[Viewpoint] Cold War cloudsAn alliance is a means to an end, not the ultimate goal.
This holds true in terms of the military as well as in the realm of ideas. The alliance between South Korea and the United States is structured to contain North Korean provocations. If the alliance weakens, so does our ability to deter an enemy attack.
The nuts and bolts of our bilateral ties with the United Stated rusted over the last decade under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.
But the two sides replaced those nuts and bolts with new parts, creating an iron clasp strengthened even further when key members of the U.S. government recently visited to meet with their South Korean counterparts.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates dropped by the demilitarized zone, where they looked out toward North Korea in a rare high-profile visit by two U.S. officials to the world’s most heavily guarded border.
Their highly publicized trip was organized to send a clear signal to the northern side of the border that the U.S. is strongly committed to defending South Korea and that it won’t tolerate more provocations.
Their very presence at the DMZ sends a stronger message than any propaganda broadcast over loudspeakers or dispersed on leaflets.
Next week’s joint full-scale military exercise on the East Sea will highlight the strength of the bilateral partnership and at the same time serve as a warning to North Korea.
The two U.S. officials, along with their South Korean counterparts, also visited the Korean War Memorial and paid tribute to the 46 sailors killed when the North sunk the Cheonan four months ago.
The U.S. officials didn’t need to say anything about the sinking while here - their actions spoke louder than words. The U.S. has never been so open and unequivocal about its partnership with South Korea.
Clinton, however, did take the partnership further, declaring that the U.S. will impose new sanctions on North Korea to further choke off the country’s weapons program by targeting individuals and bank accounts of the Pyongyang regime that are involved in these activities.
At the same time, she said relations with North Korea could improve if the country stops its belligerent ways and abandons its nuclear weapons program.
In a nutshell, Clinton offered advice yet at the same time sent a warning to North Korea.
It is reassuring to see such high-level U.S. officials make a trip to the demilitarized zone to demonstrate solidarity, which has helped to ease some of the anxiety tied to the Cheonan sinking.
But somehow the scene also stirred up a bit of unrest and even discomfort, as it resembled the type of action common during the peak days of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
The clouds from the Cold War are now hovering over the Korean Peninsula. South Korean and U.S. ministers declared that the six-party talks cannot take place unless North Korea apologizes for the Cheonan attack and assures us of its commitment to denuclearization. The six-party negotiations represent the sole platform for discussing regional peace and security on the peninsula.
But the recent U.S.-South Korea security meeting has slammed the door shut on dialogue and bolted it down.
China has been unusually outspoken on this issue and lost its temper over the South Korea-U.S. military drill. North Korea will likely exploit the hard-line position taken by South Korea and the U.S. to strengthen its leadership grip and accelerate the power succession in the Kim family. Pyongyang will likely continue its belligerent ways at least until the Workers’ Party convention, which is scheduled for early September. In other words, we shouldn’t expect sincerity or reconciliation - let alone an apology for the Cheonan sinking - for the time being. We can hardly expect a double-faced regime that vehemently claims its innocence before the UN yet privately boasts of its sinking of the Cheonan to play fair.
South Korea and the U.S. have agreed that now is the time to use a stick instead of a carrot when it comes to North Korea. We cannot expect China to guide North Korea on this issue. Pyongyang has grown immune to U.S. warnings. Displays of military power and moves to choke off funding channels are the only options left.
But we must have a bigger plan. We must not forget our strategic goals when pushing North Korea into a corner, and we must maintain behind-the-scene contact with the country. Our strategic goal is to ease tension and ensure peace on the Korean Peninsula. The South Korea-U.S. alliance is a means to contain and deter North Korea’s provocations but should not undermine our efforts to ease tension and establish peace through dialogue.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Young-hie