[OUTLOOK]American presence is still neededThe Korea-America partnership is perched on the shakiest branch since the end of World War II, when the military alliance between the two countries was forged. But there is more to this critical status than the anti-American demonstrations sweeping the nation. In fact, the resentment felt by the activists is understandable from the vantage of people unfamiliar with the fundamental differences between the Korean legal system and that of the United States or the fabric of the Status of Forces Agreement that governs the activities of U.S. military personnel in Korea.
In fact there are aspects of the relationship that are not, in the Korean point of view, up to the expectations of and in line with local sentiment, especially the manner in which American officials apologized over the deaths last June of two Korean girls in a road accident.
The biggest problem rests not with the citizens who are determined to keep this issue on the front burner, but with the people who are steering it toward their own selfish political ends. They insist on driving the American military out of Korea and ending the Korea-America alliance.
The demands are not new. They have been the favorite tune of the left wing for 50 years. But what is new is that today the calls are gaining increasing resonance among the average Korean. And for what reason?
Alliances usually are formed in the face of a common threat. The Korea-America partnership was devised to confront the communist menace in the escalating stages of the Cold War. It served as a deterrent as long as the global bipolar structure, which existed during the time of the inception of this alliance, was firmly in place. Korea was able to concentrate on economic development within the fence of security provided by the American presence.
The sudden dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the end of the Cold War posed key questions concerning the raison d'etre of an alliance conceived specifically to deter a bygone threat. Needless to say, North Korea has yet to collapse, but with its economy in rags, the country's once ferocious military posture is increasingly being compromised.
Despite these colossal changes in the Korea-America partnership, people tend to think that the objective and purpose of the alliance are the same as they were in the earlier stages of the East-West confrontation. Put bluntly, they believe that the purpose of the alliance is to prevent a North Korean attack. Cooperation between Korea and America will falter unless the alliance readjusts to the changing times and assumes a more relevant position. This is the logic upon which anti-American activists try to oust the American military from Korea.
Now that the Cold War is over, should the Korea-America duet follow suit? Two reasons would suggest no.
First, the end of the Cold War's global confrontation does not necessarily indicate a complete resolution of the North Korean threat at home. Granted that the reclusive country's present military muscle is a far cry from its historical peak, but it still possesses immense fire- power coupled with an assumed nuclear arsenal. Carelessly rushing down an untested path may be dangerous. And reflecting on these realities, an American pull-out will not only undermine the security of Korea but do severe economic damage as well.
Secondly, although an alliance against communism may be an anachronistic concept, a security structure desi-gned to ward off any shifts in the balance of power around the peninsula is critically necessary. Therefore, the reach of Amer-ican military presence should not be limited to Korea, but should encase the entire Northeast Asian region as well.
It is important that these points be recognized not only by Korean and American officials, but also by the shouters of anti-American slogans.
In sum, the purpose of the American forces' presence in Korea should be explained in terms of sustaining a regional strategic balance around the Korean Peninsula.
In view of the embrace of former Warsaw Pact members by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an adjustment to changes in the international environment, it is time for a realignment of the Korea-America alliance so that it reflects the new realities in a changing region.
* The writer is the president of the Institute of Social Sciences.
by Kim Kyung-won