중앙데일리

Half-century alliance shows signs of strain

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Jan 06,2003
[First in a three-part series] "Remember, we are there for the defense of the South Korean people," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Dec. 9 about the rising anti-American sentiment in South Korea, especially the surging resentment against the United States Forces Korea. President Kim Dae-jung connived in the sudden turn of sentiment in U.S.-South Korea relations, according to Ralph Cossa, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ignoring the wide spread of anti-American sentiment in South Korea was a successful tactic for the presidential election, he added. "First, begin withdrawing our troops from South Korea," William Safire, a New York Times columnist, wrote on Dec. 26. "Because the U.S. is not an imperialist power, it does not belong where a democratic nation decides America is unwanted." Lately, the U.S. government and opinion leaders have been noticeably upset about the upsurge of anti-American sentiment in South Korea; they were also displeased with Seoul's handling of the issue. The president-elect, Roh Moo-hyun, said during his campaign that Seoul must stop the United States and North Korea if a war is initiated between them. U.S. leaders questioned whether South Korea is sure that China can replace the U.S. role of strategic protector on the peninsula. Un-precedented complaints about South Korea have flooded the United States. Anti-American sentiment, triggered by an accident in which two South Korean teenage girls were killed by a U.S. armored vehicle has not waned. Candlelight vigils pro-testing the acquittals of two soldiers involved in the event continued last week. Voices are rising nationwide that the Status of Forces Agreement between South Korea and the United States is unfair and must be revised. Protesters demand a public and direct apology by the U.S. president. In the South Korean government and among scholars, many blame the current situation on the hard-line U.S. policy toward North Korea. The Internet is flooded with assertions that Washington triggered the latest nuclear crisis on the peninsula and that the United States is the obstacle to developing inter-Korean relations. Anti-American sentiment and distrust have never been so deep; the strategic importance of the U.S.-South Korea alliance has never been downplayed as it is now. It seems that only a few are concerned about the impacts generated by the loss of trust between the U.S. and Korean governments, as well as between the two peoples. The situation in Korea is contrary to that in Japan. In early 2000, the Japanese prime minister received a report on a vision for 21st-century Japan; it called the U.S.-Japan alliance one of Japan's three most important assets. In the past half-century, the U.S.-South Korea alliance has been praised as the most successful partnership in the world, but it is no longer so. As the notion of military partnership has gradually diminished, the alliance has not evolved into a political one sharing the values of liberal democracy and market economy. There are symptoms of fatigue about the 50-year alliance, but few efforts to resolve the problems. Challenges to the alliance were initiated by the Korean populace. Democratization raised people's consciousness and Koreans now demand that the alliance be redefined. Seoul and Washington, however, failed to see the rising demands in time. "The U.S.-South Korea alliance began as a partnership of governments, not a relationship based on trust between two societies," said Lee Sang-hyun, a researcher at the Sejong Institute. "The will of the Korean people, demanding a horizontal relationship, was gradually introduced to the alliance along with democratization here, but the two governments did not update the structure and definition of the alliance for 50 years." He said it is necessary to change the Korean people's view that the relationship is hierarchical. The presence of Yongsan garrison in the heart of Seoul has hurt Korean dignity, but the two governments ignored the problem, amplifying the public sentiment of Korean victimization, Mr. Lee said. Among South Koreans, cries that the United States Forces Korea should withdraw are growing. According to a JoongAng Ilbo survey in December, 50.9 percent of those polled wanted the American troops to leave the peninsula. Of that group, 6.3 percent demanded an immediate withdrawal while the rest wanted a phase-out. More than 96 percent called the present Status of Forces Agreement unfair and demanded that it be revised. Americans are not pleased with such sentiment. "Koreans are not looking at the road death and the SOFA issues as problems associated with the management of an alliance," said a source from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. "They tend to regard the issues as problems of justice, fairness and ethical discrimination." A 2002 survey by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations found that, if North Korea were to strike the South, 36 percent of Americans said the U.S. should reinforce its forces on the peninsula, while 56 percent said it should stay out of any war there. Challenges to the alliance also come from the leaderships of the two countries. "The two governments both failed to read the changes of the era and seemed to regard the alliance as an intrinsic one," said a South Korean government official. The two countries apparently believed that their alliance would continue forever -- a force of habit that can be broken at any time. South Korean politicians were playing too much to the gallery, critics noted. Politicians took advantage of anti-American sentiment to maintain control of the Blue House and to check U.S. policy toward North Korea; such politics, however, boosted anti-Americanism to an uncontrollable level, observers suggested. The U.S.-South Korea alliance is challenged by changes outside the two countries. "The alliance must be reviewed and redefined to adapt to the post-Cold War climate, the unprecedented development of inter-Korean relations since the summit and the established regional security," said Kim Sung-han, a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. "But the two countries did not do the mission promptly." Mr. Kim added that rising anti-Americanism is probably the result of failing to accommodate such changes. South Korea is standing amid the complex and conflicting interests among the United States, China, Russia, Japan and North Korea. To defend its liberal democracy and market economy, South Korea apparently has limited options. "The U.S.-South Korea alliance is insurance protecting us from future threats to our national security and a shield defending us from clear and present danger at the same time," said. Yun Deok-min of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.
by Oh Young-hwan
January 06, 2003




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