An alliance that is pricelessOn July 23, I attended the Department of Defense press briefing at the Pentagon. As the reporters were waiting for the briefing, they were talking about how Donald Trump criticized Korea and the Korean media lashed back at his claims.
In a campaign speech, the U.S. Republican presidential candidate said, “They make a billion dollars a day, folks, and whenever they’re in trouble, our military takes care. You know we get nothing.” And he repeatedly said that it was crazy. The charge of a “security free ride” was repeated. Korea makes money by exporting automobiles, mobile phones and televisions while relying on America’s military protection. We are at a loss to see a U.S. presidential candidate make such a ludicrous claim.
The United States Forces Korea (USFK) is undeniably the core of Korea’s security. If the USFK withdraws, the threat from North Korea would shake the Korean stock market. Nevertheless, the USFK presence is hardly a unilateral dynamic of the United States serving Korea for free. Korea shares the cost of keeping U.S. troops in Korea. Government statistics show that the contribution increased from 790.4 billion won ($677.4 million) in 2010 to 932 billion won this year.
More importantly, the USFK is a major axis maintaining the Korea-U.S. alliance, with some 37,000 U.S. troops killed during the Korean War (1950-53). The Korea-U.S. alliance is the basis for Korea’s foreign policy and mainstay of the Northeast Asian order. Does Trump understand the significance of any of that?
Until now, Korea has sided with the United States in nearly all domestic and international issues without exception. On internationally divisive issues, Korea always supported America’s position, and Korea has contributed to all causes initiated by the U.S., from the fight against Ebola to refugee relief in Iraq. In the Iraq War, the Roh Moo-hyun administration sent the third-largest number of troops after the United States and United Kingdom to help the campaign of the Bush administration.
Earlier this year, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria savagely killed two Japanese nationals, causing tremendous pain for the Japanese people. In 2004, Korea experienced a similar tragedy, when a young Korean was decapitated by Islamic terrorists. Koreans still remember the tragic face of a Korean Foreign Ministry official briefing the media on the death. In the Vietnam War, more than 5,000 Korean soldiers were killed. The USFK provides security for Korea to a certain degree, but it is based on a solid alliance.
Action is accompanied by reaction. In the unlikely situation of the security free ride argument spreading in the United States, Korea would resist as well. The most extreme resistance is to develop our own nuclear program if Korea can no longer trust America’s nuclear umbrella. Driving the Northeast Asian region into a nuclear race must not become a reality. All these ludicrous and exorbitant arguments across the Pacific will only weaken the Korea-U.S. alliance. So please, don’t put a price tag on our alliance.
The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 1, Page 26
by CHAE BYUNG-GUN