[Viewpoint]U.S. alliance needed as much as ever

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[Viewpoint]U.S. alliance needed as much as ever

The United States eased its earlier hard-line policy toward North Korea by not only holding bilateral talks with North Korea, which it had rejected for many years, but also by reaching an agreement with North Korea on Feb. 13 for beginning nuclear disarmament. In negotiations with South Korea, Washington withdrew its earlier demand that the transfer of the operational control of the South Korean troops must be completed as early as 2009. The United States recently agreed with South Korea on transferring operational control by 2012.
The “diplomacy of concession” of the United States is the direct result of problems such as the mid-term election failure of the Republican Party, the resignation of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the situation in Iraq and the growing severity of the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons development.
There is no way to know whether the United States is considering a new plan in its policy toward the Korean Peninsula. However, one thing clear is that the policy of the Americans ― trying to block anti-American sentiment among the South Korean people ― has worked strongly. It can also be said that Washington was conscious of the possible heightening of anti-American sentiment in South Korea due to the differences between the two countries in the desired timing of the relocation of the U.S. military base to Pyeongtaek when it gave in on its position of transferring wartime operational command to South Korea as early as 2009.
In any case, as long as the timing of the transfer has been set for 2012, the government has to do its best to create a proper environment for it.
In addition, it must establish a new U.S.-South Korea alliance from a future-oriented perspective, not the tilted perspective of the past.
The government should take precautions against the possibility of the rise of such arguments as, “Now that the timing of the transfer of operational control is fixed, the U.S. forces in Korea should withdraw from South Korea, and since we have restored our military sovereignty, we should speed up the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula through cooperation between Koreans.” The government must work within the U.S.-South Korea alliance to both solve the North Korean nuclear problem and establish a peaceful regime on the peninsula.
The United States is currently relocating its troops stationed overseas to areas where the chances of proliferation of terror and weapons of mass destruction are high. The Asia Pacific region is no exception. The United States believes that it is in the mutual interest of all of the countries that traditional security alliances such as the U.S.-Japan alliance and the U.S.-South Korea alliance adjust to cope with the comprehensive threats. The new alliance system is based on the strategic flexibility of U.S. military forces.
The “tripwire” function is no longer dependent on the number of troops and the location of U.S. military bases, but on trust and the nature of the alliance between the United States and its allies.
From these perspectives, the direction the new U.S.-South Korea alliance should take is manifest. We must move forward to establish an alliance with which we can cope with the traditional threat from North Korea and, at the same time, counteract the new security threats of the 21st century.
We must expand our strategic horizon from the Korean Peninsula to the Asia-Pacific region and the world to become a true partner -- a trusted ally -- that shares the common values of a free democracy and market economy. If we limit our strategic thinking to the Korean Peninsula, U.S. troops stationed in Korea will have to ultimately withdraw because they will end up playing a supportive role for “the Koreanization of Korean defense.”
However, if we expand our thoughts to the Asia-Pacific region and the world, U.S. forces in Korea will be able to stay in Pyongtaek and will continue to be stationed there as a military force that contributes to regional stability and world peace.
That is why South Korea and the United States need to talk in detail about the vision of the U.S.-South Korea alliance, the “comprehensive alliance” each side agreed to in 2005. The two countries must agree on how they will cooperate in politics, the military and the economy in the Asia-Pacific region and on the Korean Peninsula. And while the vision of the alliance takes form, the two countries need to put all of their efforts into solving the North Korean nuclear problem before 2012.
At the same time, the two countries should put the priority of the transfer of operational control of South Korean troops next to the realistic job of coping with the military emergency situation, because the North Korean nuclear problem hasn’t been solved. We must be extremely careful not to sacrifice our security through domestic politics.

*The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

by Kim Sung-han
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