America’s lake and the Pacific Rim are becoming a very dangerous place due to abdication of American leadership in the region. After decades of maintaining a vast security structure to maintain hard-fought gains in democracy for her allies and her own national security, pax Americana is a disappearing concept and America’s adversaries are noticing. This makes the possibility of war all the more likely.
After a press trip and briefing at the demilitarized zone recently, I was struck by the heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. It’s been a year since there has been high-level talks at the DMZ between the UNC Military Armistice Commission and its North Korean counterpart. There are routine issues that need to be dealt with on a recurring basis and the lack of communication is dangerous and could lead to confrontation.
This refusal to communicate seems to stem from Kim Jong Un’s desire to show aggression toward the South in an apparent bid to consolidate power and blackmail the West for additional food and help for his starving population.
After many acts of aggression by the North like the sinking of the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, South Korean forces no longer require permission from the general staff in Seoul to return fire on North Korean forces. Commanders in the field can make this real-time decision. It is obvious how this could lead to a military crisis, one that could spiral quickly out of control and turn into a full-scale war.
North Korea is also reported to be developing a submarine-launched ballistic missile system that could make defeating their nuclear threat much more difficult. With missile systems already being tested in repeated missile launches over Japan and in the direction of the United States, Alaska and the east coast of the U.S. are threatened as well.
However, analysts I spoke with in South Korea this week said that many American allies feel that all of the promises the United States has made for their security simply won’t hold. They don’t trust the Obama administration.
Today the South Korean government is pushing to construct a peace park in the demilitarized zone. They are also lobbying the United Nations to establish its fifth command operation in the DMZ, seeming to think this will lead to lasting peace in Korea. It is obvious to me that the only thing that will maintain peace are the annual live fire exercises the United States and the Republic of Korea conduct each year to maintain the readiness of the U.N. military capability to deter aggression by the North. In short, it’s the live fire exercises, stupid!
In addition to North Korea, China is reasserting itself in northeast Asia as her military power grows. Territorial disputes are inflaming tensions between China and America’s allies. There is fear that Japan will change its constitution to become more adventurous militarily. Tensions between South Korea and Japan still simmer today over apologies for Japanese aggression and the "comfort women"issue that still causes pain for Korean citizens.
All of these problems scream for American leadership. But this leadership under the Obama administration is not forthcoming. They are incapable of fulfilling this role. This leads to the conclusion that America’s adversaries have two years to get what they want through aggressive behavior, before a new American president works to pick up the pieces of what’s left of the security structure in Asia.
Some things at the DMZ never change but the tension between the hair-trigger soldiers of both sides is needlessly elevated. While listening to a briefing on the situation in the conference rooms straddling the border between North and South, by Col James M. Minnich, UNC MAC secretary, two North Korean soldiers peered into the windows and began videotaping what was going on inside. The feeling was eerie and ominous. The feeling spoke of death, destruction, pain and suffering, and war.
This future does not need to happen but most likely will happen unless American reasserts herself in the region.
L. Todd Wood is a former USAF special operations helicopter pilot. He flew for the 20th Special Operations Squadron and supported SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force in counterterrorism missions. His first novel, “Currency," deals with the geopolitical consequences of overwhelming sovereign debt. Wood writes for The New York Post, Fox Business, The Moscow Times, Breitbart, National Review, and Zero Hedge. He splits his time between New York and Moscow. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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