[TODAY]Alliance on a shaky baseKoreans nervously paid attention to what would come out of U.S. President George W. Bush’s mouth in his State of the Union address. What rhetoric would he use this time to enrage Pyongyang? Mr. Bush has condemned North Korea four years in a row, starting in 2002 by naming it an axis of evil, along with Iran and Iraq. He also called Pyongyang an outlaw state developing nuclear weapons in 2003 and the most dangerous regime in the world in 2004, and last year, he urged the North to abandon its nuclear program.
However, there was another, bigger reason why we were all ears for Mr. Bush’s address this year. At a news conference on January 25, President Roh Moo-hyun warned Washington that it should expect friction with Seoul if it hoped to resolve the nuclear tension through such means as regime change. As a remark from a Korean president to Washington, it was truly frank, bold, unrefined and undiplomatic. Simon Tisdall, a columnist of the British daily The Guardian, wrote, “Such mutinous talk from a traditionally close U.S. ally would once have been quite unthinkable ― but not now.” The Associated Press, an American news agency, magnified the meaning and reported that the president of South Korea had lashed out at Washington not to put pressure on the North’s totalitarian regime. To Americans, Mr. Roh’s remark must have sounded as if he was defending the totalitarian regime in the North.
Having drawn so much attention, this year’s State of the Union address fortunately did not include toxic mentions of North Korea. Mr. Bush only went so far, saying, “At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half in places like Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea and Iran.” He spoke in a much softer tone about the North Korean issue.
Seoul might interpret this as an effect of President Roh’s warning to Washington. However, that would be a convenient, self-centered interpretation.
At a press conference at the end of January, Mr. Bush responded to Mr. Roh indirectly. He said, “When somebody is counterfeiting our money, we want to stop them from doing that. And so we are aggressively saying to the North Koreans, just don’t counterfeit our money. And we are working with others to prevent them from illicit activities. That’s different from economic sanctions.” Before Mr. Bush’s comments, the U.S. government had already proclaimed that the counterfeit issue was not something that could be negotiated and had nothing to do with the six-party talks. In the State of the Union address, President Bush reiterated Washington’s firm and constant will to end tyranny.
The question is whether publicly embarrassing North Korea is the only solution to the counterfeiting problem. Seoul finds itself in a position to offer Pyongyang justification to return to the six-party talks while finding a solution to the counterfeiting issue as well. With no consideration of the circumstances, Mr. Roh openly said that Seoul would not tolerate Washington bullying Pyongyang too much. However, no matter what the Korean government says, the United States remains on its track. The Korea-U.S. alliance is already drifting.
Considering the contrasting ideological tendencies and pursued goals of Mr. Bush and Mr. Roh, the two president’s disagreement over Pyongyang is no coincidence. Mr. Bush is confident of the absolute leadership of the United States. America’s initiative to spread democracy around the world is the fundamental philosophy of Mr. Bush’s foreign policy. Democracy itself is not the goal but a means by which to achieve freedom. Realization of freedom through democracy is the policy Mr. Bush is experimenting with in Iraq and the Middle East. Nations under totalitarian regimes, such as North Korea, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Iran are next.
Then how about Mr. Roh? We can find an answer from the address he gave to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2005. In the five-minute speech, he asserted that the world should divest itself of mindsets and vestiges of imperialistic tendencies and stay vigilant against major-power centrism. It was an international version of the so-called 386-generation ideas. In today’s international politics, the country associated with imperialism and major-power centrism is the United States. Mr. Roh, in effect, told Washington to mind its own business. The alliance between Korea and the United States is turning very strange. The cause is the clash of Mr. Roh’s nationalistic, self-reliant line with Mr. Bush’s “America First” policy. In the United States, the dovish opinions on North Korea were excluded from the State of the Union address, and in Korea, the president almost seems to enjoy provoking Washington. In this deformed atmosphere, how can the Korea-U.S. alliance remain unshaken and the six-party talks stay out of a haze?
* The writer is an adviser and senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie