[OUTLOOK]Dealing with strategic flexibility

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[OUTLOOK]Dealing with strategic flexibility

One of the most sensitive issues in the recent negotiations for the South Korea-U.S. alliance is the “strategic flexibility” of United States Forces in Korea (USFK). The idea of strategic flexibility refers to the possibility of U.S. forces stationed in Korea being dispatched to areas outside the Korean Peninsula if necessary. In other words, the idea is that the U.S. forces in Korea can flexibly move in and out of the peninsula.
Ever since the world came under a new monopolar system where the United States stands in the center, the United States is busy realigning its troops into quick mobilization forces. And Washington is devising a strategy of quickly commanding the U.S. forces in areas closest to the trouble to deter the threats against the new monopolar system.
It is under this concept that the United States is trying to authorize the strategic flexibility of U.S. forces stationed in its ally, South Korea. However, the South Korean government is approaching the problem with great caution. This is because, if things go wrong, there is a possibility of Korea being caught in the dispute between China and Taiwan, if the U.S. forces in Korea are commanded into it.
The statement of President Roh Moo-hyun at the graduation of the Air Force Academy on March 8, that South Korea will not become involved in disputes in Northeast Asia against its will, due to the expanded role of the U.S. forces here, is an example that shows us the cautiousness of the Korean government.
Some criticize that the government’s overly cautious approach is causing cracks in the South Korea-U.S. alliance. Also some people point out that the recent statements of Evans J.R. Revere, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and Victor Cha, East Asia security specialist at the U.S. National Security Council, expressed the U.S. government’s discontent with the matter when they paradoxically said that strategic flexibility is necessary for Korea’s defense too.
However, looking closer into the problem, we can see that the position of the Korean government is not to go against strategic flexibility but to make rules, systems and safety devices for strategic flexibility.
It can be said that President Roh’s statement means that we support strategic flexibility when the national interests of South Korea and the United States are on the same line, but propose to go through negotiations and adjustments in advance if this is not the case. It would not be necessary to criticize the Korean government for taking a strong position in its negotiations with the U.S. government on rules, systems and safety devices for strategic flexibility. If media outlets criticize negotiations in line with the national interest saying they cause cracks in our alliance with the United States, that will only weaken Korea’s negotiating power.
Nevertheless, I hope that the Korean government would consider the following points when it devises the rules, systems and safety devices for strategic flexibility.
First, the main market and region of economic interest of Korea, which now ranks as the 12th largest economy in the world, overlaps with that of the United States. Since the stability of our market and the region where our economic interest depends is directly linked with the national interest of our country, we must take a cooperative position at the proposal that the United States will defend the market and economic region by exercising strategic flexibility.
Second, if the dispute between China and Taiwan is a manipulation of China’s intentions to destroy the free democracy and market economy of Northeast Asia, it is not good for the national interest of Korea to watch it with folded arms. The Korean Peninsula could be China’s next target. However, the possibility of China creating such a dispute while it is involved in the move for globalization is very low. Therefore, South Korea and the United States should cooperate and solve the dispute between China and Taiwan diplomatically, too.
Third, we must make an effort to create trust between the United States and China at the same time, in order to make the strategic flexibility of the U.S. Forces Korea a part of our future alliance with the United States. The most fundamental reason why Korea is taking a cautious position on the issue of strategic flexibility of U.S. Forces in Korea is because of the concern that the United States and China may start a military conflict over Taiwan.
However if the United States and China build mutual trust and a relationship in which the Taiwan problem can be solved diplomatically, Korea will also be able to take on a flexible attitude toward the strategic flexibility of the American forces here.

* The writer is a professor of economics at the Graduate School of International Studies at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Keun
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