[VIEWPOINT]Making the most of a summitA summit meeting between the leaders of South Korea and the United States will be held in Washington on Sept. 14, 10 months after President Roh Moo-hyun last met with President George W. Bush, in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang province, in November last year.
At the time of the Gyeongju summit, there was a ray of hope over the North Korean nuclear problem, since a joint declaration was adopted at the fourth round of six-party talks on Sept. 19, and the now-hot debate over the transfer of wartime control of South Korean troops from Washington was nowhere to be seen. There was no worry over a crisis in the South Korea-U.S. alliance back then either. In the last 10 months, however, many issues have been raised, as if a “Pandora’s box” had been opened, making people confused.
Drawing a “mind map” is a method of structuring one’s thoughts and ideas. It is a method that tries to break with conventional two-dimensional ways of thinking by writing and drawing various concepts and ideas on a blank sheet of paper and branching out to more detailed ideas. By doing so, we can enhance our understanding of things and think three-dimensionally.
What the government has to keep in mind, at this point of time, for the success of the summit meeting in September is that it should help people draw a “mind map” of the issues ― such as the North Korean nuclear and missile problem, the South Korea-U.S. alliance, the transfer of wartime control and a South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement ― instead of approaching them as separate issues.
Although the South Korea-U.S. relationship seems to be a simple issue, it is hard to understand at a transitional reform period like this because complex issues are interlinked, such as North Korea, the economy, the strategic balance in Northeast Asia and national pride. If the government talks about a “roadmap” for the transfer of the wartime control of South Korean troops at the annual South Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting in October without having an overall mind map, people will have difficulty linking it with the North Korean nuclear problem or the establishment of a system for peace on the Korean peninsula.
Therefore, the government should present a bigger picture of South Korea-U.S. relations to the people. The leadership of both countries must show that the alliance is shifting from a 20th-century model that focused on military deterrence and protection from North Korea to a 21st-century model that expands the scope and quality of cooperation on a regional and global scale. Then people will understand the reason the U.S. forces in Korea are being redeployed, the scope of the alliance is changing and wartime control over South Korean troops should be transferred from Washington.
For example, if the scope of strategic thinking is limited to the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. troops should withdraw from the peninsula sometime after the transfer of the wartime control, because the U.S. troops will only play a supportive role for the “self-reliant national defense of South Korea.” On the other hand, if the scope of thinking is expanded to the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. forces will be stationed in the Osan and Pyeongtaek area continuously functioning as a military force with strategic flexibility for the stability of the region.
Another task that should be emphasized at the summit is, of course, the North Korean problem. It includes such issues as nuclear weapons, missiles, financial restrictions and human rights. The adoption of an UN resolution on North Korea’s test-firing of missiles on July 5 signifies that international society approves of the U.S.-initiated diplomatic efforts to contain North Korea. The summit talk this time should, therefore, show clearly to the North that both South Korea and the United States agree on the need to exercise pressure on the North.
Given that even China participated in the UN resolution against North Korea, it can be said that the gap between the China factor and the South Korea-U.S. alliance has become that much narrower. The leaders of both countries need to show that they will resolve problems related to North Korea and its nuclear weapons program in the new framework of the 21st century South Korea-U.S. alliance, while preventing a war on the Korean peninsula.
Lastly, the heads of state of the two countries need to announce in a very polished manner that a South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement is significant both in terms of diplomacy and security, in addition to its economic benefits.
They need to stress that a free trade agreement will enhance international credibility in the Korean economy by deepening the economic interdependence of the two countries and increasing the economic value of the South Korea-U.S. alliance on the basis of an upgraded reputation.
They must also emphasize that the two allies will be reborn as true partners, not only military allies but also economic and social partners, through the conclusion of a free trade agreement.
* The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Sung-han