[Overseas view]A good time to reinforce allianceDramatic evidence has been provided to the media by U.S. government officials concerning the Syrian nuclear facility destroyed last September by an Israeli military strike. The physical layout of the installation was exactly like that of the Yongbyon facility north of the 38th Parallel.
There is also persuasive evidence of direct contact between senior technical officials responsible for the respective nuclear programs of each government.
In a tradition established by the totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th century, including Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, geographic distance and ethnic differences are no barriers to cooperation between aggressive extremist regimes. The worrisome revelation of the Damascus-Pyongyang nuclear scheming, also involving police states on opposite sides of the globe, is the latest confirmation of that truth.
In light of these revelations, the visit of the new South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, to Washington is proving particularly timely. He and U.S. President George W. Bush appropriately spent considerable time discussing the important expanding economic ties between the two very close allies.
The trade agreement between Seoul and Washington reached last year represents significant evidence that there is a role for bilateral understandings in an increasingly global economy. Indeed, the frustration of the Doha Round of international trade negotiations probably means such one-to-one understandings will grow.
Among other things, bilateral accords are a way of countering any trends toward regional protectionism. The U.S.-South Korea trade pact also spans a considerable geographic distance, but in this case, in the interest of positive, economically productive collaboration.
The nuclear news underscores the durable importance of military and security aspects of the relationship as well. The two dimensions, in fact, are inextricably linked. South Korea’s economic success is tied in various ways to close security cooperation with Washington. Immediately after taking office in the White House, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ended the fighting in the frustrating Korean War.
He went much further, however, directing U.S. Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson to create a comprehensive series of committees to plan and implement long-term post-war reconstruction of devastated South Korea. Dr. Peter F. Drucker, later to achieve considerable fame and influence as a management guru, was appointed to the committee formed to analyze and make recommendations concerning Korea’s educational system. In this manner, a comprehensive foundation was created for the country’s dramatic economic development and growth of more recent decades.
Korea has repaid this friendly support in various ways. In 2001, President Kim Dae Jung made a point of being among the first heads of government to visit newly inaugurated President Bush. Throughout the long and costly Vietnam War, South Korea dispatched some 320,000 soldiers to that country, with a peak strength of 50,000 to fight beside the South Vietnamese and American forces, plus contingents from neighboring Australia and New Zealand.
The South Korean troops, who established a well deserved reputation for ferocity in combat, were far from home in Southeast Asia because of a very powerful popular, as well as governmental commitment, to the American alliance. This, in turn, provided a firm foundation for long-term diplomatic cooperation.
In pursuing sustained steps to contain the threat posed by North Korea, Seoul and Washington should be attentive to economic, educational and cultural opportunities as well as purely military requirements.
*The writer is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha Wisconsin.
by Arthur I. Cyr