[VIEWPOINT]Repairing the allianceFollowing the announcement that some U.S. troops stationed in Korea would go to Iraq, the general reduction plan of the U.S. forces here has added to the security concerns of Koreans. There are two reasons for the increasing anxiety. The first is whether the replacement of the 2d Infantry Division would lead to overall reduction of the U.S. forces in Korea, and consequently leave a security vacuum. The other is whether the Korea-U.S. alliance can survive in the future.
Today, the United States has already transferred troops to Iraq from nine of its 10 infantry divisions stationed around the world. Over 3,000 troops from the U.S. forces in Japan were transferred, and the White House is considering sending an additional 1,000 troops. Therefore, the partial replacement of the U.S. forces in Korea is different from the withdrawals in 1971 and 1976.
At present, the reduction of the U.S. forces in Korea would not create a security vacuum on the Korean Peninsula. After the 3,600 troops are sent to Iraq, most of their heavy arms would remain in Korea, and the presence of the Navy, Air Force and Patriot missiles would offset the reduction in numbers.
The more important and substantial question is how Seoul will reinvent the Korea-U.S. alliance in response to the changes in the global military strategy of the United States. Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the United States is streamlining its military forces around the world according to a changed military doctrine in response to new security threats and a revolution in military affairs. As the military grows increasingly dependent on precision bombing and prompt, flexible, elite units, the Cold War strategy of peacekeeping efforts by stationing large numbers of troops in Western Europe and Northeast Asia is no longer effective. Therefore, the troop reduction in Asia, including Korea, is inevitable. In this ever-changing situation, we are standing at a juncture where the Korea-U.S. alliance could get more solid or be put in jeopardy.
Today’s “security concern” owes more to psychological factors than military aspects, because following the redeployment of some U.S. troops in Korea to Iraq, it is expected that a large-scale reduction of U.S. forces will be announced, despite growing anti-American sentiment and shaky Korea-U.S. alliance. In order to relieve the security concerns, the priority is to repair Korea-U.S. relations. Once the alliance is secure, Koreans and foreign investors would feel assu-red of their security, and the society and economy would stabilize.
To strengthen the alliance, Koreans need to prove its trustworthiness. It is natural that the perspectives and interests of the two countries do not always coincide. But once trust is established, problems would be easily resolved. In this sense, the government’s decision to stick to the original plan to send additional troops to Iraq is well-timed and appropriate. The United States also needs to understand the political and social changes in Korea and seek appropriate solutions. A generational change, the growing confidence of Koreans, rapid expansion of liberal civil groups and media and the political participation of the young elite have led to calls for more equal Korea-U.S. relations.
In order to strengthen the alliance, better mutual understanding is crucial. Koreans and Americans have maintained a strong alliance for a long time, but there are many things that we don’t understand about each other. This is a problem too important and serious to be simply treated as a cultural difference. What we desperately need now is a system that can promote frank and active dialogue between the two countries at both the government and civilian levels.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Myongji University and a senior associate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Seung-hwan