&#91EDITORIALS&#93U.S. troops needed here

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[EDITORIALS]U.S. troops needed here

Uncertainty lies over the future of U.S. troops stationed in Korea. Last week, U.S. government officials in Washington told a special delegate sent by President-elect Roh Moo-hyun that the U.S.-Korean military alliance needed "updating and modernizing," hinting at the possibility of a change in the U.S. troop deployment here.

Shocked by the intensity of anti-Americanism displayed in Korea after the death of two girls hit by a U.S. military vehicle, several voices from the American press and Congress have urged the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Korea. Now, it seems that the issue will go through a complete review by the Bush administration as well.

And yet, both President Kim Dae-jung and Mr. Roh seem nonplused over the matter. The lightheartedness is most apparent in the disagreement among the members of Mr. Roh's special delegate over the exact words of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and whether he had actually made any comments concerning U.S. troops in Korea.

Mr. Rumsfeld had said that the United States had no intention of stationing its troops in Korea against the wishes of the Korean people. Left-leaning commentators in Korea have always maintained that the United States would never withdraw its troops from the Korean peninsula because of U.S. interests. The U.S. government has in effect warned the president-elect that such an assumption is naive and one-sided.

By hinting at the relocation of U.S. troops, Washington suggests a revision of its "trip-wire" role; that is, of automatically engaging itself if full-scale military conflict breaks out. The uncertainty concerning U.S. troops is as much reason for concern over our national security as the potential threat of a nuclear North Korea.

The U.S. military presence in Korea has been and still is an integral part of our economic stability. One estimate of Korea's increased military spending in case of a withdrawal of U.S. troops would be $5 billion to $10 billion a year. As Mr. Roh stressed, U.S.-Korean relations need to be based on equality. What we need is serious consideration of where our national interest lies -- especially in the face of a North Korean nuclear program.
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