[VIEWPOINT]Above all, maintain the trustAfter concluding talks in Honolulu earlier this month, defense officials from Korea and the United States announced that they had reached a final agreement on the relocation of U.S. troops in Korea.
The U.S. military headquarters, including the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command, will be transferred from Yongsan Garrison to Osan and Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, by the year 2007.
Administration officials from both governments emphasized that the transfer of the military headquarters would guarantee long-term stability for the U.S. troops in Korea and would reinforce the alliance between the two countries. Officials at the talks in Hawaii, however, failed to draw up a basic agreement on details such as who will pay for the move and how much.
The agreement on the transfer from Yongsan Garrison was reached after a long and arduous process. It’s troubling to think that the process of pursuing the transfer might have done more damage to the trust and the alliance between the two allies.
With this in mind, how should the transfer process be approached? Now that an agreement has already been reached, both parties must carry out all efforts to see the plan through, with reciprocal trust and cooperation.
First, the Korean government should not dwell solely on the fact that the transfer of the U.S. base from Yongsan has been a long-time wish of the Korean people. It must also do its best to pave the way for for a smooth transition.
Above all, it must show cooperation among all related government agencies on the matter of the moving costs, persuade and assuage opposition from the residents in Osan and Pyeongtaek and seek cooperation with the local autonomous groups there. It must make all necessary preparations to solve the many difficult problems on the way, not the least of which is winning the consent of the National Assembly. Without sufficient prior preparations, the transfer itself could fall through.
Second, the government must reassure the public over security concerns. For example, the National Defense Minstry will encounter questions about the “tripwire” role of the U.S. troops in Korea. (“Tripwire” means the troops would be called to action in case of a North Korean invasion.)
The ministry will also have to deal with the possibility that North Korea will see the move south as withdrawal and decide to take advantage of the situation. If military tensions were to escalate, it could lead into an arms race between the North and the South.
In addition, Korea will have to bear increased defense costs as it fills the void left by the U.S. troops. If the costs became prohibitive, the public’s worries would only increase. The Defense Ministry must be ready to handle all concerns and come up with a plan of action.
The U.S. government had announced that it would invest $11 billion in the next three years in the U.S. military presence in Korea to reinforce its deterrence of any hostile moves from North Korea.
The Korean government must also announce its plans in a similarly concrete manner to reassure a worried public and to win the trust of the U.S. government, along with the rest of the international society.
Third, the public must be assured that the role of the U.S. troops as a “tripwire” defense and as a deterrence against war does not depend on whether they are stationed north or south of the Han River.
The very existence of a firm U.S.-Korean military alliance itself serves as the “tripwire” and the deterrence. The significance of having U.S. troops in Korea is not in their geographical location but in the U.S.-Korea Mutual Defense Agreement, the U.S.-Korea Combined Forces Command, the U.S.-Korea Operation Plan, the joint forces workouts and the annual defense talks.
These pacts and the U.S. troops’ existence in Korea are the real deterrence against the outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula.
Fourth, it would be desirable for the political sector to supervise and encourage the government’s measures in implementing the plan without damaging the alliance with the United States.
Instead of opposing outright the details that were agreed upon by the officials of the two governments, Korean politicians should be mindful of the country’s combined defenses with the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command and work to preserve those ties.
Finally, the United States bears some responsibility as well. It is undesirable for the U.S. government to insist on its refusal to change any details of the 1990 agreement on the transfer of the Yongsan Garrison.
In 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, the U.S. Department of Defense showed flexibility in its policies toward the Korean government concerning the distribution of defense costs. We request that the U.S. government to show such flexibility again.
Upholding promises is no doubt fundamental to a relationship of trust, such as the one the United States and Korea share, but a compromise based on reciprocal understanding won’t lead to a breaking of that trust.
What U.S.-Korean military relations need right now more than anything is a reciprocal trust and a firm resolution to upholding the alliance. Unless trust is present, no number of formal agreements or plans will be of any use.
* The writer, a former vice minister of national defense, is a professor at Hallym University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Yong-ok