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[VIEWPOINT]Korea has advanced to higher-order needs

Mar 10,2003
The recent anti-Americanism in South Korea has been reported as a serious problem in the alliance relationship between the United States and South Korea. As a parallel development, both Washington and Seoul have been struggling to dissipate tension precipitated by North Korea’s January announcement of withdrawal from the Nonproliferation Treaty. The two issues and their resolutions are closely related.
The sociologist Abraham Maslow set forth a sequential and hierarchical order of human needs. First-order needs are for food and shelter. The need for safety, less urgent and basic, is second. When these needs are met, the higher-order needs of love and belonging assume importance, followed by self-esteem and self-actualizing needs.
Until the mid-1990s, South Koreans were preoccupied with securing the first- and second-order of human needs, namely food, shelter and safety. As South Koreans worked hard for material abundance and worried about their safety, they appreciated American protection against hostile forces from the communist camp, particularly the threat from North Korea, and they benefited greatly from American trade and investment. Joining the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1996 ratified South Korean status among the advanced capitalist states. It seemed that South Koreans remained happy with their strong alliance with the United States.
The accidental killing of the two South Korean middle-school girls last June and complaints about provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement that governs U.S. troops stationed in Korea suggested to South Koreans that they are not respected as they should be.
This feeling has been reinforced by South Korea’s co-hosting with Japan the World Cup Soccer games and the excitement generated in the whole country by the Korean team’s success against several European teams. South Koreans now yearn for self-esteem not only from the world community but also from friends and allies. One may say that there is no real hatred among South Koreans for the United States. South Korean anti-Americanism is not truly anti-American.
Rebalancing the alliance relationship in legal terms certainly would be welcome. For South Korea to take a leading diplomatic role in resolving the nuclear crisis would help bolster South Koreans pride. It may not be impossible for the Seoul government to mediate between Washington and Pyeongyang, as proposed by President Roh Moo-hyun. Whereas North Korea insists on a nonaggression treaty with the United States, Washington demands that Pyeongyang first verifiably end its nuclear weapons programs.
During this impasse, the Bush administration keeps saying that it has no intention to invade North Korea and wants to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis. But it rules out a formal nonaggression treaty with North Korea because it fears that the U.S. Senate would not ratify such an agreement. State Department officials have often expressed willingness to deliver an official document to the Pyeongyang government that would guarantee the security and sovereignty of the North Korean regime.
Pyeongyang would not be satisfied with such a letter. If Washington cannot produce a nonaggression treaty, why not an executive agreement that the president could negotiate on his own authority, without need of Senate ratification? A notable example would be the Yalta agreement in 1945.
President Roh is scheduled to go to the United States soon to meet President George W. Bush. He may wish to persuade Mr. Bush to negotiate an executive agreement with the top leader of North Korea. If Presidents Bush and Roh agree, the latter’s mediating role continues. When he comes home, he may wish to invite Chairman Kim Jong-il to Seoul or to go to Pyeongyang himself for a second North-South summit.
The first South Korean president of the new century, Mr. Roh should be able to assume a leading diplomatic role in resolving the current nuclear situation. With a successful initiative, his countrymen, especially the young generation, would recover their self-esteem. The U.S.-South Korean alliance would be strengthened again.

by Rhee Kang-suk

* The writer is a professor of American foreign policy at the Korean National Defense University.


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