[VIEWPOINT]Troops would serve our interestsRelations between Korea and the United States are showing signs of souring again over the dispatch of additional Korean troops to Iraq. The two-day working level meeting held in Washington last Wednesday and Thursday drew no conclusion except that the two governments will continue to negotiate the issue. According to news reports, additional agreements will be drawn at the annual defense ministers’ meeting to be held in Seoul, starting Monday, and the final decision will be made next month through negotiations by telephone between President Roh Moo-hyun and President George W. Bush.
Of course, the issue of sending troops abroad is not a simple one. There should be no ambiguities on the basic principles such as the purpose of the dispatch and the nature of the troops to be dispatched.
If Korea and the United States agree on the basic principles, the size and the timing of the dispatch are minor technical details. If the meeting in Washington had failed to even draw a consensus on the basic principles of the deployment, the problem would be even more serious. It is all the more unthinkable that the question of basic principles, which a working-level meeting between high-ranking officials could not decide, should be put off for negotiations between the two presidents.
How should our government act? The government should look squarely at the international reality that the solutions to Iraq and North Korea are all found under the leadership of the United States. With this in mind, the government must reestablish some of its basic principles on the deployment.
First, if our government agrees to the basic principles of the multinational force approved by the United Nations Security Council resolution last month, that is, the maintenance of public order and stabilization, then these should be the purpose of Korean troops. If we say we are not interested in maintaining public order but we will participate in the restoration projects, then we cannot send troops that are required for the situation there now. Under a future-oriented national strategy, we should proactively participate in a post-war solution for Iraq. This would help us strengthen our international standing, especially in our relations with Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, to secure energy resources.
Second, we are not sending our troops to Iraq only to serve the national interests of the United States. We are sending our troops because it is also an issue related to our survival strategy. The two pillars of our survival are national security and the economy. The most urgent task for our security is ending North Korea’s nuclear program, and the middle-to-long term goal of our economy is to secure a stable supply of energy resources. These two goals are directly related with the successful postwar restoration of Iraq. Therefore, Korea has more than enough reason to cooperate closely with the United States to stabilize Iraq.
Third, if the government agrees with the basic principles of the purpose and nature of the troop deployment, the size, makeup and timing of the troops are technical problems that should be examined in the direction of achieving the purpose of any agreement. That is, there is a major difference between whether our troops are to take charge of an area independently or to act under the command of another nation. The former is the more desirable of the two. An individual operation would serve as a building block for a future-oriented national strategy. Choosing to act under the command of another country would be a lukewarm decision that would bring lukewarm results.
Fourth, it is common military sense that at least two combat divisions are needed for security and stabilization operations to maintain public order in a given area. Only this type of dispatch would provide basic safety for the relief activities of the noncombat troops and maintain their morale and confidence. The timing of the dispatch should not be delayed. We must not overlook the fact that our government’s cooperation with the United States in its decision to dispatch troops to Iraq is not unrelated to the cooperation of the United States on the North Korea issue.
Finally, the government and the public should brace themselves against the fact that human casualties are a real possibility when sending troops abroad. It is a simple mistake to think that sending noncombat troops would change this fact. From the point of view of the resisting forces in Iraq, noncombat troops could be an easier target.
* The writer, a former deputy minister of national defense, is a professor at Hallym University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Yong-ok