[NOTEBOOK]Looking at the alliance’s basicsA few years ago, Samuel Huntington of Harvard University, the author of the best-seller, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” visited Korea for a lecture hosted by the JoongAng Ilbo. At a dinner for Professor Huntington, one participant asked him, “If the conflict between the United States and China becomes intense and a military clash is likely to arise, which side do you think Korea will support?” He answered without hesitation, “China.”
The atmosphere turned awkward suddenly. Although the question was asked on the premise, “after the reunification of the Korean Peninsula led by South Korea,” Mr. Huntington’s reply shocked the participants.
Another participant emphasized the nearly 50-year-old Korea-U.S. alliance. He suggested that the question was not an issue that could be easily answered. But Mr. Huntington stuck to his position.
Come to think of it, his remarks may not have been all that surprising. For American scholars of geopolitics, Korea may have been regarded as a natural ally of China from a very long time ago. Therefore, it may be one-sided thinking to assume that the Korea-U.S. alliance must be upheld no matter what. For the United States, the alliance may not be as important as we think.
In fact, ordinary Americans are not interested in Korea, nor do they know it very well. Despite the thousands of young Americans coming to Korea to teach English, the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Korea’s economic growth, the Asian economic crisis and the drama of Korea’s advance to the 2002 World Cup soccer semifinals, those events and trends have not left a distinct impression about Korea on Americans. Things were much the same for several American editors who arrived in Korea to work for the JoongAng Daily, an English newspaper issued by the JoongAng Ilbo. The editors mentioned that they did not imagine that Seoul would be such a modern city.
In April 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson submitted to President Harry Truman a confidential report that summarized the U.S. world strategy. It was called “NSC 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security.” The report spoke of the U.S. blockade strategy to win the Cold War. It mentioned Korea only once as a country that should be supported economically while it emphasized that cooperation with West Germany and Japan was important to achieve U.S. strategic objectives. Of course, those were the thoughts of the American government about 50 years ago, so they could be very different from current ones ― and rightly so.
But considering the remarks of Mr. Huntington, maybe things have not changed as much as we would want them to. And in light of his thinking, what can we expect to find in the minds of ordinary Americans who have not studied world politics? How much will the United States consider Korea in the process of solving the North Korean nuclear issue? Thinking over the differences in the basic interests and expectations between South Korea and the U.S. at various levels, it is clear that the United States will not consider our situation as much as we would wish. Nevertheless, China, Russia and Japan cannot replace the role of the United States. It seems to be nearly impossible for us to find a way to resolve the North Korean crisis by ourselves ― indeed, it is nearly impossible for us to think that we could have the capability to do so.
Under these circumstances, sentimental anti-Americanism cannot be our choice. We should calmly assess our situation and ask ourselves what the United States means to us. We should not be so lazy as to make no effort to see ourselves through their eyes. The North Korean nuclear issue has been escalating to a stage that requires from us a calmer and more composed choice.
* The writer is international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Jae-hak