[OUTLOOK]Creating ‘Korea-style’ flexibilitySince President Roh Moo-hyun suggested the policy of so-called “conditional acknowledgment” of the strategic flexibility of U.S. forces stationed in Korea in his speech at an Air Force Academy commencement ceremony, there have been various interpretations and controversial opinions over his remarks.
Those who argue that the scope of activity of the U.S. troops in Korea should be strictly limited to South Korea are disappointed, and those who contend that the South Korea-United States alliance should take an interest in the broader region emphasize more positive flexibility. In any case, the president’s remark has provided a means by which to announce South Korea’s formal opinion on the new role of U.S. troops in Korea for the first time.
Korea’s stance toward the strategic flexibility of U.S. troops stationed in Korea should have been concluded earlier. Its conclusion is self-evident. The moment South Korea finally signed in October the agreements on the reduction and relocation schedule of U.S. troops in Korea after having gone through 11 meetings of the Future of the ROK-U.S. Alliance Policy Initiative in over a year and half, it can be said that Korea had already agreed to the basic direction of the expansion of the strategic flexibility of U.S. troops in Korea.
It is because the United States’s plan to readjust its armed forces in Korea includes the concept of advanced country-style deployment that aims to effectively deal with more diversified and unpredictable security threats by transforming the U.S. troops stationed overseas into mobile and capability-based forces.
Therefore, our discussion now should not be concentrated on whether we should accept the strategic flexibility of U.S. troops in Korea or not, but on how to create a “Korea-style strategic flexibility” by clarifying the idea of strategic flexibility to fit Korea’s strategic situation.
At present, our government authorities’ hope regarding the role of U.S. forces in Korea is that the U.S. forces will continue to be involved in the stable management of the Korean Peninsula but should not make Korea’s position difficult by sending U.S. forces in Korea to disputes in Northeast Asia, although they may be dispatched to disputes in other regions if it is necessary.
For example, their situational perception is that U.S. troops stationed in Korea may be dispatched to the Middle East for anti-terrorism activities but Korea will be in a difficult position if they are deployed to the Taiwan Strait if a military conflict breaks out there.
It is necessary to prepare a policy so that U.S. forces in Korea may not be an obstacle to carrying out a balanced practical diplomacy with surrounding powers. Also, in dealing with the issues of sharing defense costs and the Status of Forces Agreement, South Korea can build more equal and reciprocal relations with the United States when the country moves in the direction of improving our stance and interest.
If we put too much emphasis on morals in the evolving process toward better Korea-United States relations, losses may occur to our strategic interest. If a situation breaks out in which even U.S. forces in Korea go to Taiwan to fight, this is an unusually disastrous situation.
This situation would require a decision in which the United States and China should be ready for a third world war. Wouldn’t Korea be able to come forward actively to settle the situation and achieve a soft landing with crisis management diplomacy before such a catastrophic end comes?
Overly worried about an extreme situation, Korea should not delay or leave alone its urgent security tasks that should be addressed immediately. The largest reform tasks for national defense suggested in the speech at the Air Force Academy were the reorganization of the armed forces, preparation for redeeming the right to command wartime operations and legislation on national defense reform. This direction of reform placed weight on efficiency and transparency, but lacks a vision about what situations the armed forces should prepare for.
What we should do now is think how to make concrete the strategic flexibility of Korean military forces and how to achieve harmony with the role of U.S. troops in Korea.
The role of U.S. forces in Korea in preparation for a large-scale war between the two Koreas has now disappeared. If this is the case, South Korea should secure strategic flexibility with which it can cope promptly with the diverse and probable security threats North Korea may pose.
There are a number of concerns that we should be prepared for, including the spread of the refugee problem, aggravation of the North Korean nuclear crisis and heightened tensions, and internal crisis in the North Korean regime.
Furthermore, not only in Northeast Asia but also throughout the world, we should participate in the security issues of the future, including the proliferation of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and the prevention of their mutual collusion, prevention of environmental disasters, handling of international crimes and promotion of friendly trade relations.
These issues ask us to have more strategic flexibility. Now we should come up with flexible strategic thinking that promptly reflects changes in reality rather than strategic flexibility for moral justification.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Tae-hyo