Seoul Must Be Ready to Defend Itself

      June 17, 2009 12:57

      Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Barack Obama met in Washington on Tuesday and announced a "vision" for the alliance between South Korea and the U.S. As part of it, they vowed to cooperate to achieve the complete and verifiable end to North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. They set out plans to transform their half-century-old alliance into a comprehensive, strategic partnership that encompasses the military and security fields, as well as politics, society and culture.

      The two leaders offered aims for North Korea's nuclear and missile programs that could not be resolved through existing U.S.-North Korean agreements or the six-party talks. The six-party talks have failed to halt North Korea's plutonium-based nuclear program, while a U.S.-North Korean missile agreement reached in 1999 was a provisional measure that merely delayed the launch of a long-range missile by the North. Lee and Obama agreed that the previous practice of rewarding North Korea's bad behavior would no longer be acceptable and that improper behavior will lead to consequences. In other words, there will be no more temporary expedients.

      The problem is how the two countries will achieve this goal. Across the entire international community, there is rampant skepticism about the prospect of finding a diplomatic solution to the North Korea problem. Yet physical force is unrealistic. South Korea and the U.S. face the tough task of overcoming finding fundamental solutions for North Korea's nuclear and missile problems and turn them into realistic measures.

      The two sides say they will use the alliance to achieve a peaceful reunification on the Korean peninsula based on the principles of a free-market economy. The two leaders also vowed to cooperate to improve the human rights situation in North Korea. They proposed a set of values, methods and goals for reunification, taking on the North Korean human rights issue directly, which is something previous administrations had avoided even mentioning.

      They used the term "extended deterrence" to announce the inclusion of South Korea under the U.S. nuclear umbrella against the threat of a North Korean nuclear attack. It refers to a comprehensive alliance where Washington would construe an attack against an allied nation as an attack on U.S. soil, justifying the mobilization of American nuclear and conventional weapons and resources in response.

      But from a military point of view, including the return of full Korean troop control from the U.S. to the South Korean military, the two leaders said the readjustment of the alliance would be achieved by South Korea handling the main role in its defense and the U.S. offering support through troops stationed in Korea and other regions. That was merely a reaffirmation of the existing military agreements. It reflects Washington's view that South Korea should handle the bulk of the duties when it comes to military operations on the Korean peninsula. The South Korean government must pay close attention to the U.S. position and make sure it is fully prepared to defend itself.

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