No time to loseWe regard the South Korea-U.S. summit as a success that will contribute to alleviating South Koreans’ security concerns about the recent situation on the Korean Peninsula.
As President Lee Myung-bak said at the joint press conference following the meeting, the United States reaffirmed its security pledges to South Korea, including its commitment to maintaining the nuclear umbrella. That was the biggest accomplishment of the summit.
In the statement adopted there, “The Joint Vision for the Alliance of the Republic of Korea and the United States of America,” both countries affirmed support of their security interests and outlined a provision for “extended deterrence.”
The summit was held amid heightened tensions on the peninsula, with North Korea’s second nuclear test and its acknowledgement of its uranium enrichment program. The fact that South Korea and the United States declared their strong intention to make a coordinated response against the nuclear problem was an outstanding achievement as well.
In the statement, the two leaders said they would try to build “a comprehensive strategic alliance” of global scope based on “common values and mutual trust.” Although this is overshadowed by the North Korean nuclear issue, it is nonetheless a very important agreement regarding the future of the South Korea-U.S. alliance. It is a declaration that the alliance will develop and evolve beyond its current form.
The summit did help reduce concerns about a third North Korean nuclear test, but it has not entirely erased the basic sources of anxiety.
The two nations said they would not recognize North Korea as a nuclear power but would pressure the North via sanctions. But they didn’t come up with any solutions on how to actually solve the nuclear conundrum.
Given that China holds the key to the imposition of sanctions on North Korea, more must be done to persuade China to be more active in putting pressure on Pyongyang and helping to resolve the nuclear issue.
And although United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874 allows for inspections of suspicious North Korean cargo on the open sea, there are still several risks involved with carrying them out.
The possibility of a North Korean provocation on the peninsula cannot be ruled out. At this moment, it is most important to ensure the practical efficacy of sanctions while limiting these dangers.
But without fundamental solutions to these problems, the North Korean nuclear reserves will continue to grow and we may in the end reach a point of no return. We can either use the stick or the carrot. Time is running out.