[OUTLOOK]U.S. election is no watershed

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[OUTLOOK]U.S. election is no watershed

The Republican Party held its national convention in New York, the city that had been the target of terrorist attacks in 2001, for the reelection campaign of President George W. Bush. Mr. Bush is trying to shed his stubborn, hard-line image and claims to be a compassionate conservative. The United States is fast approaching the election date in November.
Serious foreign policy issues including the war, terrorism, and national security have been the main points of dispute in this year’s election campaign, surpassing domestic issues. But the last remaining variable that could sway the voters is the report on the U.S. economy. What sets this year’s campaign apart from other elections is the unusually deep division and conflict between the Republicans and the Democrats.
Many countries around the world are interested in whether and how the unilateralism of the United States would change as a result of the presidential election. As the Korea-U.S. alliance is going through fundamental changes, the presidential election is more significant to Seoul than ever. For both scenarios, of Bush’s reelection and Kerry’s victory, experts and observers are producing various forecasts and wishful predictions, but there would not be much difference no matter who becomes the next president.
Yet, as far as the matter of the relocation and reduction of the U.S. forces stationed in Korea is concerned, Mr. Kerry seems to emphasize a more traditional Korea-U.S. alliance than the Bush camp. If Mr. Kerry is elected president, it is possible that the current plan to reduce the U.S. forces would be affected.
On the nuclear threat by the North, the two candidates might have different tactical and technical points, but they essentially share the same position. Even if Mr. Kerry defeats Mr. Bush, it is not likely that he would resume the tolerant North Korean policy of the Clinton Administration. The nuclear program of North Korea has made much progress since the Clinton era, and even the Democratic camp cannot take the enriched uranium program for granted.
Mr. Kerry might put a little more emphasis on the dialogue between Pyeongyang and Washington, but it is not feasible to write the existing six-nation talks off altogether and pursue a new dialogue system.
Technically, the election of Mr. Kerry would require some time to establish a new North Korean policy, and the nuclear issue could get held up for the time being. If Mr. Bush were reelected, the administration would tackle the nuclear issue swiftly, for better or worse.
No matter whether Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry is elected, there exists an unmistakable disagreement between Seoul and Washington today. First of all, Korea wants to speed up economic cooperation with the North while the United States prefers to take it slowly. Second, the U.S. Congress has already approved a resolution regarding the humanitarian conditions of North Korea. However, some members of Korea’s ruling party claim that the United States is more responsible for the security concerns on the Korean Peninsula than North Korea, and are gathering signatures opposing the U.S. Congress’ resolution. Third, Seoul and Washington have different ideas on a possible inter-Korean summit. Despite the denials of the Blue House, the rumors of a summit continue to prevail. So far, Washington has not made an official comment. However, if the leaders of the South and the North decide to meet without consulting with Washington, and especially while the attention of the United States is on the presidential election, it would have a serious effect on the future of Korea-U.S. relations.
The fissure in the Korea-U.S. alliance began with North Korea’s nuclear program, and therefore, it is futile to talk “Bush or Kerry” without seriously contemplating those nuclear issues.
The question of “Bush or Kerry” will determine Washington’s next four years, but as the sole superpower of the world today, the United States has a long journey ahead of it. Therefore, we should ask ourselves, “America or not?” The future of Korea-U.S. relations will also be under the influence of the American century. Inter-Korean relations are a dependent variable.
We should prevent the worst case scenario from happening, but frankly, we need to calmly review our strategy and consider whether we are going the way of becoming an “outsider” of Northeast Asia along with North Korea, in fast-changing regional power dynamics.
The government and the ruling party, which are in charge of state affairs, are obliged to show the citizens what kinds of long-term visions and strategies they have for the nation.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Korea University and the director of the Ilmin International Relations Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Hyun In-taek
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