[EDITORIALS]Welcoming social chaosAmid the rising tensions between the United States and North Korea over Pyeongyang's nuclear weapons program, talk about whether U.S. troops should be pulled out of South Korea is perplexing. The South Korean public's outcry over the accidental killing of two teenagers run over by a U.S. armored vehicle has induced anti-American slogans, which sparked discomfort in Washington. Reports that Washington raised the pullout issue with President-elect Roh Moo-hyun's special envoys visiting the United States were met with half-doubt here.
But now that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he wanted to realign the long American military presence in South Korea, the withdrawal issue seems accepted as an established fact.
But the government and Mr. Roh's aides have not stated their positions on the issue. They are behaving as if the problem were not theirs. They vaguely said that a pullout would not take place, or that a realignment is part of Washington's global strategy. Looking at both countries' attitudes toward the issue, it seems that talks on a withdrawal are not part of a close strategic cooperation between two allies.
Mr. Rumsfeld told senators that he had accepted a suggestion by Seoul's incoming president to study the bilateral relationship. The U.S. defense secretary went on to say that the U.S. government was considering shifting U.S. forces away from the fortified border between North and South Koreas and perhaps removing some of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in the south. The suggested pullout of American troops from the Demilitarized Zone and the Seoul area is interpreted as Washing-ton's message that U.S. forces in the South would no longer play the role as a tripwire to warn Pyeongyang that any attack from the North would automatically involve U.S. troops.
As suggested by the president-elect's remark, "It is better to struggle than to suffer death in a war," it is clear that his perception of and prescription for the North Korea nuclear standoff is different from Washington's. We hope Mr. Roh has not prompted the United States to question why it should keep its troops here in the face of such differences.
We cannot overemphasize the importance of the U.S. military presence in South Korea. We hope that we could defend ourselves without depending on American troops in the near future. Now is not the time to raise the question of removing U.S. forces from the peninsula. They play a crucial role as a deterrent. Without U.S. troops the situation here would be extremely unstable, scaring off foreign investors and causing tremendous economic and social chaos. Washington and Seoul should not forget that.