course like the Obama Administration has for the past seven and a half years with nothing done?

John Hamre: I do think the most serious issue that I worry most about is the questioning among South Korean leaders that they can count on the United Statesí nuclear guarantee. Iím most worried about that. And so I personally would support efforts that are designed to try to reassure South Korea that we will stand with them. The big debate that occurred last week when the South Korean leadership was in time and we had the consultative agreement was what more can America do to visibly demonstrate our nuclear guarantee. That was the issue on the table. The ROK side was seeking a more visible presence on the ground of nuclear capability. And the US side said "No, weíre not ready to do that." I think itís betweenÖ we have to find something thatís between those two spaces over the next year, in my view, if weíre going to hold the confidence of the Korean leadership that our nuclear guarantee is valid. I have some ideas in that regard about what we could do, but then I bump up against the other problem, which is the more visible we are in demonstrating a nuclear guarantee on the ground in Korea, the more we ignite the progressive left in the next election to vote against us. Thatís the dilemma. We have to find a way to have a conversation with Korean elites, security establishment, foreign policy elites, that lets them know we take their concerns seriously and weíre worried about it, and we are willing to have next steps, but not let this become a flash point in the election so America becomes the boogeyman, the issue. Weíve had that before and I think we donít want that to get repeated. Thatís our central dilemma for the next year. I know what I would do personally, my own personal preferences. Iíd lean forward much more dramatically in showing the Koreans our guarantee is legitimate and strong. But we have to modulate this.

Tong Kim: In that connection, I was wondering if you have any answer to the question of why the Pentagon did not accept a strong request by South Korea, especially from the Ministry of Defence, that they wanted the United States to keep or deploy some strategic assets such as B1 bombers and other assets to the Korean peninsula. Would you see that in the same light?

John Hamre: I spent a couple of hours with Minister Han last Friday on this. I know exactly what he wants, and he does want to see a tangible, real on the ground demonstration of our nuclear guarantee. In the abstract, thatís where I am too. Thatís what I would support to. But again, we have to do something here that doesnít become Ė that we donít become the issue in the next Presidential election. Because there are a lot of Koreans that would like to sayÖ Iíve hosted leaders of the three parties about a month ago. There is a strong strain inside some of the left parties that America is the problem. So you get the dilemma here. This is an easy thing to resolve. We have to be very thoughtful how we deal with this because I take very seriously what you said.

Tong Kim: Should the United States be more concerned about stopping South Korea from going nuclear or denuclearizing North Korea.

John Hamre: Well Iíve had this conversation with friends in Korea as well. MJ Chong, for example, has been outspoken that Korea should have its own nuclear deterrent. My response to him is, right now, South Korea has the worldís support and sympathy because of illegitimate activity by the North. Why would you undermine your legitimacy in your campaign to stigmatize and contain North Korea? Because right now you can count on our nuclear deterrent, I really believe that. If at some point, it becomes unclear that you canít count on our nuclear deterrent, it wouldnít take long for Korea to have nuclear retaliatory capability. Especially because we just agreed to a ballistic missile program for South Korea.

Moderator: Dennis, do you have a question?

Dennis Halpin: Yes. Thank you for presentation. My question or comment, reflecting more the younger generation, I talked to young people at Johns Hopkins. I have the Seattle Contingent, my daughter and the millennials out in Seattle who Iíve talked to, who were Bernie Sanders supporters. The question I would have is thereís actually a fear among millennials and Bernie Sanders voters that Hillary Clinton is actually too much of a hawk. That she would be willing to get too involved with Putin, or with North Korea, or with ChinaÖ the iron lady syndromeÖ based on the fact that she voted for the Iraq War, that she buddies with John McCain, and thereís an actual concern among millennials, which is one of the reasons they supported Bernie Sanders. My question, on the firmness of the US commitment, it seems more than the policy makers in Washington, thereís an issue out there in the country. It goes back to the Vietnam War, the issue is the mass mobilization of the US Citizen soldier to fight a war. The last time we did that in Vietnam. Now after 9/11, we did have patriotic Americans come forward, including Vice President Bidenís son, Governor Penceís son, Senator McCainís son. But the vast majority of the people who have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan have been working class minorities and small town youth. The middle class and upper class white Americans donít go in the military anymore. So they know, if there was a fightÖ if Hillary got into a fight over the Senkakus with China or a fight with North Korea, weíre talking aboutÖ you canít fight that kind of a war with a volunteer army. Youíre talking about mass mobilization. And the thing that Trump and Bernie Sanders were appealing to with the public, you can call it neo-isolationism or build-a-wallÖ It doesnít seem to me among the American public the true thing is that anybody is ready, especially the younger people, the millennials who would have to fight the war, are ready to go marching off to fight Kim Jong Un or fight over the Senkaku Islands, or fight Putin in the Ukraine. So thatís the real question I have. Isnít the question about American commitment less so what the politicians say but really the underlying attitude of the American people that shifted after Vietnam?

John Hamre: Well we could do a whole conference on this. So let me just offer a few thoughts. First, I think what you said is right. All-volunteer force came in towards the end of the Vietnam War and it was to takeÖ the country was being pulled apart by the draft and other things. And as a matter of principle, I think itís better to have a military of people that want to be in it than those who donít want to be in it. So thereís a way that you think about having a military. And our dilemma for having a military thatís... within peace-time conditions, we only need to take one out of six or out of seven people and put them into military service. We never found an easy way to do that with the draft. So what we did is give exemptions and the people that had money and had connections were able to take advantage of it, so the poor and the minorities served disproportionately. So thereís no real easy way to do it and so all-volunteer force really is superior. It does have the quality that you describe, which is most Americans are disconnected from the military now. They donít feel that it constitutes their personal commitment. Weíve been at war for 13 years, but I go to Georgetown on Saturday nights, it doesnít feel like a war. It doesnít feel like that at all. The all-volunteer force has held up well in a prolonged war. Thatís a real issue that we have to think through. I doubt we could solve that by putting in a draft. I think weíd have real problems trying to do that. My personal favorite is mandatory service, because I think everyone would be better if they served their country for some minimum period of time. But again, when we only need one out of six or seven for the military, what do we do with the other five or six? And weíve never been able to get our head around that and so weíve never done any of that. These are valid issues that you bring up. I agree with you with millennials. Thereís a very disturbingÖ with this election, thereís a high proportion of people that voted for candidates that repudiated the orthodoxy of American foreign policy. Thatís a real worry. When you get 80% of the Republicans voting for Trump, and Trump really is quite candidly an isolationist. What does that mean for us? What does it mean when Bernie Sanders, who has no legislative accomplishment that I know of, nearly got 40% of the Democratic Vote and heís a flat-out isolationist? What does this mean for us? There are huge questions about us traditionalists having the revalidate the foundations of American foreign policy. Itís obvious that theyíre not buying our shtick. We have to really address this now. Why is this in our interest? Why do we have to do this? Why do we still need to have 40,000 Americans in Korea 60 years after the war? Those are valid questions. I think there are real good reasons, but we have to start talking to the American public in a very different way than we have. But I take your point very well.

Moderator: Okay, just one more question and then weíll let you go.

Man 1: Dr. Hamre, you shared with us very valuable insights and observations. Of them, the 5th observation interests me the most and Iíd like to ask one question and offer one suggestion for you because you are an influential man. The question is this. You observed that there is a new and increasing alignment of strategic interests involving ROK, China, and the United States. But there is not so well aligned interests of the US and China on the South China Sea and Taiwan, and trade issues, and others. So how would you see the good alignment surrounding the Korean peninsula being compromised by misalignment in other areas. The second question is a bit more important to me. Everywhere we go where Korean issues are discussed, we talk about paradox, dilemma, and everyone points out how it is difficult and there are no easy answers. Korea is an issue of lousy choices that everyone points out. The reason why it is so lousy is this: we want North Korea to become denuclearized. We want North Korea to respect their peopleís human rights and so on. But the way the North Korean system is established now, the current regime, allowing greater human rights, or denuclearization, is suicide. Nuclear weapons and then human rights and what we wantÖ They have regime survival on one hand and denuclearization and human rights is on our coat. You cannot have one side without the other. This is a problem of all the dilemmas and paradoxes that we point out. I think itís best now to realize and find there is really no solution. The only solution, I think everybody agrees, is the unification of Korea. I think you perhaps know that, but nobody talks about it. How do you make that emerge? Going back to trilateral agreements, isnít this the topic that the US should bring up with China? Not so much to talk about the problems with the current division, but rather talk about developing with the Korean peninsula after unification. How can China and the United States work it out? Because a united Korea is inevitable. It is going to come one way or another. I think our way, freedom and democratic society is the way. And I think China sees it, knows it. China cannot act on it and the United States needs to bring that to the table. Somebody talked about not mentioning this regime change openly. Donít talk about it openly. Talk under the table. Talk amongst yourselves. But make sure to include the ROK and make it look like the ROK is leading the charge.

John Hamre: Well let me just very briefly say that there are only two countries that are interested in a unified Korea: South Korea and the United States. Those are the only two that are really interested in a unified Korea. But the big transition is, where you have to step back and objectively say, is that Xi Jinping has concluded that South Korea is more valuable to China than is North Korea. Thatís a big shift. Now itís not to the stage where itís willing to force the collapse of North Korea, but it has decided that South Korea is more valuable than North Korea. Weíre making progress. And I totally agree with you that we would do a lot better if we put more focus on unification. Forgive me for this shameless advertising, but CSIS, weíve got a whole website dedicated to the issue of unification.

Moderator: Well, ladies and gentlemen. Letís give John a big round of applause.



( Transcribed by David Lee, ICAS Intern )

This page last updated January 15, 2017 jdb