Accord to Strengthen Alliance
There are many positive and few negative expectations about the newly minted Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, the biggest one ever signed at the bilateral level so far.
It would be meaningless for now to say who will eventually gather the most benefits from the FTA because both Seoul and Washington will surely do their utmost to use the pact to grow their economies.
Forecasts are in a tangled all the more as the two countries are paving the way for deals with other economic giants such as Japan, China and the European Union.
And in such tumultuous negotiations, nobody can gain without pain.
Due evaluation must also be given to the undeniable fact that the accord will have the effect of reinforcing the South Korea-U.S. security alliance.
With the security environment especially in the Northeast Asia changing at an unprecedented rate, it has not been a small problem for both Seoul and Washington to find a new basis for the Korea-U.S. military alliance, which has been the cornerstone of peace and security here for the past half century.
Until quite recently, one of often quoted terms to express the conspicuous disparities between Korea and the United States was ``divorce.’’
It was almost two months before President Roh Moo-hyun’s inauguration in February 2003 that Doug Bandow, then a senior fellow at the CATO Institute, wrote “Time for a Korean Divorce.”
The reason was that whatever values the Korea-U.S. alliance once had, had disappeared as newly elected President Roh Moo-hyun suggested Korea might ``mediate’’ in any war between the United States and North Korea.
We all know that this kind of gloomy assessment has been continued for nearly over four out of five years of Roh’s government.
U.S. President George W. Bush commented in a letter to the House speaker that the trade pact will enhance the strong U.S.-Korea partnership, which has served as a force for stability and prosperity in Asia.
For the same reason, the agreement might be remembered as one of President Roh’s achievements, bringing the Korea-U.S. alliance to a new and comprehensive level.
Many fierce opposition demonstrations were organized by civil organizations and labor groups, and continued to the very last moment on the streets of Seoul, symbolically showing that the negotiations were a really painful process that required many sacrifices.
The spirit to willingly sacrifice something important for common interest is a basic and indispensable element of negotiation and mutual confidence among the players at the table, and nothing can be achieved without that spirit.
There can’t be any stronger evidence of a military alliance than shared casualties in war. Through the harsh negotiation processes, Korea and the United States could not keep their secrets unrevealed.
It might be hard for many Americans to understand Korea’s stance to oppose the U.S. force reduction from the Korean Peninsula, while Korea is planning to reduce the size of its force through the Defense Reform 2020.
Ordinary Americans might also see Korea’s request to transfer the wartime operational control back to Korea unfair because Korea is also asking massive U.S. support in crisis situations.
As Seoul and Washington deepen their economic integration after the ratifications of the trade pact by their legislatures, each can understand every nook and corner of the other more easily.
In case of any emergency on the Korean Peninsula, strong integration between the two economies will not allow Washington to keep a detached stance.
Thus, a fortified economic structure through the FTA is aptly expected to play the role of a new binding force for the Korea-U.S. security alliance.
The following are some other positive by-products of the accord: Seoul’s status in Northeast Asia could rise; Washington could get a strategic bridgehead in East Asia which the U.S. has wanted ever since the establishment of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in November 1989; the agreement could induce densely interlocking successive FTAs between and among regional countries leading to the institutionalization of peace and security in Northeast Asia.
Ohm Tae-am heads the U.S. Studies Division of the Security and Strategy Center at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. _ ED.