[GLOBAL EYE]Both sides are happy - for nowPresident Roh was “an easy man to talk to,” President Bush said, and President Roh was relieved of his initial worries and concerns. This was his first visit to Washington, and he was also nervous about his previous remarks that had irritated the United States.
President Bush’s aides were not without their jitters either. Because they had already heard about Mr. Roh’s straight talk, they were on edge about the possibility of his taking a “you go your way; I’ll go mine” attitude. So they paid close attention to President Roh’s remarks and attitude that, to the relief of the U.S. aides, had changed beginning the day he left Korea.
Those U.S. aides were also assured that Seoul had generally accepted the Bush administration’s stance, which had been communicated in advance, so there was no reason for them to make Mr. Roh uncomfortable during his first meeting.
This was why the dialogue went smoothly. Nevertheless, the tense Korean leader may have felt like having a tall, cold beer after the meeting. But that is the way all summit meetings work. Aides prepare all the documents for an agreement while the leaders exchange good wishes and agree on a general framework. For that reason, there should be no failures in summit talks. As in the meeting of Kim Young-sam and Bill Clinton in late 1993 and that of Kim Dae-jung and George W. Bush three years ago, if anything goes wrong, it’s big news.
So the Washington meeting was a success by that standard; there were no outbursts or incidents. Thorny issues were smoothed over. The result was a joint statement that was a hodgepodge to such an extent that the New York Times derisively called it “vague” and “ambiguous.” But Washington thought highly of Mr. Roh’s changed attitude. Even so, it did not expect a dramatic shift in his stance toward North Korea because it judged that Seoul would not be able to accommodate easily to the consequences of a hard-line North Korean policies. Washington was just relieved that the Roh administration did not resist the unchanged U. S. approach to North Korean nuclear issues. This is why the United States thought just as highly of the first meeting of the two leaders as South Korea did.
The problem lies in the possibility that a peaceful resolution of North Korean issues without using military force could still, depending on the North Korean response, mean sanctions and produce an atmosphere of war threats without waging an actual war. The United States still is suspicious about how much stomach South Korea would have for such a situation.
If tensions rise, Washington suspects, South Korea may eventually confront the United States. Therefore, Washington does not pin high hopes on a few words by Mr. Roh. This is not because there remains any distrust between the two allies but because, in reality, South Korea’s “ally” ― the United States ― coexists in hostility with Seoul’s “brethren” on the Korean Peninsula ― North Korea.
Aside from the nuclear problem, the relocation of U.S. forces in South Korea seems to be developing in a totally different way than it has in the past. Earlier, whenever military threats from the North increased, the role of the U. S. forces deployed close to the Demilitarized Zone was in the spotlight.
That is no longer true. Although the expressions in the Washington agreement seem plausibly to guarantee no major moves by the United States, the relocation will surely become a reality before long. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the North Korean nuclear problem should not necessarily be linked to the issue of relocation of U. S. bases in South Korea.
But we are concerned about the possibility that the relocation could come even earlier if the North’s nuclear problem takes a bad turn. Even the United States had never imagined a strategy in which its relocation of troops to the rear could be used as a means of pressure against North Korea by giving the impression that the move makes U.S. military action easier. But as shown in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the innovations of cutting-edge weapons made it possible to turn to a strategy unimaginable before that time.
In addition, if the United States calculated that a preemptive strike against the North would leave nothing for Pyeongyang to retaliate against except South Korean troops and civilians, that would surely imply a change in the nature of the alliance between the two countries. It may sound extreme, but as South Korea reinforces its military capacity in the future, willingly or unwillingly, our government will have to view its U.S. ally from a different perspective.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kil Jeong-woo