[VIEWPOINT]Alliance future seems clearerNow that Korea and the United States have concluded their negotiations on the transfer of Yongsan Garrison and the Land Partnership Plan, the outline of the relocation of U.S. forces in Korea has become clear.
By 2008, Yongsan Garrison, including the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, the United Nations Command, and the headquarters of the U.S. forces will move to Osan and Pyeongtaek, and according to the agreement on the Land Partnership Plan, U.S. bases scattered across the country will be returned to Korea beginning in 2005.
U.S. troop reductions, including the 2d Infantry Division, are expected to begin next year.
At a time when the Korea-U.S. relationship became delicate with anti-American sentiment after the inauguration of the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the relocation of U.S. troops in Korea caused much misunderstanding in our society, and the differences of opinion between the two countries made their relations far more difficult.
The fact that agreement was reached in this situation has a positive significance. The two countries revised a substantial number of unfair clauses in a memorandum of understanding that was agreed between the two countries in 1990, according to our request, and agreed on the issues of replacement land to be provided for the United States, as well as on problems of, command, control, communications, computers and intelligence and housing, in a satisfactory way.
Also, they laid a legal framework for the U.S. troop relocation. This issue, which would have been an essential matter for the Future of the Korea-U.S. Alliance in the past, was handled as an agreement between the Ministry of Defense and the headquarters of the U.S. forces. But major agreements, including the additional moving expenses, will take effect after they are ratified by the National Assembly.
But a more important issue regarding the future of the alliance is the U. S. troop reduction in Korea, which is linked to the U.S. Global Defense Posture review. Now, the United States plans to withdraw 12,500 troops from here by 2005 and, in their place, deploy cutting-edge weapons worth $11 billion to strengthen military power.
It seems that the United States will show a flexible attitude in deciding the size and timing of the reduction in consultation with Korea. This issue will be made clear by the time the annual defense ministers’ meeting is held in a few months.
As can be seen from last week’s meeting, the Korea-U.S. alliance is changing. The relocation of U.S. forces in Korea was consulted and agreed according to the request and needs of the United States, while the transfer of Yongsan Garrison was done according to the needs of Korea.
Why did both countries deal with the transfer of U.S. bases and the U.S. troop relocation as essential issues that affect the future of their alliance?
To promise the future of the alliance, they needed to incorporate with the framework of the past alliance at the present time and readjust the role of U.S. forces in Korea according to their new roles and circumstances.
Koreans show a bifurcated attitude toward the U.S. troop reduction. On the one hand, they want gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Korea, and on the other hand, they take the size of U.S. forces in Korea as a yardstick of the U.S. support for Korea or of the health of the bilateral relations. Therefore, when the troop reduction issue is raised, the people become psychologically unstable and worry about the possibility that reductions may cause political, economical, and social shock.
The U.S. troop reduction issue seems a little confusing in the context of the U.S. presidential election in November. The Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is opposed to the withdrawal of troops stationed overseas. But from a realistic perspective, the troop reduction seems inevitable, aside from the dimensions of political power.
The reason it is inevitable is that the United States is coping sensitively and comprehensively with its improvement in military technology and with changes in the manner of conducting wars; in Koreans’ perception of the United States because of a generational shift in Korea; in the increasing number of Koreans who argue for national “self-reliance,” and in Koreans’ view about North Korea.
Despite these problems and difference of perceptions, the Future of the Alliance forum has built the foundation for discussing a new future. Both parties once faced a situation where the meetings appeared to be coming to an end as their regrets and uncertainties increased, but they could lay the basis for healthy future alliance in a broader perspective.
Now what remains is the problem of how to settle the differences with the United States regarding the pace and size of the U.S. troop reduction and the role of the remaining troops. Also an issue is how to coordinate and negotiate the role of a “regional army” in Northeast Asia, as the United States wishes.
* The writer is a professor of international affairs at Myongji University and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Seung-hwan