[VIEWPOINT]U.S. Strategy, Korean National Interests

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[VIEWPOINT]U.S. Strategy, Korean National Interests

During a 48-hour visit to South Korea, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Asia-Pacific affairs, gave a valuable present to the Kim Dae-jung administration. The envoys let Seoul know that although the United State's review of its policy toward North Korea is not completed, it will be concluded in a few weeks, and promised close consultations between Seoul and Washington before the U.S. government reaches any conclusion on its North Korea policy. They also carried a letter from U.S. President George W. Bush, who reassured the president that the United States would strongly support the South's engagement policy toward the North.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government has repaired the soured Korea-U.S. relationship by stressing its "understanding" of the U.S. position on missile defense, a key pillar of the United States' new military security strategy, and urging Washington to consult closely with its allies as it develops the plan.

The strategic talks between Seoul and Washington are only the beginning of the dialogue, and it is too early to say that the two countries' strategic interests are in harmony again. That is because looking at Mr. Armitage's visit to Seoul only from the perspective of the engagement policy and the Korean Peninsula would limit our understanding the United States' new Asian strategy.

During his visit to Asia, Mr. Armitage won the understanding of the South Korean and the Japanese governments of the proposed missile defense and collected the opinions of allied countries. Nevertheless, I think that his bigger purpose was to emphasize Japan's more active security role in the region, to establish a strategic alliance with India and to seek ways to curb China's ability to flex its muscles. In short, I believe the Bush administration is more interested in strategically managing China, the only country to challenge the United States, than in the Korean Peninsula.

The Bush administration criticized its predecessor's Asia policy even before Mr. Bush was sworn in, basically because the Clinton administration emphasized China's role more than was necessary. The reason the United States is stressing missile defense is partly because such a defense system can prevent and control the proliferation of mass destruction weapons by rogue states, and partly that it can curb China's emergence as a military powerhouse in the long term. Mr. Armitage's visit to Asia should be viewed in the same context; the key purpose of his trip was to demand a stronger security role by Japan in the region and activate security cooperation with India.

One may downplay India's weight in Washington's global and Asia strategies because few other nonaligned countries were as adamantly opposed to the United States as India during the Cold War. Today, however, the Soviet Union, which backed India for decades, no longer exists, while China, which supports Pakistan, has become stronger than ever. Consequently, the key pillar of the United States' new Asia policy is gradually shifting in Northeast Asia to Japan, in the South Pacific to Australia, and in Southeast Asia to India. Where does South Korea stand in the picture? It is not a coincidence that the most active supporters of missile defense are India, Australia and Japan.

What are the choices that South Korea should make during the process of creating a new strategic framework? I think that the question is an important task that Mr. Armitage gave to us. As a sovereign nation, we should maximize our national interests. We should pay attention to India's move. India, which has traditionally emphasized nationalistic strategies for diplomacy and security, has considered anti-Americanism as a core value. Nonetheless, it supports the missile defense after a thorough calculation of its national interests. We should reflect on the lesson, comparing our U.S. policy and that of India.


The writer is a professor of international relations at Yonsei University.

by Lee Chung-min

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