A New Phase in RelationsThe negotiations between the Republic of Korea and the United States over the Status of Forces Agreement, which have dragged on for five years, have finally ended with a revised SOFA on Thursday. This revision has been too slow coming when we consider that the urgent need for a new agreement has been brought up over and over again every time crimes committed by American military personnel came to light.
Many of these crimes have been very serious, including the murder of Miss Yun Kum-i by a GI in 1992, the murder of an Itaewon bar hostess by an American corporal and the repeated dumping of poisonous pollutants in the Han River. Some have been lesser, such as unruly behavior in the subway by servicemen and their family members. All have come to be regarded as a social problem that demands attention. Late or not, for the sake of the future of Korean-American relations, it is fortunate that a settlement has finally been made.
On the matter of jurisdiction in criminal cases, which was the last stumbling block, it was agreed that suspects will be indicted immediately on being taken into custody by the Korean side, as in the SOFA with Japan. Also, an environmental clause has been added, as in the SOFA with Germany, bringing the Korean-U.S. agreement up to par with the Japanese and German ones. While it is true that Korea has forgone jurisdiction over U.S. personnel involved in car accidents and that the environmental clause is not in the main text of the SOFA but in an addendum, these are minor flaws. Overall, we can regard the negotiations as a success.
The agreement reflects that the relationship between Korea and the United States has changed over time. In 1966, when the first SOFA was signed, the U.S. forces were here basically to protect us from the threat of invasion from the North, and that agreement reflected the U.S. role as a benefactor. But the Cold War has ended and North and South Korea have begun a process of rapprochement, calling for adjustments in the role of the American military here. In the future, it will emphasize its role as a guardian of the balance of power in East Asia. We hope that the new agreement will serve as a cornerstone for the balanced development of Korean-American relations.