[OUTLOOK]A different perspective on KoreaWASHINGTON ― The Korea-United States 21st Century Council, held here immediately after Korea decided to dispatch troops to Iraq, was a good place to note the changes in the United States after the decision. Some core members of the so-called neoconservatives in the United States, such as U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, were speakers at the meeting, co-hosted by the U. S. Institute for International Economics and the Institute for Global Economics in Seoul.
The atmosphere in Washington was changed. All participants could feel that the cold air that had chilled the relations between the two countries since President Roh Moo-hyun’s inauguration was gradually dissipating. The United States took a more relaxed attitude toward the Korean Peninsula. There were clear symptoms of a recovery of trust between Korea and the United States and a hope that they would be able to cooperate in solving the problems of the North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the relocation of U.S. forces stationed in Korea and post-war Iraq.
Until recently, the stance of the neoconservatives toward the North Korean nuclear problem was aggressive and triumphant. They once treated North Korea as part of “an axis of evil” like Iraq, but now emphasized, “North Korea is different from Iraq.”
Although the Iraqi problem was solved by the war, the North Korean problem can be resolved peacefully, not by war but by diplomacy and negotiation through the six-way talks, they said. This was a huge change, considering the atmosphere last spring when they did not hesitate to talk about “surgical pinpoint attacks” or “surprise attacks.”
Now the neoconservatives say that the North Korean problem should not be approached in haste but should be solved with patience according to oriental virtues. They didn’t use the word “reduction” in connection with U.S. forces stationed in Korea. They said that the relocation was based on a strategic need to reinforce U.S. military strength, and that through the relocation, U.S. military capability would improve. They made it clear that U.S. Navy and Air Force units here would be built up as a measure for regional stability in Northeast Asia after reunification.
They approached the issue of troop deployments to Iraq in a gingerly manner. “Korea’s decision to dispatch troops came under the pressure of the United States” seemed to be the last thing the United States wanted to hear. They said, “The decision was made autonomously according to the national interests of Korea. They also added that the deployment would bring practical benefits of economic and geopolitical cooperation with nations in the region, including oil supply, and was a duty to keep the world peace.
It is also, they noted, an opportunity for highly-skilled Korean troops to build additional capabilities by conducting joint operations with U.S. forces.
The decision did give us some additional leverage on the U.S. troop presence and on North Korea, even if U.S. officials won’t say so. But anxiety about a war has eased, and any war is delayed at least until after the U.S. presidential election in November 2004. The troop decision was a good one.
Whenever I go abroad, what seems huge in Korea suddenly seems trivial. Complicated matters such as a vote of confidence, confrontation between the left and the right and conflict between generations and regions become small issues. Trivial domestic problems disappear from sight and only the big issue called “Korea” is seen.
If our country becomes rich and powerful, if democracy is well established and if the government plays its role correctly, all Koreans will be treated well. We should focus on enhancing our international status as a whole rather than engaging in internal strife.
Besides, when seen from outside, Korea is not a big and strong country. It is just a medium or small one with a long way to go and lots of things to do. But these days, there are a growing number of people who mistake it for a powerful country. Within the big framework of the international system, we are nothing but a small unit, and so we have only limited power and influence.
I think the humility to see our reality correctly is needed more than ever.
* The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk