[VIEWPOINT]The path to reunification

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[VIEWPOINT]The path to reunification

Inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation based on security are indispensable for peace and unification on the Korean Peninsula. Our security has been maintained based on our self-reliant capability and the Korea-U.S. alliance. But reflecting on the half-century-long national division, it was not easy to pursue progress in the alliance and inter-Korean cooperation simultaneously.
Unlike in the Cold War era, inter-Korean exchange and cooperation have made big progress since the inter-Korean summit in 2000. Routes connecting the North and the South in the sky, on the ground and on the sea were opened, and exchanges of people and materials have greatly increased. Inter-Korean dialogue occurred regularly. Recently, inter-Korean general-level military talks were held to ease the tension on the Korean Peninsula and build military trust.
In the military talks held four years after the inter-Korean defense ministerial talks in September 2000, both parties agreed to prevent accidental naval clashes in the Yellow Sea, stop propaganda in the Demilitarized Zone and eliminate the tools used for propaganda, and they are carrying out the agreements. Balanced progress in inter-Korean relations based on economic and security cooperation seems to begin gradually. The important issues regarding security are, in sum, the North Korean nuclear problem, troop deployment to Iraq, and relocation of the U.S. forces stationed in Korea. Concerning the North Korean nuclear problem, six-party talks have been underway within the big framework of dialogue and peaceful resolution through the denuclearization of the Korean Peni-nsula.
In the third round of the six-way talks, which ended on June 26, both parties had opportunities to substantially discuss the United States’ “comprehensive denuclearization” and North Korea’s “nuclear freeze for compensation.” Although it will take some time, a consensus can be found with participating countries’ patience and effort and North Korea and the United States’ concessions. As to the additional troop dispatch, our government concluded its policy on the site, scale and timing.
But the reduction and relocation of the U.S. forces in Korea is still in confusion. It is difficult to discern whether Korea-U.S. relations are at a point of trial or transition. Various discussions have been held on the timing, procedures and scale of the relocation, but neither country’ explanation is smooth.
Both argue that despite the reduction in the number of U.S. troops, Korea’s military capability will be strengthened through the modernization of weapons systems. The United States says it will reinforce its fighting strength by investing $11 billion over three years. Our government’s logic is that it will fill in the security vacuum by strengthening the war potential in the dimension of a self-reliant defense. Both show strong determination.
The problem is that both countries differ in their strategic goals. Along with strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance, the United States’ goal seems to be to check China and Russia in Northeast Asia by transforming U. S. forces in Korea into a regional force that can be deployed as prompt mobilization forces and further play the role of the world’s peacekeeping forces. For our part, we want to defend the nation with the help of the U.S. forces, ease tension on the peninsula based on the Korea-U.S. alliance and inter-Korean cooperation and maintain peace in Northeast Asia through cooperation with the four powers surrounding us. These differences in goals may make us difficult, depending on changes in circumstances. Take for example, Korea-China-Russia relations and inter-Korean relations. Sino-Korean economic relations are expanding every day, and so are Russo-Korean economic relations with the Maritime Provinces as a stronghold.
The role of U. S. forces to check China and Russia may have an adverse effect on Korea-China-Russia relations. North Korea, which expected to improve North Korea-United States relations, also argues that the relocation and transformation of U.S. forces is being carried out in order to invade North Korea. The deterioration of their relations could impede progress in inter-Korean relations. To ease the tension on the peninsula and maintain peace in Northeast Asia, not only progress in inter-Korean relations but also improvement in North Korea-U.S. relations and cooperative relations among the four powers are important.
The force transformation is related to the nature and purpose of the U.S. forces in Korea. According to the Korea-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty, U.S. forces are allowed to be stationed in Korea to maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula. Transforming the U.S. forces into regional forces will exceed the scope of the treaty. If the treaty is valid, this problem should be solved in alliance relations.
There have recently been ideological controversies over the Korea-U.S. alliance and inter-Korean cooperation as being pro-America or pro-North Korea. These controversies are a waste of energy and do no good to the national interest. The alliance and cooperation should go together. We should all know that we can proceed toward peaceful unification when inter-Korean cooperation is carried out based on the Korea-U.S. alliance.

* The writer, a former minister of unification, is the president of Kyungnam University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Park Jae-kyu
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