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U.S., South Korea Issue Joint Statement

Posted January. 21, 2006 03:01,   


South Korea and the U.S. have reached an agreement on the concept of “strategic flexibility,” under which the United States Forces in Korea (USFK) will be deployed to other regions in case of regional contingencies.

Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a joint statement at the first ROK-US foreign ministers’ meeting in Washington D.C. Thursday morning.

“The ROK fully understands the rationale for the transformation of U.S. global military strategy and respects the necessity of strategic flexibility of USFK,” the statement said.

In the statement, the two sides made it clear that “the U.S. respects the ROK’s position that it will not be involved in a regional conflict in Northeast Asia against the will of the Korean people.”

“The Security Consultative Meetings (SCM) in 2003 and 2004 recognized that the ROK understands the necessity of strategic flexibility. This agreement is meaningful, however, because the statement shows that the U.S. respects the ROK’s position. Our position of not wanting to become entangled in regional conflict in Northeast Asia against the will of our people was reflected,” said a South Korean government official.

The two countries have not agreed on the details of the agreement, however. Therefore, a possible conflict over USFK operations cannot be ruled out.

The U.S. first suggested the concept of strategic flexibility for the USFK at the Future of the ROK-U.S. Alliance Policy Initiative (FOTA) meeting in 2003. The concept is in line with America’s plan to use U.S. forces worldwide as rapid deployment forces after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

The issue was not fully discussed due to other urgent issues, including the relocation of the Yongsan Garrison, the reduction of USFK, and deployments to Iraq.

The two sides have been discussing the issue in earnest since the SCM last February. Directly following the talks, President Roh expressed strong concerns over the concept of strategic flexibility during a speech at the Air Force Academy`s graduation ceremony in March, causing a rift between the two countries.

Since then, a total of 12 off-the-record meetings have been held, and the two sides reached a working-level agreement last November. A Korean government official explained that the recent agreement is a mere confirmation of that.

Strictly put, the recent agreement is a virtual declaration of principles because specific details have not been agreed upon regarding the strategic flexibility of the USFK. This points to a possible confrontation between the two countries in the future should the U.S. try to actually use the USFK in regional conflicts in Northeast Asia.

“Such a possibility is extremely low. We feel that it is beneficiary for the two sides to reach an agreement that is close to a declaration, under which the ROK respects the U.S. position at the international level, and the U.S. respects the ROK’s position on Northeast Asia and the Korean peninsula,” explained a high-ranking government official.

The government explains that the two countries are capable of dealing with emergency situations because they share a relationship based on trust, and points to the deployment of 3,600 USFK troops to Iraq in 2004 as an example.

Concerns are being raised, however, that a regional conflict in Northeast Asia could have a direct impact on the stability of the peninsula, and that this cannot be compared to Iraq. There is a possibility of a conflict of national interests between the U.S., with its global strategy responsibilities, and South Korea, with its top priority being stability on the Korean peninsula.

Jong-Koo Yoon jkmas@donga.com