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Korea-U.S. Alliance on Brink of Change

Posted September. 15, 2006 03:01,   


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with President Roh Moo-Hyun, who is currently visiting the United States, and presented “modernizing the alliance” as the future for Korea-U.S. relations on September 13 (local time). During the summit meeting, which took place on September 14, Presidents of Korea and the U.S. showed their approval for this initiative.

Government officials say that they interpret “modernizing the alliance” as a way to find new meaning to the bilateral relationship, which has been a military alliance to fend off a possible North Korean attack on South Korea. They say that it will mean a comprehensive relationship that reflects the situation in the Northeastern Asia region and encompasses military, economic, social, and cultural spectrums.

Some diplomats and international relations experts point out that “modernizing the alliance” could lead to major changes in the current alliance.

Taking into account the manner in which the U.S. has been handling the return of wartime operational control of the armed forces, “modernizing the alliance” could change the foundation of the current Korea-U.S. alliance.

During the 37th round of the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) held in October last year, when Korea requested the return of wartime operational control of the armed forces, the U.S. had shown its reservations to the plan. In June this year at the 9th round of the Security Policy Initiative (SPI), however, the U.S. announced that it would be willing to hand over the wartime operational control by as early as 2010. The Korean government was stunned, because it had been working to take over the control by 2012.

Professor Kim Tae-hyo of Sunggyungwan University said, “Because the U.S. is so outspoken about the handover of wartime operational control, it may ignore Korea’s opposition and reduce its military presence in the country. The U.S. will try to appease Korea by saying that it is working to modernize the alliance.”

He means that “modernizing the alliance” could be used to lower the financial burden by lowering the number of soldiers in Korea and lower anti-American sentiments in Korea.

Some say that by “modernizing the alliance,” the U.S. will take its soldiers out of Korea and employ the soldiers flexibly wherever necessary. This stops just short of a withdrawal.

One experienced diplomat said, “At Cheong Wa Dae, officials believe that the strategic ties are too strong to pull out the U.S. forces in Korea. They are quite mistaken.” Some experts even say that voices calling out for “independence” came at a time when the U.S. was reviewing its plans to make changes to its forces in Korea, giving the U.S. a chance to come up with “modernizing the alliance” as an initiative.

A researcher at a government-run institute said, “If the U.S. tries to relax military relations with Korea by applying “modernization of the military,” it could someday make changes to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). It is not very likely though.”