[VIEWPOINT]A time for U.S., Korea to unifyAmid growing concerns over the health of the alliance between South Korea and the United States, South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreed to complement and develop “Concept Plan 5029” to prepare for a possible crisis in the North, but not in the form of an operative plan.
The “Concept Plan 5029” presupposes a sudden change in North Korea caused by domestic factors unrelated to war, including a regime collapse or a mass exodus of refugees. The plan does not have any specific military action, such as deployment of forces.
The reason the two countries could not coordinate their disagreements regarding the plan through dialogue between the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff is that the two sides had contrasting views on a possible crisis in the North: Would a given event be seen as occurring during a war or not?
For example, suppose some forces in North Korea sold weapons of mass destruction to a terrorist group and so a battle against terrorists broke out. If we see this as a peacetime operation, like an anti-espionage operation, South Korea should have the operational command and take the lead.
But if we see the situation as an act of war, the United States would have the operational lead under the direction of the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.
These differences may seem easily adjustable, but they can make the situation unimaginably complicated if the situation overlaps with the crisis of the North Korean regime, which would force the North to look for support from China and the country intervenes. In this case, we cannot guarantee that our military will be able to solve the situation independently. In a crisis like this, we may really need the United States for help, instead of insisting on our sovereign rights.
For this reason, it is hard to say that the rift in the bilateral alliance has been fundamentally removed, though at the recent defense ministerial talks, South Korea and the United States reached an agreement to narrow their differences on this issue.
The significance of the ministerial talks, if any, lies in the fact that the two countries laid the groundwork for the summit talks scheduled for June 10 by temporarily agreeing on the current issues that were revealed in the bilateral alliance.
A meticulously drawn-up “concept plan” can be turned into an operational one at any time, so if South Korea and the United States cannot solve this problem through close cooperation after this, both countries could end up suffering from severe consequences.
Just as between friends, there are ups and downs between allies. This is especially the case between President Roh Moo-hyun, who came to power with support from the liberal camp, and President George W. Bush, who was re-elected with support from the neoconservatives.
Regarding North Korea, President Roh emphasizes national coexistence and absolute peace, while President Bush stresses the expansion of freedom and democracy, and the war against terrorism and relies more on hard-line policies.
It is an undeniable fact that the unilateral foreign policy of President Bush and the United States increases our people’s doubts about whether the United States, based on the U.S.-Korea alliance, will have the interests of Korean people and peace on the peninsula in mind if there is a crisis here.
On the other hand, it is also true that the doubts of Korean people lead Americans to doubt as well, as they wonder whether Korea is a true friend of the United States.
But we should not forget that both countries commonly pursue the basic values of democracy and freedom. Also, we should realize that both countries share common interests, the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. An alliance can develop solidly when both parties share common interests and values.
In this regard, the presidents of South Korea and the United States should narrow their differences through dialogue and close cooperation. Also, both leaders should restore their faith in each other by recognizing that they both share the same interest and values. They should demonstrate the soundness of the alliance to their constituents in both countries. And where better to do this than on June 10, when President Roh will meet President Bush in Washington? The summit should be an opportunity to reassure the people.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at the Graduate School of International Studies at Korea University.
by Soh Chang-rok