[OUTLOOK]U.S. leaves, we get a new parkThe most “autonomous” Korean president in the history of U.S.-Korean relations was Syngman Rhee. The leftists of this country denounce our first president as a pro-American agent but in fact, probably no other person in the history of modern Korea perplexed the U.S. government, demanded so much and received so much from the Americans as President Rhee.
What is autonomy? It is maximization of the national interest. The primary national interest is the preservation of the country. If anything goes wrong with the politics and the economy of a country, it can be fixed. But if the fences of a country fall down, it is the end. Syngman Rhee was a man who staked all he had on preserving the existence of his country.
The United States joined the Korean War soon after it started in 1950. But as the war dragged on, it tried to hasten the armistice. It looked like the United States was pulling out. Syngman Rhee believed that the departure of the United States would mean the end of South Korea. A brief look at the map is enough to understand his fear. What were the possibilities of South Korea surviving as a free democratic country when it was surrounded by China and Russia? If someone were to argue that it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d become communists as long as we’d remained united, there is nothing more I can say to that person. Syngman Rhee tried to hold the United States back by getting it to agree to a mutual defense treaty. At the time, Korea was so weak and impoverished that it did not stand a chance as a negotiating counterpart to the United States. But President Rhee succeeded in getting the treaty, using such drastic measures as setting North Korean prisoners of war free against the will of the United States and threatening to advance north on his own. As Syngman Rhee became ever more “difficult,” the U.S. government even devised a secret plan for a staged coup d’etat to oust him. General Mark Clark, the UN commander, once reportedly observed that the president probably knew how unrealistic his demands were, yet used them as weapons of negotiation. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had also once reportedly told Syngman Rhee that in all its history, the United States had never made as many concessions to any other country as it had to Korea. Syngman Rhee, in short, was an autonomous leader, not an agent for the United States, who employed all means possible to preserve his country.
The negotiations on the relocation of the U.S. troops south of Seoul have finished. The “trip wire” role of the U.S. troops at the military truce line is now over. Even should North Korea invade the South again, there will be no automatic intervention from the United States in the future. With the relocation of its troops out of the range of North Korean artillery, the United States is now also free to launch a preemptive strike on the North should its nuclear situation not be cleared up. In a column last November, North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun criticized the relocation as a preparation on the part of the United States to “avoid a one-on-one war and to set a base on a far-off place for a preemptive strike and concentrated attack by planes and missiles.”
Through the recent negotiations on the relocation of its troops, the United States has secured the safety of its troops in Korea and prepared the ground for any possible pre-emptive attacks on the North. It was quite easy for the United States, because the South Korean government, which should have tried to stop the relocation, had in fact, gone out of its way to help it.
What has South Korea gained? With the relocation of U.S. troops south of Seoul, the possibility of war has increased and we no longer have the defense capabilities of the U.S. troops. Should we really be celebrating because a foreign base has been removed after over a century and we will have a park in Yongsan? If the people who cry anti-war and anti-American slogans are truly opposed to war, they should have tried to keep the U.S. troops north of the Han River. The United States has always seen the Korean Peninsula as part of a bigger world strategy. The United States isn’t giving us special consideration because they are fond of us. Superpowers always move to the logic of power. That is the reality. Should North Korea refuse to give up its nuclear weapons in the end, the United States would act according to its own national interests within its world strategy of anti-terrorism.
Most people don’t go about their everyday lives analyzing the national security situation. That is a job for those who are responsible for managing this country. The leaders of our country should take responsibility for the security of our country today. Just because the president shrugs his shoulders and dismisses anti-Americanism as nothing serious does not make us autonomous. Anti-Americanism does not guarantee autonomy. Autonomy requires ability.
Are we prepared to ward off North Korea by ourselves? If this government believes that North Korea has no intentions or abilities of military invasion, that is the makings for a whole new column. We are a country with fundamental limits to our autonomy not only because of the threat of North Korea but because we are surrounded by major powers. Should the United States leave, there will be another power that would try to take its place. Diplomacy is unavoidable, whether “tightrope diplomacy” or “alliance diplomacy.” Who will we choose as our ally?
What have we gained from the negotiations this time? If we send the U.S. troops away by demanding autonomy, we will have to defend ourselves from North Korean artillery. At the least, we should have taken over the weapons used by U.S. troops for defense.
Was it only that park in Yongsan, part of our own land, that we gained after agreeing to pay the expenses for the relocation of U.S. troops? What were the negotiations for? Were they an election campaign ploy? Mere lip service to “autonomy”? The future of our country looks frightening.
* The writer is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk