Why I'm Thankful For Japan And South Korea
We're not alone in this dangerous world.
BY Robert Bateman | Nov 29, 2017 | Culture
Amid all the hand-wringing about the potential for a military conflict in East Asia, most American news reports focus on what the United States would do in any scrap—as if we would be going it alone. You hear almost nothing about Japanese and South Korean military capabilities. At best, most news stories make a passing reference to a general US war plan, with a nod towards one nation or the other. At the same time, domestic outlets tend to work themselves into a tizzy about a few Russian bombers cruising near Alaska or buzzing one of our ships near their own borders.
But the Japanese and South Koreans are much more prepared than many Americans know, and with good reason: They're a lot closer to the danger. We're involved in episodic events a few times per year, but for them, it's an almost hourly occurrence.
Image from Getty
To put things into perspective, think about the few incidents of Russian bombers coming near the US coastline that have made the news in the last year or two. Probably fewer than a dozen came anywhere near the US. But, last year alone, the Japanese Self-Defense Force dealt with a total of 1,168 air incursions into their Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that they had to scramble jets to intercept. More than 850 of those military aircraft intrusions into Japanese-controlled airspace came from China. Several hundred came from Russia.
In both cases, Japan is also actively involved in territorial disputes with those countries. China, for example, has not just been intruding on Japanese airspace, they are coming into Japanese areas on the sea, and have been for several years. And, of course, that’s leaving aside the fact that North Korea has been shooting missiles over the top of their islands. It is no wonder, then, that Japan has what is probably the most sophisticated ballistic missile defence setup behind the US. They are also once again actively fielding aircraft carriers, even if, for linguistic reasons, they call their carriers “helicopter destroyers.”
THE JAPANESE DEALT WITH A TOTAL OF 1,168 AIR INCURSIONS LAST YEAR ALONE.
Meanwhile, South Korea, with a population of 51 million, has an active-duty Army that is actually a little bigger than the active US Army (490,000, versus our current 483,000 at the end of last year). At the same time, their reserve forces dwarf the US National Guard and Reserve elements. We have a total of about 820,000 part-time or emergency forces, but South Korea maintains a force of more than three million. And this is no mere mass of untrained cannon-fodder. The South Korean Army has some 2,400 tanks, and another 2,600 armoured vehicles of other types.
To put this another way, the US Army has a total of 10 active-duty divisions, plus the equivalent of two or three more in non-divisional units. We have several more divisions in the National Guard, but those units generally take several months to come up to speed as trained organizations, so they are not of much use in a sudden fight. In contrast, the Republic of Korea fields a total of 49 divisions, and the equivalent of another six in non-divisional units. In other words, nearly five times what the US can put into the field around the entire planet. They can draw on their entire nation for the support they need in any fight on their own territory, and they are not designed for “expeditionary” warfare. They have one acid test, and they already experienced what happens if they are seen as “weak” by the North Koreans.
Image from Getty
Along the same lines, here in the US, the deployment of twelve F-35 Joint Strike Fighters is somehow a big deal. Between Japan and Korea, we have only four "Wings" of USAF fighters based in the region, plus a few more squadrons of USMC aircraft in Japan. We can obviously fly in more, but it’s those roughly 60-72 aircraft that would carry the load initially in any sort of flare-up. However, people tend to forget that South Korea has 450 combat aircraft of their own, and Japan some 200 more.
In short, it is worth remembering that sometimes our military-related jitters are just that, and not a whole lot more. We are not alone, and we should not forget that.
Robert Bateman is a former Army officer. He is currently a fellow at New America. He can be reached at R_Bateman_LTC@hotmail.com or you can follow him on Twitter @RobertLBateman
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