[EDITORIALS]Pressure on Arms Sales Bad Strategy

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[EDITORIALS]Pressure on Arms Sales Bad Strategy

We cannot blame the four companies and their governments that lobbied the Korean government for the contract to build the F-X, a next-generation fighter aircraft. But their lobbying activities should be within the limits of accepted business practices. No lobbying activities should be construed as pressure. In that sense, the words recently spoken publicly by leaders of the U.S. Defense Department bother us a bit.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, said at the 33d Republic of Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting held in Washington last week that the F-15K fighter jet is the aircraft best suited for Korea's F-X project. A senior air force general at the U.S. Pacific Command made similar comments Monday.

If the U.S. officials said their fighters were better than other fighters in terms of performance, technology transfer, and price, we could understand their promotion even at the official meetings as a sales diplomacy. But Mr. Rumsfeld emphasized the importance of joint operations for the combined forces of the two countries, that is, the interoperability of the weapon systems of Korea and the United States. In other words the U.S. seems to have put pressure on us to buy their fighters by stressing the special characteristics of the defense relation between Korea and the United States. The behavior and attitudes of the U.S. officials seemed coercive and unfair. We can sense as much from Korean officials at the meetings who said they were not pleased.

The U.S. government needs to keep in mind two things. The special relation between Korea and the United States can be a factor in the selection of the winner of the contract for the F-X project, but that cannot be the only reason. The F-X project should be decided in the bigger strategic framework of Northeast Asia in the era of post-Korean unification. We should choose the best in terms of technology transfer and performance. As a result, the United States should compete with others in those areas by offering better options. The United States should clearly see that the era in which Korea bought U.S. weapons blindly based on the special relationship between Korea and the United States is passing.

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