U.S.-Korea Security Meeting Epitomizes Malaise of Alliance

      October 16, 2020 13:29

      The U.S.-South Korea Security Consultative Meeting that took place in Washington has exposed the dire state of the bilateral alliance. The two defense chiefs could not agree on anything, from defense-cost sharing to the handover of wartime operational control of South Korean troops to Seoul, not to mention Korea's participation in the anti-China-alliance or "Quad" that also includes Australia, India and Japan.

      The two sides remain miles apart when it comes to the issue of sharing the cost of maintaining 28,500 American soldiers in South Korea. Esper said, "We must find a more equitable means of sharing the costs of our common defense, so it doesn't fall unequally on the American taxpayers." He added that South Korea must contribute more to joint efforts to maintain security on the Korean Peninsula. A troubling sign was the fact that for the first time in 12 years, their joint statement did not include the phrase "maintain the current level of the U.S. military personnel" here. A scheduled press conference was abruptly canceled.

      Allies can disagree, but it becomes a big problem when they have serious differences over fundamental aspects of their alliance and the rift repeatedly becomes public. The transfer to South Korea of wartime control of its military will change the fundamental fabric of the alliance that was forged during the 1950-53 Korean War. It goes without saying that a key precondition to such a transfer is the readiness and ability of South Korea's military to suppress a North Korean aggression. But President Moon Jae-in is more interested in staging photo ops with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and willing to butt heads with the country's closest ally simply to realize hopes to gain wartime operational control of the military before his term ends in 2022.

      The head of our Joint Chiefs of Staff even said timing is the most important factor in transferring troop control, even if that means revising the preconditions. The government is more interested in meeting its preconceived schedule than the safety of the people. The U.S. warned South Korea that setting a specific timeframe for the handover could "endanger" American troops and citizens. A country that places another nation's people in danger cannot be called an ally. Yet the South Korean ambassador to the U.S., who should be focused on diffusing the conflict, said South Korea does not necessarily have to choose the U.S. as an ally. It would be a miracle for the bilateral alliance to survive unscathed.

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