[OUTLOOK]A clash of alliance and peace

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[OUTLOOK]A clash of alliance and peace

There is a collision between alliance and peace at Pyeongtaek. If this collision of opinion is left as it is, the United States Forces Korea (USFK) that have left Uijeongbu and Donducheon for a new location may find that they have no place to settle down and be forced to leave the country. The reports in some foreign press that there is a possibility that the USFK headquarters will be transferred to another country only fan this concern.
After two years of discussion, South Korea and the United States have agreed on the realignment of the U.S. military bases scattered around South Korea into two major hubs at Osan-Pyeongtaek and Busan-Daegu. The headquarters of the U.S.-Korea Combined Forces and the U.N. Forces Command were particularly planned to move to Pyeontaek by 2008, and the two U.S. bases in the Uijeongbu and Dongducheon area were supposed to move to Pyeongtaek after 2008.
There is a U.S. military base of around 1.51 million pyeong (5 square kilometers) in Pyeongtaek, but a new site of around 11.5 square kilometers is planned to be created for the troops that will move to the area.
Some of the residents of the area close to the proposed bases in Pyeongtaek and 135 civic groups from surrounding areas stepped forward with a slogan, “No U.S. Bases in Pyeongtaek,” and they recently clashed with the police in Pyeongtaek.
There are a lot of complex problems in the Pyeongtaek situation. The residents are in a dilemma, choosing between the rights of some residents to live there and the economic rights of others. Some residents are upset because they will have to give up their land for the expansion of a USFK base, but there are also quite a large number of residents who expect economic gains from the bases.
Outside civic organizations approach the problem from a more long-term point of view. In the center of their insistence is the theory that since the U.S. military forces are an obstruction to peace on the Korean Peninsula, there is no need for them to be here anymore.
The United States is planning to realign the U.S. troops in Pyeongtaek according to the new concept of “strategic flexibility.” However, strategic flexibility itself is something that strays from the original purpose of the troops’ stationing on the Korean Peninsula, which is to prevent a war. Therefore, civic groups are trying to expand the Pyeongtaek issue to a national level and make it a political issue in the name of peace.
The civic groups’ logic of peace is colliding with the government’s and conservative camp’s logic of alliance. The logic of alliance is that in order to prevent war on the Korean Peninsula and to keep the power balance in Northeast Asia, we still need an alliance with the United States, and will need it in the future, too.
They also ask people not only to look at the side of strategic flexibility that allows the U.S. forces’ deployment outside of the Korean Peninsula, but also to look at the side that will facilitate the swift dispatch of U.S. troops to the Korean Peninsula in case of emergency.
For the sake of our alliance with the United States, they want the Pyeongtaek issue to remain a non-political and local problem. They think that the Pyeongtaek problem can be solved by efforts to improve such procedural matters as eliminating unequal elements in the Korea-U.S. alliance, not by the demand to withdraw the U.S. forces from Korea.
The Pyeongtaek problem has in many ways the potential to become another Buan incident. The residents of Buan also had confrontations over the choice between the livelihood of the residents and the economic gains from the construction of nuclear waste disposal facilities. However, with the intervention of outside forces, the logic for environmental protection and the development logic collided each other and the problem was expanded to a national level and became a political issue, making it more difficult to solve.
We shouldn’t leave the Pyeong-taek situation alone so that it can become another Buan incident. In order to stop this, the government and local autonomous organizations must actively mediate friction among the residents over their livelihood and business interests. The greater the friction among the residents is, the more room there is for outside organizations to intervene. Therefore, minimizing the chances of internal friction is the shortcut to keeping the problem from expanding to the national level.
After that, the government must make an effort to find a contact point where those parties to the Pyeongtak issue who emphasisze the importance of the alliance and those who emphasize the importance of peace can compromise.
In fact, this is not a problem that just concerns Pyeongtaek, but is a very important problem that is related to the diplomacy and security of Korea. In the past couple of years we experienced a conflict between the “independence group” and the “alliance group” in the South over our relations with the United States and North Korea policy, and the Pyeongtaek incident is an extension of that conflict among ourselves.
Peace and alliance do not always have to be unfriendly to each other. Peace cannot be safeguarded in a peaceful way all the time. Alliance can be an useful means to secure peace. I hope that the government solves the Pyeongtaek problem smoothly, so that it can demonstrate that peace through alliance is possible.

* The writer is a professor of political science at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kim Il-young
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