[OUTLOOK]Our defenses must be beefed upOn Tuesday, General Leon LaPorte, commander of the U.S. Forces in Korea, announced that the U.S. Congress had promised $11 billion through 2006 to reinforce the U.S. forces in Korea and that an investment matching the U.S. support was needed in Korean forces.
General LaPorte’s comment was a more detailed extension of Deputy U.S. Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz’s statement on Monday that the United States was working to enhance the mission of the U.S. forces in Korea and that Korea needed to do its part as well.
The $11 billion that the United States intends to spend on its forces in Korea will mostly be used to replace two of the infantry brigades in the 2d Infantry Division with Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. That is, the 2d U.S. Infantry Division is to be replaced by one brigade in the next three years and it will take $11 billion to furnish the weapon systems needed for the mobilization of this new brigade. The change in U.S. national security policies after the Sept. 11 terror attacks means a shift in the role of the U.S. forces in Korea to focus more on the war against terrorism and regional security.
Why must a reinforcement of the U.S. forces in Korea go together with an increase in our defense budget? The Korea-U.S. alliance system is based on operations of combined forces. A change in the weaponry of the U.S. forces in Korea is directly connected with the modernization of the Korean military’s weapons. To call the U.S. demand for an increase in the Korea defense budget “interference in internal affairs” is to show an ignorance of international relations and to deny the reality of the Korea-U.S. military alliance.
In the past during the Cold War era, the United States had on several occasions demanded an increase in NATO’s defense budget. This was considered quite possible under a mutual defense system. So long as international relations are governed by the logic of power and self-interest, the principle of sharing responsibilities will prevail.
It must be pointed out that we ourselves have consistently discussed the need to increase our defense budget. Our defense budget has declined steadily from 6 percent of GDP in the 1980s to 2.7 percent of GDP today. This is the lowest among the 22 major countries that are engaged in an international conflict or in a situation of international confrontation. President Roh Moo-hyun has expressed his interest in the increase of the defense budget ever since his days as president-elect, and the modernization of the Korean military had been emphasized in the recent U.S.-Korea summit meeting. Prime Minister Goh Kun explained that the reason our defense budget makes up only 2.7 percent of GDP is because the Kim Dae-jung administration had steadily decreased the annual allocation to defense. Mr. Goh also showed the determination of President Roh’s “participatory government” to beef up the defense budget by announcing that it would be gradually increased to reach the 3 percent level starting from next year’s budget plans.
One of the terms frequently used by the public since the candlelight rallies last year has been “autonomous defense.” A sovereign country defending itself has rights as well as responsibilities. But in order to exercise these rights, the country must be willing to show the efforts and make the investments. That investment is the defense budget.
The concept of “autonomous defense” discussed here does not mean the abolition of the Korea-U.S. alliance and striking out on our own. Remain within the Korea-U.S. alliance but get rid of the excessive dependency. Let’s be autonomous in carrying out our own duties.
Two prerequisites must be met here. First, we need to develop a strong sense of national security and show our determination to defend our country from outside threats. This means we need to form a consensus that the Kim Jong-il regime is a clear threat to our national security. Pyeongyang’s nuclear program must no longer be tolerated with the wishful thinking that it is not actually a threat to us or the sentimental feeling that North Koreans are our ethnic cousins. We must also carry a sense of responsibility that we will pay for the costs of autonomously defending the country from such security threats. It is self-contradictory to say that we need an alliance and refuse to pay for our share of the deal. An increase in our defense budget should not be seen as a demand or interference from the United States but as a necessary action taken under our own initiatives. This is what an autonomous spirit is about and this is where autonomous defense starts.
* The writer is a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
by Song Young-sun