Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sex and guns and burgers and mortgages

The Marmot brings us news that the sex industry in Korea amounts to 14 trillion won per year (a bit less than US$14 billion), which, he says, should lead to South Korea "[taking] responsibility for its own defense" (that is, make the US reconsider it's military presence in South Korea). 

I like the Marmot and I agree with him on most issues, but I think he is myopic and extremely short-sighted when it comes to the United States military alliances in Northeast Asia, particularly with South Korea. 

In addition to the idea that the 14 trillion won figure is almost certainly exaggerated (in addition to being projections, typically a lot of non-sex activities, including drinking and eating at certain establishments, is included in these figures, so the actual prostitution and pimping is considerably smaller, though it is still large), it looks like a couple people called the Marmot on what was a completely irrelevant point. 

What's the logic here? Korean men spend money on sex, therefore they shouldn't enjoy the umbrella military protection of a close ally... because that money spent on sex could be spent on the military? The best analogy for something so irrelevant that I could come up with is this: Americans spend $110 billion each year on fast food, therefore the Asian economies shouldn't help with a bailout of their banking industry. Something like that.

Anyway, I do understand some of Marmot's concerns, especially on cost. More on this later but South Korea does pull its own weight militarily, spending a much higher percentage of GDP than most other American allies on its defense and subjecting almost all its young males to at least two years of military service. 

The US military presence buys a guaranteed ass-whipping that no amount of money could buy if the South Koreans were on their own, which would make them go nuclear, something the US doesn't want and basically prevented South Korea from doing in exchange for its umbrella protection. Departure from South Korea would also make it harder to defend ally Japan.

The notion that the US could sit on the sidelines of a Northeast Asian conflict (a conflict far more likely to occur if the Americans are not firmly rooted in the region) is a fantasy. These things have a way of dragging the US into them, only by then they're bigger and much more messy.

I think the solution is to get South Korea to carry its own weight, since it does have a large enough military and its feet are on firmer ground than before. The US provides a military guarantee on the peninsula that the ROK could never muster on its own, so the ROK Navy could augment the US's patrolling of the waters around important trade routes to alleviate the demands put on the US Navy. Win-win, and everybody is providing what they're good at. 

Unlike Japan, China, and Russia, South Korea has not been a territorial threat to any of its neighbors in the past century, so there would be little cause for alarm in South Asia and Southeast Asia were South Korea to take on this role. This would justify the US spending money to station troops in South Korea (although the US has its own justifications for doing so), etc., etc. A win-win-win. 

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