[VIEWPOINT]It’s time for the Pacific version of NATOLooking for a solution to the North Korean nuclear problem through a multilateral forum such as the six-party talks is something like trying to make a big jump and form the Asian version of the Conference on Security Cooperation in Europe. It would be welcome if the dream of such a security mechanism became the reality.
But the stark truth is that Asia finds itself unable to make such a quantum leap. Looking back on the Helsinki Process, which laid the foundation for the CSCE, we learn that the organization was the result of protracted negotiations between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Soviet Union. Western Europeans, having experienced the scourges of two world wars and fearful of a third during the Cold War era, allied first with the United States and Canada to maintain security before entering negotiations with Easterners.
Germany’s reunification was realized as part of the integration process of all of Europe, the basis of which was West Germany’s alliance with the United States as a NATO member and its Pershing II missiles as a deterrent against Warsaw Pact forces.
In order to ensure immediate responses to armed provocations from North Korea and to negotiate terms of security with major powers sympathetic to North Korea, we are desperately in need of a permanent coalition of the like-minded, just as Western Europe has maintained with the United States and Canada.
It sounds ideal to promote an “independent or autonomous national defense.” But this requires costly ad hoc coalitions once national security is put in danger. In this interdependent world, no nation is purely autonomous in its national defense.
Creating a Pacific NATO is an urgent task for South Korea for two obvious reasons: to transform the present bilateral command control structure to a multilateral one and to negotiate a regional security mechanism with powers outside of the organization.
It is heartening to learn that Seoul agrees in principle with the need for a regional security organization that the United States may propose during the upcoming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to be held in Hanoi.
I earlier proposed the creation of such an organization, tentatively named the “Pacific Ocean Treaty Organization,” which would enhance deterrence against common threats in the region in peacetime and the interoperability of organizational member forces in wartime.
It then would constitute a cornerstone, which could later develop into a Pacific OSCE.
It may become inevitable for its member states to accommodate strategic flexibility of the U.S. forces stationed in the region, to take a more active role in Proliferation Security Initiative operations and to further contribute to missile defense projects.
The outcome of the latter, however, will be further opportunities to transfer state-of-the-art defense technologies as well as joint research and development programs.
South Korea has been asked by the United States to increase its defense burden sharing and has adopted an ambitious plan to build up its own defense capabilities, which requires an astronomical budget. The ROK will be able to economize on such expenditures by investing in a Pacific Ocean Treaty Organization to share the burden among its parties. Therefore, the organization could be both a realistic and cost-effective body.
The more such a collective security structure with the United States as the leading power takes shape, the more destined will the member states be to become partners in American’s global strategy. But the division of functions and jurisdiction with the ever-expanding NATO will define the boundary. South Korea will also be able to deal with each situation in ways appropriate to its own national interest, as shown when it declined the U.S. request to send troops to El Salvador during the Iran-Contra affair and participated in the rehabilitation processes in Afghanistan and Iraq with noncombatant forces.
South Korea will also be able to cope effectively with the additional risks, if any, deriving from its leading role in establishing and managing POTO, just as it has demonstrated its caliber in countering the danger of international terrorism while sending the third-largest number of troops to Iraq as well as hosting many large international events within Korea.
Exposed close to the new nuclear North Korea, South Korea is the country most urgently in need of a Pacific Ocean Treaty Organization in this region. I hope that Seoul will take the initiative immediately to create such a useful organization.
*The writer is a diplomacy professor at Yonsei GSIS.
by Kim Jae-bum