[INTERVIEW]Hubbard: Troop moves will quell frictionsThe following are excerpts from an interview with the U.S. ambassador to Korea, Thomas C. Hubbard, by the JoongAng Ilbo last week:
JoongAng Ilbo: Last Thursday was the fifth meeting on the U.S.-ROK alliance. There was no agreement reached. Could you talk about why that happened and what are the prospects for these bilateral talks?
Ambassador Hubbard: I think the meeting did, as you say, end without a formal agreement. But I believe we did make a great deal of progress in dealing with the issues related to the movement of our U.S. military command away from the Yongsan compound. I feel fairly confident that we’ll be able to work out the remaining issues in the coming meetings.
JAI: For the past 50 years, what have Korea and the United States made through their alliance? What have they accomplished and what have they expended? How is this relationship going to change in the future?
Hubbard: I think first and foremost our alliance, our military relationship, has served as a deterrent against any North Korean attack on South Korea. Our alliance has served as the bulwark against which the very dramatic developments in South Korea have occurred. Korea has brought about an economic miracle, going from being one of the poorest countries in the world to being now the twelfth largest economy in the world. Korea has also developed dramatically in a political way, and has moved from a long period of military government to be now one of the world’s leading democracies. I think our alliance has contributed to that. Finally, I think this alliance between us has been one of the factors that has contributed to broader peace and stability in the Northeast Asian region. That, in turn has been a basis for substantial developments elsewhere. China’s economic advance. Japan’s economic advance. That has served both of our interests.
JAI: What are the challenges that are threatening this development or improvement of the U.S.-ROK alliance and the future of our relationship?
Hubbard: I think our alliance is something much more broad than strictly these military ties. It embraces our economic relations, our people-to-people ties. It embraces our work together on broader global issues, like terrorism. But, if you look strictly at the military alliance itself, the military relationship, we’re embarked on an effort to change and modernize the relationship. We think this makes sense. Over the last fifty years, Korea’s ability to contribute to its own defense has changed dramatically. Relationships with many of the surrounding countries have changed very dramatically. The art of warfare has also changed dramatically. So, we’re trying to update the alliance now, in ways that enable us to take advantage of the capabilities of modern warfare to address the issues that we face together now. It’s a difficult process because, of course, we still face a variety of threats from North Korea. In essence, what the United States is trying to do is to enhance our ability to fulfill the defense commitments that we take very seriously vis-a-vis South Korea, while at the same time, making the alliance more sustainable by doing what we can to reduce the impact of our military presence on the Korean people. This is a real challenge that both governments are working on now. But, I think we will be successful. I think these Future of the Alliance talks will eventually be successful and, I think, will provide a better basis for the future of the alliance.
JAI: One of the main issues these days is the dispatching of troops to Iraq. On this issue, what expectations does the United States have of Korea?
Hubbard: We have identified a need. That is, a need sometime early next year for forces to replace some of our forces who will have already been in Iraq for nearly a year. There will be a need for a rotation. Of course, some of these replacement troops will be Americans, maybe most of them will be American, but we had hoped that a variety of countries around the world would be able to help us fill that requirement, help fill that gap. So, we’ve asked the Korean government to consider what it might be able to do. We recognize that Korea faces a lot of other challenges, that this is not an easy decision for any country. But, there are very few countries around the world that have the capability to provide substantial numbers of troops to this effort. South Korea has a large army, a very capable army that has a lot of experience in working with our forces. We think that South Korea can make an important contribution to our common interests in building a better life for the people of Iraq. So, we have asked your government to consider what it might do.
JAI: There are also questions about whether there is a link between this redeployment, the USFK realignment, and the dispatch of troops to Iraq. For example, if the ROK decides not to send troops, will the U.S. 2d Infantry Division be moved to Iraq instead?
Hubbard: I don’t see any linkage between those two. We have no intention of moving the 2d Infantry Division to Iraq. The 2d ID will continue to have its headquarters here.
JAI: So you’re saying that the 2d ID will remain in Korea. But, will it continue to be at that specific location, where they are right now?
Hubbard: No. We’ve been discussing with the Korean government a plan under which the 2d ID would move from the various locations where it now is located to facilities south of the Han River. This is part of our effort to modernize our forces, to improve our capability, in a very real sense to defend South Korea. We’re still discussing that. We expect it will take a number of years to complete that process. So, for the time being, a substantial U.S. force will remain north of the Han River, but over time we think it makes sense to move them south.
JAI: North Korea continues to claim that it has completed the reprocessing of the spent fuel rods, and it continues to threaten the international community. How does the United States view such assertions made by North Korea? And, if you do, what specific evidence does the United States have against Pyeongyang?
Hubbard: North Korea has said on numerous occasions that they have completed or nearly completed the reprocessing of their 8,000 spent fuel rods. We have not been able to confirm that. As you know, we don’t know as much about what’s going on in North Korea as we used to, because the North Korean side expelled the International Atomic Energy Agency monitors who helped us know what is going on. Of course, North Korea continues its provocative statements. Earlier this week, they seemed to be very direct in saying that they were building more nuclear weapons. Later in the week, they said that they would not accept Japan as part of the six-party talks. That’s obviously unacceptable to the rest of the participants in the six-party talks. It seems to me that we should focus not on responding to these repeated North Korean provocations but rather we should all be focusing on resuming the six-party talks and making effective use of those talks to achieve an overall settlement of this serious problem.
JAI: So, are you saying that we should not focus on these provocative statements by North Korea? Is this because the United States sees this as a blackmail strategy by North Korea? Or is it because the United States has not yet analyzed information about North Korea?
Hubbard: No. I think we’re talking about ... I don’t know whether the word to use is “blackmail,” but North Korea has been engaged in provocative tactics. There is nothing very new about that, North Korea always seems to behave that way. We try to make clear that our objective is to find a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem and that we believe that the six-party talks that began in August in Beijing offer an opportunity to work toward a peaceful resolution of the problem. We’d like to put our emphasis on that.
JAI: Then when do you expect a second round of six-party talks to take place?
Hubbard: Your guess is as good as mine. We hope there will be an additional round. We think the earlier the better, but right now, a lot depends on the North Koreans. We believe that all of the other parties in the talks, including the Chinese, want these talks to continue.
JAI: There is a lot of talk about our two countries having blood ties, and being very good friends, but among the other good friends that Korea has, it is very rare that we are asked to present visas upon entry into their countries. Is there any move to ease the strict U.S. visa policy?
Hubbard: The United States has always been very open to Korean visitors and to Koreans who wish to live in the United States. More than a million Koreans live there, and we issue more non-immigrant visas here in Seoul than we do in any other embassy in the world. We issue visas to 95 percent of the Koreans who apply for them. I don’t think in the short term that there are realistic prospects for expanding the visa waiver program, particularly in light of concerns that exist in the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
JAI: Frequently, we have been seeing the rise of anti-American sentiment among Korean people. So, does the United States have an analysis of what is the cause of this anti-American sentiment suddenly flaring up among Koreans? And do you have countermeasures?
Hubbard: We think last year that there was a very dramatic rise in expressions of anti-Americanism. I think that was largely attributable to the very tragic death of two schoolgirls and their accident with U.S. forces. In fact, that accident was one reason we’re trying to do everything we can to reduce the number of facilities in Korea, to consolidate so that our training activities are safer. I think it’s natural that Koreans were upset about that. I think we’ve seen this year some signs of change in that. I was just reading now a survey of Korean university students who seem to show a change in attitudes. There was a recent poll in your own newspaper that indicated, I think, that 93 percent of Koreans consider the alliance to be important. I think there is something of a change. I think it is natural that, when you have a relationship as close as ours is, when you have U.S. troops in another country, that that will pose both advantages and disadvantages. That seems to be recognized in the polls, as well as some level of resentment. The best of our efforts notwithstanding, accidents will happen from time to time. When you have 37,000 American troops in Korea, they won’t all always understand Korean culture. So, I think what we’re trying to do is meet with as many Koreans as we can. I try to meet with student groups. We will continue our effort to help Koreans understand the good will that we hold towards Korea, the respect that we hold for Korea, and to build a better appreciation in Korea, as well as in the United States, of the positive elements of our relationship.
JAI: On the issue of the construction of the new embassy building, actually, both sides have something to say. The U.S. is saying that the Korean government has failed to keep its promise. The Korean government may say, “Well, it was an agreement made under dictatorial rule in Korea in the past, so it’s difficult for us to keep.” So, the question is, what is the current position of the U.S. Embassy regarding the embassy construction project?
Hubbard: We need a new embassy. This is an old building that never was appropriate as an embassy. It is in a difficult location, where our security poses inconveniences to Koreans, where our ability to interview visa applicants is limited by space. So, we don’t think this building accurately reflects America. We need very desperately to have a new embassy. Fifteen years or so ago, we made one proposal as a place to put our new embassy. Your government said, “No, don’t build it there. A better place would be the Kyunggi Girl’s High School site. So, please buy that lot and build your embassy there.” So, that’s what we did. Now, lots of questions have been raised about that site. It’s currently being examined by archaeologists to see if building there in some way would hamper the ability to preserve historic sites or artifacts. We’re awaiting the decision on that. We do need another site, if we can’t build there, and we’ll obviously accept the Korean government’s decision on whether we can build there or not. If we can’t build there, we do need to find another site, and to move quickly because as I outlined, this building is beginning to hamper our ability to carry out our functions.
by Thomas C. Hubbard