A two-track processToday marks the 60th anniversary of the Republic of Korea-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. On Oct. 1, 1953, shortly after the July 27 armistice agreement ending the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korean Foreign Minister Byun Young-tae and U.S. Secretary of State John Dulles signed the mutual defense pact. Six decades have passed since. In the basically grim realm of international politics, where there are no permanent friends or foes, such a long-lasting military coalition is very rare. Only four countries - South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Israel - have maintained such long and strong military ties with America.
Without dispute, the Korea-U.S. military alliance is a pillar of peace on the Korean Peninsula, serving as a pivotal mechanism for preventing North Korea’s armed provocations. Korea was also able to achieve rapid industrialization and democratization thanks to the security commitment of the United States. We can hardly overemphasize the value of the alliance under the unique circumstances, characterized by tense confrontations between South and North Korea and close proximity to big powers in the region. That’s why President Park Geun-hye in May chose America as the first overseas country to visit. In a joint declaration on the occasion of the 60-year alliance, she and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to develop the existing alliance into a global partnership aimed at seeking cooperation on various global issues. Korea and America have tried to forge an equal partnership sharing concerns and interests way beyond a lopsided dependence.
Seoul and Washington face many challenges ahead: an ongoing tug of war over how to share defense costs and how to revise an archaic atomic energy agreement; when to transfer wartime operational control of forces to Seoul; and whether South Korea should join in the U.S.-led missile defense program against the North’s nuclear threats. All of these are tough issues calling for a rational and transparent approach based on reciprocity. The days when we blindly accepted Washington’s demands are gone. Such an overbearing alliance could hardly maintain South Korea’s support as our diplomatic self-esteem rose. If Washington maintained a high-handed approach to its core ally, that could lead to a rupture.
The biggest challenge of the Korea-U.S. alliance comes from China. If U.S.-China relations deteriorate, we’ll lose leverage on the peninsula. The government must adopt a double-track policy with Washington and Beijing: enhancing the Korea-U.S. alliance while getting along with China, which has a strategic cooperative partnership with us. The success of the Park administration depends on it.