[OUTLOOK]Time to end self-reliance policyHow weak is the current Korea-U.S. alliance? How much has Roh Moo-hyun’s diplomacy focusing on self-reliance damaged the Korea-U.S. relationship? The top military officials of the two countries had a joint conference at the U.S. Department of Defense on Oct. 20. After reading notes from the conference, I can not help wondering whether South Korea and the United States are allies.
When top military officials of the two countries stand side-by-side in front of journalists after a Security Consultative Meeting, they usually say they had a meaningful debate and compliment each other. Even when they have different stances, they do not reveal them publicly.
However, Yoon Kwang-ung and Donald H. Rumsfeld revealed different opinions and stances in front of journalists. They uncovered the overall crisis in the Korea-U.S. relationship. Defense Minister Yoon said the U.S. provision of a nuclear umbrella would be mentioned in a concrete way in the joint statement, but Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said that when it came to the nuclear umbrella, the expression would be the same as had been used for “many, many years.” It was an awkward scene, making one wonder if it was a joint press conference of two ministers of allied countries.
A journalist asked Mr. Yoon if he thought North Korea would conduct another nuclear test. Mr. Yoon said he had been briefed that Kim Jong-il had said he would not. As the journalist asked if Mr. Yoon believed what Kim Jong-il allegedly said, Mr. Rumsfeld sneered.
When asked about the timeline of transfer of wartime operational command of South Korea’s military, Mr. Rumsfeld answered it would be roughly 2009 and Mr. Yoon said 2012 would be the optimum time.
When asked again about the nuclear umbrella, the two officials clashed. Mr. Rumsfeld said that he had not been told South Korea had suggested the expression be changed and that it would not be changed. However, Mr. Yoon said that they had broadly discussed the matter for two days and that he hoped the joint statement would include a new expression. Mr. Rumsfeld asked, smiling, if Mr. Yoon thought so. Mr. Yoon said yes. Mr. Rumsfeld said, still smiling, that Mr. Yoon had more information than he did.
The Roh administration’s diplomacy based on self-reliance failed in stopping North Korea from conducting a nuclear test while pushing Korea-U.S. relations to the edge of a cliff. The administration wanted to say what it wished to the United States, to solve problems on the Korean Peninsula between same nationals and treat the United States and China equally diplomatically. But its policy lost ground due to the North’s nuclear test.
Last year, the Roh administration asked that the part about the nuclear umbrella be erased from the joint statement of the Security Consultative Meeting. Washington refused and the clause remained. This time, the Roh administration demanded that the clause be strengthened.
In regard to the transfer of wartime control, the administration said it could take back command by 2009. But after the United States agreed and then the North conducted a nuclear test, the administration changed its timeline to 2012. Is this schizophrenic, or is this flexibility of policies?
Some ministers who emphasized self-reliance are to be changed, and some expect the policies on North Korea and the United States to also be changed. But unless Mr. Roh can understand the raison d’etre of the Korea-U.S. alliance, the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula and Kim Jong-il’s regime’s intention to possess nuclear weapons and missiles, changing a couple of ministers will not change the current situation.
Some demand that Mr. Roh change his philosophy on diplomacy and national security. But I want to ask first if he has a philosophy to change. By embracing North Korea, South Korea is now standing on the verge of international isolation. To prevent it from falling from the edge, when the administration changes ministers who shout for self-reliance, it should get rid of other government officials in charge of diplomacy and national security who are former student activists.
The starting point to solving the North’s nuclear crisis is to restore the South Korea-U.S. relationship. To do so, South Korea should actively join in implementing the UN resolution and the Proliferation Security Initiative at its early stage, sending a stern message to North Korea. If our ultimate goal is to remove the North’s nuclear weapons for nonproliferation on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue, we should leave open a bridge which North Korea can cross to return to dialogue, as Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said. However, now is the time to say good-bye to diplomacy emphasizing self-reliance.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie