An evolving alliance

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An evolving alliance

President Park Geun-hye and her U.S. counterpart Barack Obama adopted a joint declaration in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the alliance between South Korea and the United States yesterday. In a joint statement after a summit at the White House, both leaders agreed to advance the military-focused alliance to a 21st-century global partnership by adjusting and reinforcing the ties.

They aim to go beyond the alliance - which has already expanded to a comprehensive strategic alliance covering political, economic and cultural areas - toward the goal of a cooperative partnership on various issues such as climate change, energy security, human rights, humanitarian and economic aid, terrorism, nuclear safety and cyberdefense. The joint declaration carries great significance as it raised the “Future Vision on Korea-U.S. Alliance” adopted by former President Lee Myung-bak and Obama in 2009 to a higher level.

The two leaders defined the alliance as a linchpin of the peace and stability of Asia and the Pacific. Obama reaffirmed his strong commitment to defend South Korea by all available military means, including conventional and nuclear weapons, to provide effective deterrence against the North’s provocations. At the same time, Obama demanded that South Korea play a part in U.S.-led campaigns and share the costs. South Korea’s bigger role could be seen as positive, but the Park administration must keep in mind that it could also increase our economic burden.

Both leaders also made it clear that any provocation from the North will be followed by inexorable retaliation. Despite a stern will to punish Pyongyang’s aggression, the two leaders said the door to dialogue is always open. Obama stressed over and over that a dialogue is possible only when Pyongyang keeps its promises to denuclearize. In other words, Obama will not offer his hand until the recalcitrant regime begins to change. But it remains to be seen how Obama’s firm position on the North and Park’s trust-building process with Pyongyang will reconcile because Park’s trustpolitik is not based on the premise that the North must change first.

The situation on the peninsula is too serious to indefinitely wait for Pyongyang’s voluntary change. It is regrettable that both leaders stopped short of presenting a strategic initiative to fundamentally solve the nuclear conundrum.
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