The alliance matters
The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Three days after Korean Ambassador to Washington Lee Soo-hyuck took his post, I felt like I needed to tell him to focus on improving the Korea-U.S. alliance. In Washington, many openly say the alliance is in a crisis. The blood ties are considered a tremendous burden to the people of both countries this year. Even as the alliance spirit of prioritizing respect and cooperation for security and trade issues between the two governments is lost, I only hear the sound of the calculator tapping. We need to find what caused the 70-year-old alliance to fray.
Most of all, it is important to restore trust between the Blue House and the White House. I am not talking about the personal relationship between U.S. President Donald Trump and President Moon Jae-in. To maintain and strengthen the alliance, the two governments must share and work on the big picture, even if they don’t coincide completely.
However, tensions have been deepening since early 2018 over the future of the Korean Peninsula between North Korea’s denuclearization and the peace process. Washington criticizes that Seoul prioritizes the inter-Korean relationship. Seoul is discontent that Washington does not understand the cycle of bilateral relations, especially as Mount Kumgang tourism — the symbol of inter-Korean cooperation — collapses.
The United States suspects that South Korea is leaving the Northeast Asian order for the hegemony contest between the United States and China, as Korea has not joined the India-Pacific strategy. Such suspicions raised by Japan are deepening as the Korea-Japan General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) has ended.
Doubts over the strategic alliance are allowing technical issues between the two countries to shake the essence of the security alliance. Details related to the restitution of U.S. Forces Korea bases and the transfer of wartime operational control, as well as the defense cost negotiations that have continued for 10 or 20 years, are growing into sensitive issues. Former officials wonder if the capabilities of the two governments coordinating and managing alliance issues through behind-the-scene consultations have disappeared. I suspect that both the Trump and Moon administrations use the alliance as a tool to negotiate with North Korea, rather than focusing on the Korea-U.S. alliance.
The current situation may not have been caused because the people in charge have changed and have different styles. The problem is that no one prioritizes the big picture and wants to take responsibility to resolve problems.
While Ambassador Lee is the most recognized expert on North Korean nuclear issues, I want to ask him to focus on restoring the alliance. As he said in his inaugural speech on Oct. 25 — resolve the Gsomia issue first.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 29, Page 32