[OUTLOOK]Roh must stop acting recklesslyPresident Roh Moo-hyun shows unique confidence when it comes to relations with the United States. Many worry about the ties between the two countries, but President Roh said with confidence that it is clear there is no problem when he meets with President George W. Bush. Right before the recent summit meeting, President Roh said the situation would calm down after he met with President Bush.
As President Bush used the rhetoric, “Nothing is changed for the Korea-U.S. Mutual Defense Agreement,” and, “Peaceful resolutions for North Korea’s nuclear problems were confirmed,” the ruling party welcomed it with enthusiasm saying, “These blew off some people’s worries and insecurity.” Some judged that President Bush had defended and sided with President Roh and that those who opposed the planned handover of wartime operational command, including former defense ministers, retired generals, senior diplomats and intellectuals, had lost their foothold. Now will Korea calm down?
The recent summit meeting of the two leaders was utterly abnormal in terms of its form and content. Some even said it attracted no interest in the United States and was only for South Korea. The leaders of an alliance met at a crucial time but no joint statement was made. If there is nothing that the two leaders promise officially, the alliance cannot be a healthy one.
After the meeting, a new type of press event called “press availability” was held, instead of a joint press conference. This is also not a normal practice of an alliance. How should one consider the current alliance when President Roh’s visit to Washington, which will probably be his last, failed miserably to attract attention in the United States?
A “broad common approach” to North Korea is considered the best achievement of the recent summit by the government, but the United States did not even mention that expression itself, let alone the content or meaning of it. The United States seems to understand this as South Korea’s tactic to give fancy packaging to its suggestions in order to slow down the process of applying sanctions against North Korea.
The handover of wartime control of South Korea’s military is a military issue. It was President Roh who made it a political issue by relating it to military sovereignty and self-reliance. If the Korean government thinks that President Bush’s remark that the issue should not be transformed into a political issue as an achievement of the summit, that is to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face.
We are in desperate need of the United States until North Korea’s threats are resolved or our military competence increases so that we can defend ourselves. That is the reality of our national security. But the South Korean government wants to take wartime control and there is nothing to lose for the United States. The United States can have strategic flexibility while having close relations with Japan, reducing risks and budgets for U.S. troops in Korea, sell ing weapons and calming down anti-American sentiments among South Koreans through this move.
An alliance is a political activity for coexistence and the development of allies. Sometimes a country needs to sacrifice some of its sovereignty for the sake of the interests of an alliance. By crying out for self-reliance and sovereignty, something even more important and valuable will be lost.
When working-level officials cannot reach agreement, leaders of countries have a summit meeting in order to resolve their problems based on mutual trust and a vision for the future. Different ideas on the resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem, the adjustment of the alliance, North Korea’s human rights violations and the pursuit of a free trade agreement with Washington are entwined, causing complex conflicts among different interests inside the country. These issues cannot be approached separately. A blueprint of the 21st-century Korea-U.S. alliance that balances and encompasses these issues should be presented. When President Bush hid differences of opinion and exaggerated the strong alliance, we should understand that he probably did so because he was conscious about other members of the six-party talks, particularly about misjudgment by North Korea, which would welcome a crack in the South Korea-U.S. alliance.
It is a good thing for President Roh to believe that the Korea-U.S. alliance remains strong. But confidence that stems from baseless assumptions and arrogance will likely make him isolated as a person who shouts for self-reliance, or like the emperor who had no clothes. The president should stop driving recklessly in regard to foreign affairs and national security, and take matters into account for the entire nation during his remaining term and become humble in the face of history.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun