[Outlook]A lasting alliance

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[Outlook]A lasting alliance

In the United States, a bill to enhance military cooperation between Korea and the United States was recently submitted to the House of Representatives.
The bill includes a plan to elevate Korea’s status in the U.S. foreign military sales program. This news bodes well for the improvement of the Korea-U.S. alliance.
If the bill is passed, Korea will have the same status as Japan, Australia and New Zealand in the Asia-Pacific region. For instance, if Japan imports a brand-new F-22 fighter jet from the United States, Korea is theoretically allowed to purchase an item of the same level if it has the will and means to do so.
This will make it easier for Korea to purchase important high-tech defense systems, such as a Global Hawk aircraft. We can also expect that administrative costs will decrease, the procedure will become simpler and the evaluation period for each purchase will be shortened.
The submission of the bill in the U.S. Congress does not mean that Korea’s status in FMS will be raised immediately. Last August, a similar bill was submitted, but it hasn’t been passed yet.
Some point out that the most recent bill is the result of Korea’s constant requests that the United States to elevate its status in FMS. They say it doesn’t reflect a sea change in Korea-U.S. relations. Nevertheless, the fact that the United States is seeking ways to improve relations with Korea on the eve of the launch of a new administration must not be underrated.
Unlike ordinary items, arms cannot be purchased by anyone or any country just because they have the means to pay for them. A country sells arms to another when the selling country can trust that the purchaser is a partner, or at least not an enemy.
This is even more the case when the weapons and their accompanying systems involve advanced technology that the seller treasures. If the United States raises Korea’s status in FMS, it means Korea will hold a higher status in the U.S. network of alliances. It also means that the United States will have greater expectations for Korea’s role in the Korea-U.S. alliance.
For the past five years Korea and the United States have had some difficulty pretending that nothing bad was happening to their alliance while they in fact experienced a crisis in trust.
Therefore, the fact that the U.S. House of Representatives, a major legislative body in the United States, is talking about elevating Korea’s status in the FMS can be seen as a new start.
Considering the environmental and regional changes in the alliance that have occurred over the past 10 years, the Korea-U.S. alliance must be rebuilt for the future, instead of simply being restored to past levels.
The rebuilding of the alliance must begin by presenting a vision that the two countries share, or a promise for the future. This will allow them to rebuild trust. We do not need to worry too much if the vision presented by the George W. Bush administration, which has nine months left in its term, will match the new Korean administration’s pragmatism. There is a clear distinction between pragmatism and the shallow calculation of interests. The current U.S. foreign policy is part of a larger flow and a certain administration does not dominate or control it.
A new vision doesn’t need to be lengthy or detailed. It will be enough if it shows that Korea and the United States will take the same road even during an era of changes, and that they will work together to overcome threats to their shared values. That is much more meaningful than cooperation for geographical reasons or simple military cooperation.
We must keep the momentum going to enhance trust between Korea and the United States. In 2008, the leaders of the two countries could announce a vision for the alliance.
In 2009, we can talk about the second step with the new U.S. administration and prepare concrete guidelines to manage the alliance.
Now is the right time to establish a new alliance that will contribute to both countries and balance their respective benefits and interests.

*The writer is a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cha Du-hyeon
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