“I'm not going to prognosticate or speculate on what we may or may not do,” U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper regarding said Monday whether or not the United States Forces Korea (USFK) will be reduced during his visit to the Philippines, which implies that he does not exclude the possibility of reducing the USFK. It is a big step back from the joint statement of the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) on Friday, which read that the defense secretary reconfirmed the commitment to maintain the USFK at the current level. Some predict that the U.S. negotiators will use the possibility to reduce the USFK as an implied card to put pressure regarding the issues of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which will automatically expire at 12 a.m. on Saturday, and military cost sharing between South Korean and the U.S.
The chief U.S. negotiator left the third SMA meeting to negotiate the defense cost-sharing issue, citing that the Korean team was “not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden sharing,” 80 minutes later after the meetings scheduled for seven hours began. This is the first time that such event happened since 1991 when the SMA discussions began. The U.S. side is deploying tactics to put pressure copying the rough negotiation methods adopted by U.S. President Donald Trump in order to execute the instructions given by the president who simply views the alliance as a matter of expenses. It is clear that the U.S. will continue to increase the level of pressure in the case that SMA talks and the GSOMIA issue do not unfold as it hopes.
South Korea cannot just blame the “politics of power” by the superpower that leads the global order. The current administration led by President Moon Jae-in should reflect on whether it has thought deeply about the future of the alliance. The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae claimed that the GSOMIA was a matter between South Korea and Japan despite its knowledge that the U.S. sees the agreement as a meaningful symbol of the three-way security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S., and Japan. Time is passing quickly to the expiry of the GSOMIA at 12 a.m. on Saturday, regardless of the concerns and pleas expressed by the U.S. administration, Congress, and pro-Korea experts. Such an attitude of the South Korean government is going to turn away pro-Korea figures in the U.S. who criticize President Trump’s actions to weaken the alliance.
Such a threat to the alliance where both the South Korean and U.S. governments are shaking the foundation of the bilateral alliance to achieve different political goals on each side is unprecedented. The South Korea-U.S. alliance is not a type of relationship whose roots should be shaken by administrations granted finite terms in power. The alliance that has been built based on the sacrifice of the lives of many young people from both countries should not be destroyed as the result of conflicts between South Korea and Japan and arguments to charge more defense costs. Now is the time for both Seoul and Washington to deeply reflect on and have respect for the meaning and values of the alliance.