[OUTLOOK]Envisioning a new allianceI watched a late night television debate on the reduction of U.S. troops in Korea but turned it off after a short while. Showing an extreme rift in opinions over a crucial national security issue might help the ratings, but it does not help dispel the public’s uneasiness. It is a shame that such an important national security issue is the target of television ratings and an object of conflict between the conservatives and the progressives.
Now is a time when we should gather national opinion, join forces and deal with our problems together, regardless of our political differences. Jacques Chirac, the French president, is called one of the most rightist leaders in present-day Europe, but he opposed the war in Iraq. On the other hand, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of the most liberal leaders in Europe, decided to join the war in Iraq. There are no conservatives or progressives in foreign policies, only national interests.
With the reduction and realignment of U.S. troops in Korea, our national security system for the last half-century is at the threshold of a revolutionary transformation. It is true that the current Korea-U.S. alliance system is a Cold War system that has not changed much from its initial formation right after the Korean War, and it does not sufficiently reflect the changes in our security environment which have occurred over the last 50 years.
Although this issue started with the U.S. government’s decision to reduce its troop strength on the Korean Peninsula, current Korea-U.S. negotiations are an important challenge and opportunity to reorganize our security and alliance system to better suit the times. This involves opening a 50-year-old Pandora’s Box. Ensuring that the process of reducing 12,000 U.S. troops goes smoothly is an important task in itself but assessing the aftershock that this reduction will have on the system is an even more important job.
If ground-based troops are cut back on a large scale, the command headquarters would have to be downsized and that could possibly mean the dismantling of the U.S. 8th Army Command and the UN Command headquarters. The dismantling of UN Command headquarters, which is officially in charge of overseeing the armistice that ended the Korean War, will bring up the question of how the armistice will be replaced. Ultimately, the discussion of whether an official peace system should be established on the peninsula cannot be avoided.
Also, a large reduction in ground-based U.S. troops in Korea means an inevitable change in the Combined Forces Command system. The issue of the Korean military resuming wartime operation command should be seriously discussed. We must implement these discussions and changes through negotiations with the United States to ensure that the war deterrence of the Korea-U.S combined forces will be maintained despite the reduction in U.S. troops.
It seems that we are seeing the troop realignment issue too narrowly through the perspective of “independent defense” only. We need to expand our horizons. The relocation and reduction of U.S. troops in Korea is a very positive change if viewed in terms of lessening the “U.S. military threat” that North Korea has been complaining about until now.
Every time the two Koreas have discussed arms reduction on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea has insisted that U.S. troops should be included as part of the South Korean armament. The reduction and redeployment of U.S. troops in Korea would be an opportunity for a comprehensive arms reduction on the peninsula encompassing the North, South and the U.S. militaries. We need the wisdom to use this opportunity as an initiative for mutual arms control.
On the other hand, the U.S. troops in Korea are the only U.S. ground-based forces that are located on the continent where China is situated. We must not forget that the reduction and redeployment of these troops signifies that the United States is loosening its excessive military containment formation around China that started in the Cold War to deal with new threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. To portray the realignment of the U.S. troops in Korea as targeting China is to portray it as something different from the truth and could cause unnecessary misunderstanding.
What we urgently need is suprapartisan wisdom and a creative imagination to envision a new Korea-U.S. alliance. We shouldn’t be swayed by every report from Washington but should attend to our negotiations proactively based on a vision of an alliance that can best guarantee our national interest. When the government is able to present to us a sure vision of a new alliance, it will be able to secure the consent and understanding of the nation and neighboring countries on the redeployment of U.S. troops in Korea and the new alliance.
The consent of the residents of Pyeongtaek is especially important because plans to relocate U.S. troops there in 2007 are being pursued. Unless the residents of Pyeongtaek are shown a long-term vision of the alliance that they can understand, the alliance might drift asunder. The Japan-U.S. alliance that had been drifting apart since the end of the Cold War was restored by a 1996 U.S.-Japan Joint Declaration on Security announced by U.S. President Bill Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. Let’s hope that a vision for the comprehensive alliance that was agreed on in the Korea-U.S. summit meeting in May 2003 will be presented as soon as possible.
* The writer is a professor of national security and unification studies at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yun Duk-min