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[Editorial] Jitters Over Defense Accord With US

Posted October. 23, 2009 09:07,   


The United States yesterday reaffirmed its unwavering commitment to extended deterrence by using the full range of its military capabilities, including a nuclear umbrella, if North Korea attempts a nuclear attack on South Korea. In times of emergency, Washington will flexibly increase and relocate its forces across the world to the Korean Peninsula. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Korean counterpart Kim Tae-young adopted a 16-point joint communiqué on North Korea’s nuclear program at the Security Consultative Meeting yesterday, which was based on talks of the two countries joint chiefs of staff Wednesday. The joint statement can pressure North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.

Secretary Gates reaffirmed Washington’s extended deterrence to Seoul, saying a nuclear attack on South Korea will be considered one on U.S. soil. He clarified specific means like intercontinental ballistic and submarine-launched ballistic missiles and strategic bombers. Gen. Walter Sharp, the commander of U.S. forces in Korea, said June 26 that the extended deterrence includes missile defense in a lecture at the Korea Military Academy. The concept of extended deterrence was specified in the “Future Vision of the Korea-U.S. Alliance” at the June bilateral summit after being included first in the Security Consultative Meeting’s joint communiqué in 2006. The joint agreement is also meaningful since it includes the expansion of U.S. forces from American territory and Japan-centered forces to U.S forces across the world in case of emergency on the Korea Peninsula.

The decision, however, failed to dispel insecurity as the planned disbanding of the Combined Forces Command and the transfer of wartime operational control back to Seoul in 2012 remain unchanged. The two defense ministers will check progress on a regular basis, leaving a silver lining of hope. Gates promised that Washington will keep providing complementary forces until Seoul can defend itself on its own. Fortunately, the U.S. will maintain its 28,000-strong forces in Korea and extend their stay here to three years.

The defense agreement with the U.S. is based on the solid bilateral alliance. If the alliance weakens, the agreement cannot ensure a feeling of safety. This is why the command’s disbandment and the early transfer of wartime control by 2012 are reasons for concern. Few multinational forces have won in war without unifying command. Joint operation under the leadership of the U.S. military helped prevent North Korea from taking South Korea.

As Secretary Gates indirectly requested, cooperation in war zones such as Afghanistan could be a good opportunity to strengthen alliances. South Korea needs to create a good environment for U.S. forces in Korea, such as helping the relocation of the main U.S. base to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. Now is the time to show great interest in the comprehensive strategic alliance with national and global security in mind, something that was agreed on at the bilateral summit in June.