Here’s how a deal could work: The U.S. would remove all 30,000 troops from South Korea and close its military bases. We could even consider ending our treaty with South Korea. In return, China would not only cease its support for North Korea but help end the Kim dynasty altogether, leaving behind a unified, democratic Korea that swears off nuclear weapons. The U.S. and China would jointly engage South Korea on its absorption of the North, since South Korea knows the cost of German reunification and is appropriately leery of reintegrating 25 million starved, information-deprived people into a modern state.
Is eliminating the U.S. military presence on the peninsula a fair price for China finally—and fully—pulling the plug on North Korea? It’s a difficult question with huge security and economic implications, and I’m honestly not sure about the answer. The rapid fall of the Kim regime isn’t even guaranteed under such a deal and there’s a real possibility that a unified Korea would align more closely with China than the U.S., undermining our strength in the region. The U.S.-Japan-South Korean alliance is always under stress, and ending it would take away a core pillar of U.S. policy.