[OUTLOOK]Send troops to IraqIn late March, a debate raged among the public and in the media over the justification for declaring war in Iraq. This debate was augmented by the question of whether or not to send Korean troops there. In the end, however, the administration decided to send an engineering battalion and a medical contingent even earlier than scheduled.
This was not done to show silent support for the U.S. war or to provide it with grounds for its justification. The decision was simply the result of a logical consideration of the national interests of both Korea and the United States.
The war was won, but the United States faces another difficult struggle in trying to establish democracy in the Middle East. On Sept. 7, President George W. Bush appealed to international society to cooperate in post-war efforts in Iraq and asked 29 countries to send additional troops to Iraq as part of a plan to form a multinational force under the aegis of the United Nations. It is reported that the United States has requested the same of Korea through several channels and as a result, a fiery debate over the issue such as the one in March and April has already begun.
But the nature of the United States’ request for additional troops is fundamentally different from that in March. The Iraqi interim government was launched on Sept. 1, but Iraqis urgently need political, social and economic stability to start rebuilding their country. The most important factor in this rebuilding is the securing of public order. With continuing sabotage of oil pipelines by remaining Saddam Hussein supporters, the tribal strife between the Shiites and the Sunnis and suicide bombers, there is a limit to how much public order throughout the country 136,000 U.S. soldiers can maintain. Unless more international attention and support is given to the situation, chaos and confusion will rule over Iraq for a long time. Our foremost task is to show an attitude befitting a responsible member of the United Nations and international society towards the sufferings of the Iraqi people.
Another difference from March is that the U.S. asked for combat troops this time. This makes it far more difficult for us to make the decision to send our troops to Iraq. But with the main war over, the new combat troops in Iraq will not participate in any full-scale combat but act more as a peacekeeping operation maintaining public order. The troops in Iraq would be similar in character to the Sangnoksu Unit that is serving in East Timor as part of a multinational peacekeeping operation. Therefore, it is inaccurate to compare the present situation to that of the 1960s when we sent troops to Vietnam.
In light of the problems involving North Korea’s nuclear program, the U.S. forces stationed in Korea and the building of an autonomous self-defense capability, the Korean Peninsula cannot prosper without the close cooperation of the United States. The direction and speed of the solution to North Korea’s nuclear program will depend not only on relations between the North and the South but on cooperation between the South and the United States.
The issue of U.S. forces in Korea is also closely connected to that of autonomous self-defense capabilities. Without the sturdy foundation of the Korea-U.S. alliance, it is realistically too difficult for Korea to purse an autonomous self-defense. That is why we must make an even more level-headed decision than in April when we sent troops to Iraq. It is in our national interest in the long term to provide the United States with a reason to stand closer to our side and help solve these problems.
Observe our neighbor country, Japan. Straining against the fetters of its “peace constitution,” it is trying to send its Self-Defense Forces to Iraq by passing a law allowing it to assist in the post-war efforts in Iraq. We should not just sit back and carp that Japan is trying to become a military power again; we should observe just how actively Japan is using the changing international security environment to advance its national interest.
So the decision to send troops to Iraq this time should begin with the realization that there has been a change there since the “real” war. We should also keep in mind that the role of a nation’s military has been transformed greatly because of the changes in the international security environment. The globalization of the military is an index to measure the globalization of a country. With the surfacing of the transnational threat of terrorism as the biggest challenge to international security, it is time to redefine the duties of our military.
The decision to send troops to Iraq is difficult, but depending on how we view the long-term interests of our country, it could become either a challenge or an opportunity.
* The writer is a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Song Young-sun