The confirmation hearing of Stephen Biegun, the nominee for deputy secretary of state in the U.S., was held on Wednesday at the hearing room of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A series of questions about impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump was asked from the beginning. The members of the committee asked sharp questions about the direction to be taken by the No. 2 figure in the State Department against the backdrop where the Congress and the State Department collided as the department refused to submit relevant information and a number of relevant personnel were summoned as witnesses.
The answers given by Biegun were impressive. He handled questions smoothly during the 3-hour hearing that covered issues from impeachment to key foreign security policies. He talked about his stance clearly, saying he did not wish to avoid judgment and was not flustered by sensitive questions. Members of both Republican and Democratic Parties agreed with his statements and praised them for their insightfulness.
The deputy secretary nominee emphasized on Thursday the need for renewal of the South Korea-U.S. alliance to the South Korean floor leaders of three political parties who visited Washington D.C. Biegun also used expressions, such as restoring vitality and rejuvenation. He stressed the need in terms of changing the global alliance structure of the U.S. regarding the defense cost sharing issue, rather than the issue being simply a matter of money.
President Trump’s demand to increase South Korea’s share of defense costs five times sounds nonsensical. However, things will be different when such demand gains logic by smart and highly-capable advisors of the Trump administration. High-ranking officials, including Biegun, will provide support and the advisors of the U.S. will eventually follow the order of their Commander in Chief. It is also an undeniable reality that President Trump has the right to make final decisions even if the advisors try to convince the president to the other direction. It’s been witnessed that the sanctions against North Korea were withdrawn under the president’s order and that the South Korea-U.S. combined air exercises, which were “being prepared to be conducted as scheduled” according to the spokesperson of the Defense Department, were postponed 15 days later.
A member of the Defense Department who used to say, “The South Korea-U.S. alliance is so strong that there is no possibility of cracks in the alliance,” earlier this year does not say such things to South Korean reporters anymore. There is no reassurance about how President Trump’s views do not 100% represent the U.S. policies, probably because he himself has witnessed the sudden overturn of the working-level opinions and policy directions on multiple occasions.
President Trump’s view on an alliance of approaching it from a matter of money, rather than values, is now seeping into actual policies beyond the rhetoric used on his Twitter account and in the presidential campaign. As seen in the case of the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Syria, the president’s next moves are unpredictable given that he has considered the reduction of the United States Forces Korea from the beginning of his presidential term. There is possibility of conflicts between the two countries in not only foreign security matters but also economy, information sharing, etc. The talks about shared values and trust between allies are deemed too naive in Washington now.