[FORUM]A comprehensive allianceIssues in foreign affairs and national security in Korea have become national concerns since the Kim Dae-jung administration. Before then, the national concerns in Korea were politics and the economy, and in particular political democratization was a major topic. As regime change was realized and the times changed when coups d’etat became impossible, the focus of concerns shifted naturally toward foreign affairs and security in Korea. Issues on political democratization were largely raised by anti-dictatorship or democratic movement forces. On the other hand, controversies over the uncertainty of foreign affairs and the security system were raised by the past ruling and conservative forces.
Coincidentally, the North Korean nuclear problem, which began to surface in the Kim Young-sam administration, added fuel to these controversies. With outside stimuli added, highly complicated issues on international relations, security and information, including inter-Korean affairs like the North Korean nuclear program, the Korea-United States alliance, and the establishment of new relations with surrounding countries like China, have become the concern of all the people and favorite topics for causing political strife. As the democratization movement generation and the Gwangju resistance generation were recognized as strong and influential political groups through the two presidential elections in 1997 and 2002, these controversies overlapped with generational conflict.
The situational awareness of diplomats in Seoul during this period was delicately linked to our debate on foreign affairs and security. Particularly, the situational awareness and analysis of the circumstances by the United States and Japan had subtle repercussions at home and abroad. Due to their attachment to past tradition and old practices, their awareness and judgment often couldn’t reflect the changes in reality properly.
In this regard, the April 15 legislative elections had many implications. After the elections, there were rumors in the diplomatic community in Seoul that the United States and Japan were defeated by China and Russia in their intelligence and analysis of the situation. As to the result of the Korean elections, the United States and Japan predicted that the Uri Party had only a slim chance to emerge as the majority party and only at the last moment they said that there was some possibility for it to do so. On the other hand, China and Russia had forecasted exactly that the Uri Party would be the primary party. Moreover, a rumor spread that the four powers’ success and failure of information analysis was in the same context as their forecasts on the result of the last presidential election, and its shock had silent repercussions.
We can note in many areas evidences of the United States’ and Japan’s failure to predict the changes in the Korean political forces and the trends of its society. This brought about unintended consequences of friction and conflict between Korea and the United States and between Korea and Japan. A representative case is the incident of Hyo-soon and Mi-sun, killed by a U.S. armored vehicle. This incident had no reason to expand so seriously if only the U.S. forces had responded properly at an early stage. The demonstration against the incident was not related to anti-Americansim, but it was a mixture of an accident “involving the U. S. forces in Korea and two Korean girls,” “the U.S. forces’ inappropriate behavior and the complaint that the Korean government couldn’t take punitive measures,” and “indignation against the U. S. command and the United States’ disrespect for the Korean people.”
The United States may have an illusion that Korea is ruled by those who do not understand the country. But Korea thinks that the United States still tries to control Korea according to the past approaches without acknowledging the changed Korea. This is not because the “386” generation came to command Korean society. Korean society itself is undergoing fundamental changes, which are faithful to the value of democracy and the market economy the United States believes in.
Korea and the United States as well should acknowledge each other’s changes. The past system leading to mutual misjudgments should be upgraded. China’s increase in influence does not threaten the Korea-U. S. alliance. The future of the Korea-U. S. alliance depends on whether it can be turned into a comprehensive alliance based on the value and security of democracy and the market economy. Too much blood and sweat was shed for the Korea-United States alliance to be locked in military rigidity.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Suk-hwan