[OUTLOOK]Bolster alliance during summitSummit talks between South Korea and the United States will be held in Washington on June 10. The Blue House said the talks will focus on problems in the South Korea-U.S. alliance, the issue of cooperation in Northeast Asia and the North Korea nuclear problem. On the other hand, the White House summarized its agenda as being the problems related to the South Korea-U.S. alliance and the future direction of the North Korea issue. Because of the tough problems, the summit talks have a high risk of ending up just taking short-term, stopgap measures without finding proper solutions. What efforts will be required for the summit talks to find long-term solutions?
First of all, let’s take a look at the North Korean nuclear problem. On May 22, North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesperson gave high marks to the United States after its secretary of state recognized North Korea as a sovereign state and officially expressed to North Korea’s UN delegation in New York that Washington had no intention of attacking the country. But at the same time, he complained that it was confusing that high-ranking Bush administration officials continued making threatening remarks. He emphasized once again the conditions and atmosphere needed for resumption of six-party talks. Therefore, if the United States reasserts clearly what it said to the North Korean delegation on May 13, this will satisfy North Korea’s demands and raise the possibility of opening a fourth round of the talks.
But what is important indeed is to lay the ground for an agreement in principle between the head of states of South Korea and the United States on the development of the situation after holding a fourth round of six-party talks.
On March 31, the North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson said, “The time for discussing the problems of nuclear freeze and compensation in a give-and-take manner in the six-party talks is over. Now that we are openly a nuclear power, the six-party talks should be disarmament talks where participants solve the problem on an equal footing.” This is a prelude to the keynote remarks that North Korea will make in a fourth round of the talks.
On the other hand, the United States will attend the six-party talks without greatly revising the Libya model of “abandonment of nuclear arms first and assistance later” policy the country suggested in the third round. Therefore, a fourth round of the six-party talks is highly likely to come to a deadlock without realizing the basic agreement in Beijing. The level of tension between North Korea and the United States will rise once again, and the main actors on the stage will face their last choice. North Korea will reveal its nuclear deterrent policy as if peeling an onion and the United States will pursue political and economical sanctions within the framework of the Security Policy Initiative while reinforcing the need to spread democracy through the world. South Korea will no longer be able to linger in a gray area.
The problem of the South Korea-U.S. alliance is not easy to handle either. During his official visit to Turkey on April 17, President Roh Moo-hyun said in a meeting with Korean residents, “There is no problem in the South Korea-U.S. alliance. What gives me the most difficulty is that there are people who speak with a more pro-American way of thinking than Americans.” But the essence of the problem of the bilateral alliance is the conflict between South Korea’s 19th century view of the alliance and the United States’ 21st century view of the alliance. Its specific manifestations are controversies over strategic flexibility and the role of a power balancer. The United States’s strategic flexibility policy means that, unlike in the past, it would like to deploy troops worldwide simultaenously like an omnipresent 21st century Superman. From the standpoint of using the United States, it is not appropriate to criticize the Pentagon’s transformation strategy itself. But the United States will have to pursue its strategic flexibility more carefully on the Korean Peninsula, where almost 2 million soldiers face each other along the DMZ, and in Northeast Asia where tensions still exist. To this end, it will be more important for the president to have a thorough prior consultation on the realignment of U.S. troops and arms deployed in Korea, reach an agreement on the basic guidelines and have a specific discussion on measures for strengthening mutual trust consistently.
It is not desirable for the president to explain the theory of Korea’s role as a balancer in Northeast Asia. Above all, the reasons stated by the National Security Council for Korea to be a balancer are not persuasive. Furthermore, as can be easily found in the speeches of Evans Revere, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs for the U.S. State Department, the U.S. government has already made its official position clear that it understands the historical background why Korea supports the balancer theory. At the same time, it has pledged to perform the role of a balancer for South Korea’s independence and freedom.
Therefore, rather than causing unnecessary troubles, it is important to create a new alliance for the 21st century in which South Korea and the United States make a concerted effort to promote the freedom, peace, prosperity, knowledge, culture and environment for Asia and for the entire world.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ha Young-sun