Trump is not the United States

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Trump is not the United States


Bae Myung-bok
The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

True friends are those people you can share all your secrets with — and who won’t betray you. Who are the true friends of the United States? Five Anglo-Saxon countries — the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — are true friends. They share blood ties and speak English as their main language.

The United States and those four countries are called the “Five Eyes.” They jointly operate Echelon, a secret intelligence network watching the world. The Five Eyes are a community that is more like a family than a mere friendship. Families may have discord, but they wouldn’t betray their members. In the realm of international politics, in which yesterday’s friends can become today’s enemies, these five countries are eternal allies.

Officially, the United States has alliances or military partnerships with 48 countries. NATO is formed as a group security system with 28 countries in Europe. The United States has alliances or friendly relations with 20 countries in East Asia and the Middle East. Just as all friends are different, there are different degrees of alliances. According to the Financial Times, the allies the United States most values after the Five Eyes are France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain in Europe and Korea and Japan in East Asia. They are considered key partners in the U.S.-centered international order. If the Five Eyes are a special alliance, the seven countries are first-class allies. The United States shares important secrets with them. Unless the United States is itself in a critical situation, it will protect these countries as much as possible.

The United States operates about 800 U.S. military bases in more than 70 countries. It is no coincidence the three countries with the most U.S. forces — Japan with 52,000 troops, Germany with 38,000 troops and Korea with 28,500 troops — are first-class allies. The presence of the U.S. Forces in South Korea (USFK) cannot be explained solely by the divided state of the Korean Peninsula. If Korea is removed from the alliance map of the United States, the latter and Japan, which are ocean powers, will face the continental powers of China and Russia directly across the Korea Strait. In order to put a check on the rising dragon — China — it is absolutely important to secure Korea as a strategic point. It is not mere rhetoric when the United States calls Korea the “linchpin” of East Asian security. The United States cannot afford to give up Korea for its own interests.

Like Germany and France, Korea and Japan have an old score to settle. Just as Germany and France need to get along to have Europe under the influence of the United States, Korea-Japan relations need to be smooth in order to for the United States to have greater influence in East Asia. As Europe is stirred when France and Germany don’t get along, East Asia is shaken when Korea and Japan have discord. It benefits the United States to have Korea and Japan as its first-class allies like Germany and France. There are reasons for the United States to station a large number of troops in Korea, Japan and Germany. Those three countries are always on the top 10 allies list of the United States in ranking sites. named Korea the top U.S. ally: if Japan is the latter’s armor, then Korea is its weapon.


As the defense cost-sharing negotiations between Korea and the United States experience difficulties, there are worries the Korea-U.S. alliance could be damaged over the money issue. Unless Korea raises its share of the USFK’s costs as the United States demands, U.S. President Donald Trump might cut back on — or withdraw — the USFK. Without a meaningful increase in the cost-sharing, some even worry Trump many use the USFK as a negotiation card in the second North Korea-U.S. summit. Such warnings have already come from Washington.

Considering Trump’s unpredictable tendencies, the concerns are not ungrounded. Korea needs to talk with the United States and make demands based on reasonable grounds that Korean taxpayers can be convinced of. That is also the way to maintain the stability and solidity of the Korea-U.S. alliance.

Just as the United States is valuable to Korea, Korea is valuable to the United States. The alliance cannot be broken simply because Trump himself is displeased. If ties between the two nations are that loose, it would have been broken already. Money doesn’t get in the way of true friendship. The negotiation will be concluded in the end — Trump is not the United States.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 29, Page 31
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