Playing with fireThe longstanding alliance between Korea and the United States is at risk on grounds of “national interests.” Seoul has put forward “national interests” every time its policy has caused friction with Washington. Its grounds for “national interests” have not been clear. Such frequent mentions can stoke the impression that the government is starting to believe that upholding the traditional alliance with the United States is not in the best interest of the country.
Kim Hyun-chong, second deputy chief of the National Security Office, in announcing the decision to end the country’s General Security Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan, said the government had taken “national interests” into consideration after serious study and deliberation. When Washington expressed concerns about Korea’s naval drill around the disputed Doko islets in the East Sea, Seoul also retorted that the exercise was for “national interests.”
Washington has expressed repeated and unprecedentedly blunt complaints about the series of military actions from Seoul. After the Pentagon expressed “disappointment,” Seoul summoned U.S. ambassador Harry Harris to advise restraint in U.S. comments. That brought about more anger from the Pentagon with both U.S. defense secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voicing “disappointment” over the fallout between Seoul and Tokyo. Randall Schriver, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, implied that Washington suspected Seoul ended the Gsomia to divert political and media attention over Cho Kuk, an ally of the president whose nomination as justice minister is being strongly contested by the opposition.
After a National Security Council meeting on Aug. 30, the Blue House announced that it will demand the early return of 26 military compounds of U.S. troops in Korea. The returns have been delayed because the guidelines on environmental waste processing differed between the U.S. forces and Korea. The Blue House irked Washington by implying the United States was delaying the return. The presidential office also announced that the U.S.-Korea joint command office will move out of Seoul to the new U.S. military headquarters in Pyeongtaek by 2021 ahead of the 2022 return of wartime operational command to Korea.
How the hasty announcements can serve national interests is baffling. Actions that can weaken this vital bilateral relationship definitely go against the national interest.