[OUTLOOK]Shared values shape allianceFinally, the United States Forces in Korea will cross the Han River for good. The Korean and U.S. governments finally agreed to relocate the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command, both currently at the Yongsan base in the heart of Seoul, to Pyeongtaek and Osan, south of Seoul, before 2008.
While Seoul had no alternative but to agree to Washington’s decision to relocate its own forces, a considerable number of Korean citizens inevitably feel insecure about the news that the U.S. forces are moving southward.
How much of a threat does the absence of U.S. forces north of the Han River pose to the security of the country? What will be the practical impact of the southward migration of the U.S. forces? Are we paranoid after being dependent on the deterrent capability of the U.S. forces for the last half-century?
From the beginning, the role of the U.S. forces here was focused more on deterring a North Korean invasion than defending the South’s territory. If “defense” means minimizing the losses from enemy aggression once the war has broken out, “deterrence” is an idea that prevents provocations by the enemy by promising fearful retaliation to any provocation.
If another war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, it is certain that South Korea would win it. But because it is obvious that the result would be a costly Pyrrhic victory that would leave both sides devastated, we have chosen deterrence over defense.
For the last five decades, the deterrence strategy conjured by Seoul and Washington has proven effective. Pyeongyang has never doubted that the United States would immediately intervene in case of an emergency, and it believed that retaliation by the United States would mean the end of North Korea.
Pyeongyang had to believe in Washington’s determination to retaliate because it was certain that the United States itself would not be attacked by North Korea. The more credible Washington’s promise of retaliation was, the more effective the deterrence strategy became.
In order to make the promise of U.S. military intervention more believable, the U.S. military commanders have stationed many of their infantry soldiers at the very front line as a so-called “trip wire.” Or so many people believed. As long as the trip wire was present, the involvement of U.S. forces in a case of emergency would be automatic. And so long as Pyeongyang bought the promise of retaliation, the deterrence strategy would work.
If the deterrence tactic, including the arrangement of a trip wire, has been so effective in preventing North Korean provocation, why should we give up the sure-fire way and adopt new strategic planning principles?
First of all, Washington was shocked to see the rapid spread of anti-American sentiment in South Korea. As a way to respond to the regrettable situation, Washington wanted to reduce the chances of trouble between the U.S. forces in Korea and Korean citizens.
Secondly, the Pentagon might have felt it necessary to apply the innovative means of war made possible by the advancement of information technology in the U.S. forces here.
Military confrontation with the North should not necessarily be waged in response to North Korea’s strategy. By employing new war-fighting concepts based on innovative technology, the United States can attain more results with a smaller number of soldiers.
It is evident from this new war-fighting technology that a reduction of the number of U.S. troops in Korea will follow the relocation of those troops.
Finally, Washington wants to protect its forces stationed in Korea from the firepower of the North, which might be equipped with nuclear warheads. In that case, the relocation would constitute a concept that is contrary to the trip wire tactics of the past.
Then what about the automatic intervention of U.S. forces? Those who worry about the relocation of the U.S. forces say they are concerned about national security because automatic U.S. intervention will not be guaranteed after the relocation.
But the idea of “automatic intervention” has essentially been a myth. From the United States Constitution to historical examples, Washington’s decision to enter a war has never been so simple.
The question of the credibility of the promise of U.S. involvement in a second Korean war would depend on the national interests of the United States and the overall quality of the Korea-U.S. alliance at any given time.
Whether the United States Forces Command is located in Yongsan or Pyeongtaek is secondary. What is more important than the location of the U.S. forces is whether Seoul and Washington are espousing mutually agreed values and whether the majority of American citizens consider Korea a country whose liberty and security are worth protecting. These are the real challenges we face.
* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is professor emeritus at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kyung-won