Betting all on Biden isn’t wise
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
What is the worst security threats facing the Yoon Suk-yeol administration? Many say North Korea’s miniaturization of nuclear weapons and Japan’s reviving militarism. But the biggest security risk — although the public has not paid great attention to this matter yet — will be the downfall of U.S. President Joe Biden and resurgence of his predecessor, Donald Trump.
President Yoon’s security policy is based on a strong Korea-U.S. alliance. His first national security pledge was restoring the Korea-U.S. combined defense posture and a strengthening of extended deterrence against North Korean nuclear weapons. Naturally, that was the focus of Yoon’s summit with Biden in May. Therefore, experts in Seoul and Washington are busy devising plans to bolster the alliance, particularly a strengthening of the extended deterrence. Among the suggestions are Korea’s participation in the United States drawing up its nuclear operation plan; activation of consultation group to bolster extended deterrence; and advanced installation of infrastructure to deploy tactical nuclear weapons.
Of course, distrust exists about extended deterrence. Feelings of insecurity have grown after observers said that the North’s imminent nuclear test — the seventh of its kind — will relate to the miniaturization of its nuclear bombs. There is a risk that North Korea will use tactical nuclear weapons against the South Korea while threatening America to use its intercontinental ballistic missiles to attack the U.S. mainland. That is if Kim Jong-un makes a misjudgment that he will still be able to avoid the destruction of his regime.
Joseph Nye, a renowned political scientist, said that the existence of 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea guarantees the reliability of extended deterrence. If North Korea uses tactical nukes in South Korea, many Americans will be sacrificed and the U.S. will destroy North Korea, so the North won’t use this option, he said. It is very clear logic. But it has a critical flaw. He is saying South Korea should not worry about the U.S. Forces Korea. But what will happen if the troops are no longer here?
Trump, during his term, demanded more money from South Korea to keep the U.S. troops here. He threatened to withdraw the troops unless Seoul paid more. He also demanded that Seoul pay for the expenses of deploying bombers to the Korean Peninsula. After Biden took office early last year, many Koreans welcomed him, with an expectation that his gentlemanly attitude and respect for an ally would help Korea-U.S. relations be better.
Biden pleased the Korean people by prompting stronger Korea-U.S. relations. And the Yoon administration responded by participating in Biden’s policy of containing China. The Korean business community supported the policy by making massive investments in America. Relations between the two countries have rarely been as good as these days.
But Biden’s popularity is taking, and it seems impossible for him to get reelected in two years. By imposing premature sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, Biden caused global oil prices to skyrocket. As a result, prices in the U.S. soared over 9 percent, causing the worst inflation ever. His approval rating plunged to the low 30 percent level. If things stay this way, there is no way for Biden to win a second term.
In contrast, the chances are not slim for Trump to win the next election. According to a recent New York Time’s poll on the support ratings of the Republican presidential candidates, Trump scored 49 percent, nearly double the support rate of 25 percent scored by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who was ranked second.
Furthermore, the Federal Reserve is pushing interest rates higher to fight inflation. If economic recession continues until the 2024 presidential election, the Democratic Party will lose.
What will happen if Trump takes office again? Based on his previous remarks, he will likely try to withdraw U.S. forces from Korea and weaken the extended deterrence. Even if someone other than Trump comes to power, it is difficult to say for sure that he or she will fully support the extended deterrence strategy like Biden.
So the Yoon administration should not go all-in with the Biden administration, which could disappear in two years. It will be wise to take into account the possibility that Trump may take office again. National security shaken by who becomes president of the U.S. is not desirable. That is why we must think about various ways to accomplish true self-defense, including nuclear development on our own.