[Overseas view] Putting our allies first

The U.S. relationship with Korea is not just about defending ourselves against shared threats; it should also be about expanding our shared prosperity

May 29,2008
The next president of the United States will face an array of challenges and responsibilities in the world, including the need to protect America and our allies from the threats of terrorism and proliferation, keep international markets open and vibrant, and advance the universal values that underpin our common security and prosperity. We firmly believe that strengthening and expanding America’s close partnership with the Republic of Korea is critical to accomplishing all of these goals.

From time to time, on both sides of the Pacific, doubts have been raised about the future of the U.S.-South Korea alliance. Not so long ago, some even claimed the alliance was on its last legs. These voices have recently grown silent, however, and rightly so, in particular after President Lee Myung-bak’s highly successful visit to the United States in March, which reaffirmed anew the extent to which the United States and Korea remain deeply bound together by both shared interests and shared values.

Today Korea stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States, defending freedom not only in East Asia, but across the globe. Koreans are serving bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they are leading critical missions to help stabilize these war-torn countries. Americans are proud of our alliance with Korea, and are likewise inspired by the remarkable story of Korea’s own hard-won transformation into the flourishing, prosperous democracy it is today.

South Korea’s economic and political success would be striking in any part of the world, but it stands out all the more because of the contrast to conditions north of the Demilitarized Zone. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans today languish in gulags and internal exile. Millions go malnourished as the regime in Pyongyang tests missiles, sells illegal drugs, and ? in spite of our diplomatic efforts ? continues to cling to its nuclear arsenal.

The next president will need to use intensive diplomacy to move towards a fully denuclearized Korean Peninsula, but cannot make the mistake of assuming that talking is our only tool. We cannot to be so naive as to think we will convince Kim Jong-il to give up his nuclear weapons ? let alone end his horrific treatment of his people ? by promising that the president of the United States will unconditionally sit down with him to ask what else he wants.

Rather, it is through close cooperation with our closest allies ? our strong alliance with the Republic of Korea, close trilateral coordination with Japan, and full use of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 ? that we can best hope to solve the North Korean challenge.

We strongly support President Lee’s strategy of seeking full reciprocity in terms of denuclearization, human rights,and accounting for the hundreds of South Koreans abducted over the years by Pyongyang. North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric towards Seoul in recent weeks is revealing. It tells us that Pyongyang continues to try to divide the participants in the six-party talks instead of taking steps that would reassure the legitimate concerns that have been raised about the North’s intentions. We support Seoul’s calm and firm response to these efforts. Our priority must be a united front with our democratic allies in confronting the dangers posed by North Korea.

The U.S. relationship with Korea is not just about defending ourselves against shared threats; it should also be about expanding our shared prosperity. The U.S., for instance, has successfully negotiated an important free trade agreement with South Korea. This agreement will benefit Americans and Koreans alike by creating new jobs on both sides of the Pacific and setting a new standard in opening Asia’s rising economies to America, at a time when some are seeking to exclude us.

Unfortunately, some politicians in Washington oppose the FTA, including the Democratic presidential frontrunners, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. Rather than encouraging American entrepreneurship and competitiveness, they are exploiting unfounded fears about Asia’s economic dynamism and thus retreating from the bipartisan consensus on trade liberalization that has guided America for over 50 years. They are putting the protection of special interests before the promotion of the national interest.

This position is irresponsible and shortsighted. Rejecting the FTA will not only leave Americans and Koreans alike worse off; it will also undermine America’s global economic leadership.

Retreating behind protectionist walls has never created American jobs or advanced America’s national security, and it will not today. That is why we remain so strongly committed to the U.S.-South Korea FTA.

The strength of the U.S.-South Korea alliance is ultimately rooted not just in an alignment of our shared interests, but in the bedrock of our shared values.

Over the years, some have tried to argue that there is, on the one hand, a set of monolithic “Asian” values that respects authoritarianism, and on the other side a distinct set of “Western” values that emphasize the rights and value of the individual. But the inspiring story of democratization in South Korea puts the lie to this argument.

The reality, of course, is that belief in democracy, human rights and the rule of law is not the exclusive property or original insight of any one culture or nation. These are universal values. In fact, more people live under democratic government in Asia today than in any other part of the world.

These values have spread precisely because it is in an environment of openness and freedom that human beings are best able to pursue our most natural human desire: to build a better life for ourselves and our children. In this regard, the more the world follows in the example of South Korea, the safer, freer and more prosperous it will be.

That is also precisely why the great democracies of the Asia-Pacific region have a responsibility to work more closely together, to help other nations in the region and beyond secure the blessings of liberty, and to ensure that the values of freedom and openness are enshrined at the center of our international system. We believe that the Republic of Korea must be a critical and equal partner in this undertaking.

America in turn must also be a responsible ally and a good global citizen. American power does not mean we can do whatever we want, whenever we want. On the contrary, our position in Asia has been strongest when we have listened to our friends, and when we have worked not only to persuade them when we think we are right, but when we have been willing to be persuaded that they are right.

This spirit of mutual respect and trust is essential to all of our alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region ? trust in the reliability of our security commitments, trust in the integrity of our economic promises, and trust in the consistency of our principles. Renewing these commitments can provide the basis for a new century of shared prosperity, security and freedom for millions of people ? Americans and Koreans alike.

*John McCain is the senator of Arizona and the presumptive Republican party nominee for president of the United States. Joseph Lieberman is the senator of Connecticut.

by John McCain, Joseph Lieberman

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