[Viewpoint]Stronger ties that bindIn a press conference after their summit, President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea and President George W. Bush of the United States addressed the media standing in front of the luxuriant trees of Camp David and declared a new vision — a 21st-century strategic alliance.
This indicates that the U.S.-South Korea alliance has evolved from a blood alliance during the Cold War era to a transitional alliance during the post-Cold War period to an upgraded 21st century alliance.
The Cold Wa-era alliance, seen from a distance, was a time when South Korea largely relied on the United States for security, benefiting the South.
In the post-Cold War era, particularly during the past 10 years, the two countries’ relationship undeniably experienced a transitional period.
Rather than redefining their relationship, the countries focused on ending their unbalanced reliance, and a serious amount of trust was lost.
From now on, the U.S.-South Korea alliance must reinforce its cooperation to a new level to jointly face the international affairs of the 21st century, where security threats against nations and mankind coexist.
The strategic alliance declared by the two leaders means the alliance will go beyond the Korean Peninsula and expand to the Asia-Pacific region and the world.
With military cooperation at the center, the two countries should closely cooperate and create exchanges in politics, diplomacy, economies and culture.
The alliance should be strategic in nature, not tactical, because it is different from the stopgap friendship formed between the United States and Pakistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
The Korea-U.S. alliance has a greater purpose, which is spreading the global view that peace should be established based on democratic values and trust.
If Bush makes a return visit to Korea in July, experts and officials from the two countries will be able to have serious discussions in advance. They can then form a specific blueprint for their 21st-century strategic alliance.
After the summit in Gyeongju in November 2005, then-President Roh Moo-hyun and Bush declared that the two nations had “a comprehensive, dynamic and mutually beneficial alliance.”
However, relations were not smooth until the Feb. 13 agreement was reached at the six-party talks in 2007. The countries differed in their North Korea policies and failed to discuss specifically how they would cooperate to realize a “comprehensive, dynamic and mutually beneficial alliance.”
The future discussions by the Lee and Bush administrations to define the specifics of their new alliance will not be easy.
First up are thorny negotiations about how they will rid Pyongyang of its nuclear arms programs, when to ratify the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement, what conditions should be met before signing a visa waiver, how the defense costs will be shared, what South Korea will contribute in Iraq and Afghanistan and whether South Korea will participate in the U.S. proliferation security initiative program and missile defense.
The two sides should give and take wisely. South Korean officials must strategically prioritize pending issues. For example, if Korea does not intend to join the U.S.-led PSI and the missile defense program right now, the National Assembly should ratify the free trade agreement first and then use it as a shield to avoid U.S. pressure to participate in the defense campaign until the United States ratifies the free trade agreement.
Most of all, it is crucial that Seoul and Washington cooperate closely and tightly on the nuclear issue to keep the faith that the two countries are walking on the right path amid the fierce negotiations to rid the North of its nuclear programs.
In a through cooperation system, Seoul and Washington must discuss and agree on the direction of Pyongyang’s change, completely share the intelligence and each play an appropriate role.
The North’s nuclear issue is different from that of Libya before it gave up its nuclear programs. While the North’s nuclear capabilities are much stronger than Libya’s, Pyongyang’s willingness to denuclearize, demonstrated during the recent process of declaring its nuclear programs, is far weaker than that of Tripoli’s. That means the verification process will be tough.
If the United States improves its relationship with North Korea without thorough verification, the strategic mistake of overtly recognizing North Korea as a nuclear armed state might occur. To remind Washington about that possibility, we must do our best to solidify U.S.-South Korea cooperation.
*The writer is a professor of international politics at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Sung-han