High Stakes in Peninsular Gambling
Go to Gar's pokerman analysis of the high-stakes gambling going on between South Korea and the United States over military issues. Here's a sampler:
"The US spends billions of dollars annually on S. Korean defense and Congress is now starting to ask why? Lt Gen Campbell is merely stating the USFK (still) has a plan to defend Korea, but it costs $60M more than the Koreans are willing to pay this year. The money has to come from somewhere. When he says support and construction costs will be cut first, you have to wonder about the U.S. long-term commitment, and why is Korea balking at paying for her own security? The U.S. is not going to operate/fight with one hand tied behind it's back. Perhaps it would be cheaper if Korea went it alone?
The Korean government called the U.S.'s raise and promptly re-raised by declaring there would be no more negotiations on cost sharing, while almost simultaneously announcing they would seek China/ROK military ties on par with ROK/Japan ties. Whew boy. This is getting better than the celebrity poker games on cable TV; most of them don't really know what they're doing either."
It's interesting to see game theory applied in this way, though Gar appears to have more appreciation of the nonrational factors motivating players than do game theorists who calculate based on the assumption of purely rational actors. Nationalist emotions drive people to do things not clearly in their own rational interest (such as cutting off one of your own fingers).
The political maneuvering is fascinating to watch, but unnerving, too, for Americans like me who live and work in Korea -- especially for those of us who are married to Koreans, and particularly for those of us who have children. The haunting spector of anti-Americanism is ever present . . .
As for the game itself, Korea may seem to have a weak hand, but this is on the assumption that it is bluffing and hoping that the United States will make concessions. If President Roh's remarks about Korea's role as a balancer/stabilizer are merely tactical, then Korea is bluffing. But if -- as has been strongly implied -- the shift is strategic, then Korea is not bluffing.
This means that although Americans might think that Korea is holding a two, it's actually holding an ace that it is willing to play: an alliance with China.
I think that this would be a long-term mistake for Korea to make, but Koreans might not see it that way.
Let me make myself clear. I'm a friend of Korea (for whatever my friendship might be worth), and I'm not against China. I'm also critical of Japan for not being more honest with itself about its history and for maintaining official claims to Dokdo. But I'm not anti-Japanese.
In my view, Korea, Japan, the United States, and Russia ought to maintain good relations with China. Good relations, however, do not have to translate into an alliance with China. Korea might gain some short-term advantage over Japan by an alliance with China, but in the long run, Korea would benefit more by continuing an alliance with the United States. Ideally, even an alliance between Korea and Japan would be in the interests of both, but that looks increasingly remote.
I've said this before, but it's a truism of political science that bears repeating: A small country in the shadow of a nearby great power had better seek a more distant ally with even greater power. Why? Because the distant ally won't have any territorial ambitions, but the neighboring power might. Better safe than sorry.
So, think carefully, Korea.