[Viewpoint] A redefined relationship

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[Viewpoint] A redefined relationship

The South Korea-U.S. military alliance has been redefined. It is no longer restricted to the Korean Peninsula.

Washington’s restructuring and the strategic flexibility of American military forces in South Korea has passed the debate stage since future consultations may one day involve strategic flexibility of joint Korea-U.S. military forces. The current environment for regional and global security calls for closely knitted, strategic cooperation between the two countries.

Prospects for a conclusion to the North Korean nuclear threats any time soon remain bleak while Washington’s efforts to rein in global terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons have yet to bear fruit. Neither nation can face these challenges without support from allies.

Presidents Barack Obama and Lee Myung-bak spelled out a shared vision of alliance for the 21st century after a meeting in Washington earlier in June. The vision calls for stretching a strategic partnership currently centered on regional security issues to a encompass a wider range of global challenges. In last week’s annual security meeting, the defense ministers of the two countries discussed details and action plans for the shared vision.

Both got what they wanted from one another in recent consultations to push the bilateral security partnership to a new level. Washington reaffirmed its commitment to the complete destruction of the North Korean nuclear weapons program. Seoul in return agreed to upgrade bilateral strategic ties to apply more to global security challenges.

Washington reiterated that it won’t recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state - a status warranted by the Nonproliferation Treaty - while assuring it will continue with dialogue and sanctions to attain “complete and verifiable denuclearization” of North Korea. It also reaffirmed it won’t tolerate Pyongyang’s attempt to use its nuclear campaign to undermine global efforts on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. at the same time underscored its commitment to defend South Korea from North Korea’s nuclear threat - regardless of its pursuit of strategic flexibility - by providing “extended deterrence using the full range of military capabilities including a nuclear umbrella.”

Additionally, it promised a military surge in the event of an emergency in the region through strategic flexibility or deployment of American troops in other areas to defend Korea. The new U.S. administration’s policy on North Korea proved assertive and met Seoul’s expectations.

South Korea responded by promising the U.S. a broader partnership reaching beyond the region to a global level. Both agreed to moderate and upgrade the military alliance and shape actions toward new goals. And both pledged contributions to maintain global security through peacekeeping, stabilization and reconstruction in conflict areas.

In short, Korea was assured of U.S. deterrence commitment in return for its greater participation in U.S.-led campaigns on regional and global security.

The path has been laid out, but the problem is whether South Korea is capable of taking up its new role. Its role and onus at home and abroad will be greatly expanded. Korea is set to take back wartime control of its forces from U.S. command, and the restructuring of U.S. forces may inevitably weaken defense capabilities even as nuclear risks in the region intensify.

Moreover, despite its assurance, the U.S.’s offer of a nuclear umbrella and other extended deterrence has never been tested. Defense authorities of both countries must strengthen talks and relations to guarantee the reliability and viability of the plan.

Korea can no longer rely on the U.S. for security. It must hone its military capacity for self-defense. Strengthening against ballistic missile firings from the North and improving the environment for American soldiers based here are Korea’s new responsibilities.

*The writer is a researcher at the Sejong Institute and a former vice defense minister. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Yong-ok
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