[Viewpoint] Korea’s choice in the post-NATO era

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[Viewpoint] Korea’s choice in the post-NATO era

International politics and global economics have a relationship similar to those of left and right brains. They are closely connected and cooperate, but they have completely different views toward the world. Trade and currency wars exist, but the world of the global economy is actually an arena that does not need guns and swords. In contrast, fights are inevitable in international politics.

The United States and China have a win-win relationship when it comes to their economies. But in terms of international politics, they may fight at any time. And just like during the cold-war era, the United States alone cannot face China. Therefore, it needs an international alliance like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The problem is that NATO is no longer working strongly. Because their mutual enemy, the Soviet Union, has disappeared, the 28 member countries have no joint strategy or interest. They have lost their direction. It only became a larger organization when the former Soviet countries joined.

Inviting Russia and China to join NATO after reforming the organization’s original mission could be a possible resolution. Korea could also actively participate in the organization. In fact, the United States and its European allies want countries like Korea to cooperate with it to a greater extent.

But some analyzed that a post-NATO era has already begun. The United States has participated in negotiations to withdraw all short-range tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. The negotiation will conclude in Chicago in May next year when the NATO summit and the Group of Eight summit take place at the same time.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who retired on June 30, criticized NATO member countries on June 10 in his address at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels. Without beefing up military capabilities and increasing defense budgets of the member nations, NATO is powerless, he said. In a closed meeting, he took the risk of diplomatic rudeness and named Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey and Spain, criticizing their lukewarm attitudes about military action against Libya.

In fact, convincing NATO members to fulfill their roles is the homework that the United States has failed to accomplish during the organization’s 62-year history. The United States has always been displeased with free riders of the organization. But due to the economic crisis, NATO members right now have no ability to help the United States.

If the organization is no longer useful, an alternative must be found. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said earlier this year that the United States may need to find a more reliable defense partner in some other places.

While many have argued that the United States needs no new alliance, some alternatives such as Korea, Japan and Australia in Asia-Pacific region and Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East are being mentioned.

The United States and China restored their military relationship last January after a one-year severance since the U.S. sold arms to Taiwan.

China and Korea have formed a strategic cooperative partnership, with more than $200 billion in bilateral trade last year.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry called the Korea-U.S. alliance “something left over from history” when President Lee Myung-bak visited China in 2008. China’s argument may not be political rhetoric. And in some sense, China is right.

Just like NATO, whose historic mission ended with the fall of the Soviet Union, the Korea-U.S. alliance could become “something left over of history” after the unification of the two Koreas or drastic changes in Asian and global affairs. The alliance may become unnecessary, but it also is possible for Korea to face an era that requires a deeper and wider alliance with the United States.

Japan appeared to choose the path of bolstering its tie with the United States. Washington and Tokyo opened the 2+2 talks of their foreign and defense policy makers on June 21. In September, the two countries will announce the 21st century vision of the reinforced alliance at the bilateral summit.

What will be Korea’s choice to maximize its national interest? The worst-case scenario will be having no opportunity to make a choice. We must begin a full-scale review of all of our options.

*The writer is an editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

By Kim Whan-yung
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