Korea and the United States:
An Enduring and Evolving Alliance
H.E. Song Min-soon
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Republic of Korea
At a Breakfast Lecture Meeting
Hosted by the Korean-American Association
June 21, 2007
□ The Korea-U.S. Alliance has been a Continuing Success
This year we are celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between Chosun and the United States, which marked the very beginning of the relations between the two countries. We celebrate this year also the 54th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty between Korea and the United States.
The Korea-U.S. alliance has been seen as one of the most successful post-World War II alliances. Such assessment is shared by the peoples of both Korea and the United States, and there is a consensus on that view in the international community as a whole.
This clearly demonstrates that the alliance was a well-conceived strategic choice that has served the interests of the two countries across the whole spectrum of areas, including the security, economic, and other fields. The alliance between Korea and the United States has played a positive role in maintaining stability and prosperity not only on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, but indeed around the world.
In the last few years in Korean society, there have been some skepticism raised about the Korea-U.S. alliance. However, this process has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For the Korean people had the opportunity of going through a real soul-searching on even the most difficult issues related to the Korea-U.S. alliance. I am convinced that this process has served to prove the resilience of the alliance and strengthened the fundamentals for its continued development.
Last week on June 11, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution on the Korea-U.S. alliance. The resolution states, "President George W. Bush and President Roh Moo-hyun have demonstrated their mutual willingness to forge a deeper alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea to enhance stability in East Asia." It further states that "the U.S. House of Representatives recognizes the strong alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States and expresses appreciation to the Republic of Korea for its contributions to international efforts to combat terrorism." I believe this resolution is a reflection of the broad perception of the U.S. government and the people that the Korea-U.S. alliance remains strong and also demonstrates their support for the further development of the alliance in the years ahead.
□ The Korea-U.S. Alliance has been Adjusting in a Way to Meet the Needs of the Changing Environment
There is a perception that whilst there was practically no change in Korea-U.S. relations for 50 years, the relationship has suddenly undergone drastic change in recent years. This is not the case and is in fact no more than a myth. One might say that such a misconception could have arisen as Korea-U.S. relations have indeed been successfully managed. But such a perception may create difficulties for the efforts of the two governments to develop the relations in a future-oriented manner.
Korea-U.S. relations have not been like stagnant waters, but have rather been constantly evolving, adapting to a changing environment. The relations between Korea and the United States have at times gone through some growing pains. But it is precisely this that has enabled us to build the comprehensive and dynamic alliance we enjoy today.
Let us examine how the Korea-U.S. relations have changed by looking at the different aspects of the alliance.
With regard to the North Korean issue, there was a time when deterrence against North Korea was practically the sole concern of Korea and the United States. But, as we have witnessed the end of the Cold War, change in the international environment, as well as the signing of the South-North Basic Agreement in the early 1990's and the holding of the South-North Summit Meeting in the year 2000, our two countries are now pursuing a common policy to increase engagement with North Korea and bring about a positive change in the overall situation on the Korean Peninsula. In other words, when it comes to policy towards the North we have evolved into a stage at which we are cooperating in pursuit of comprehensive goals.
In the economic field, the main focus in the 1950's was the level of the United States' aid to Korea, as there were no significant two-way exchanges between the two countries. In the 1960's and 1970's, the Korean economy began to grow and the U.S. emerged as our major export market. At that time, the main issue between our two countries was our textile export quota to the U.S. By the 1980's and 1990's, Korea had become the United States' 7th largest trading partner and 12th trading nation in the world. As a result, economic exchanges between Korea and the United States expanded significantly both in terms of quality and quantity, and we have now reached the stage where Korea and the U.S. are planning conclude the FTA. As the level of cooperation increased, so did the number of trade disputes. Some of the key issues at that time were the opening of the Korean market, the U.S. trade deficit with Korea, and the anti-dumping issue.
There seems to be a perception widely prevalent that there has not been much change in the Korea-U.S. alliance in the military and security field in the last few decades. This also is not the case. First if you take a look at the number of U.S. Forces in Korea, since after the signing of the Armistice Agreement, the number was maintained at around 61,000 between 1964 and 1969. In 1971, President Nixon took the decision to reduce the number of troops to 41,000. This was followed by a gradual reduction of a scale of approximately 3,400 and 7,000 U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula during the Carter and the Senior Bush administrations respectively.
There have also been a series of small and large adjustments in base deployment. According to the Land Partnership Plan (LPP) of 2002, the two governments have agreed to consolidate 43 USFK bases around the country into 23 bases. Peacetime operational control (OPCON) was transferred to the Korean side in 1994, and a Korean general has assumed the position of the Senior Member of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC) since 1992, a position which had been held by a U.S. general for several decades. These examples clearly demonstrate the fact that the Korea-U.S. alliance has been continuously adjusting itself to respond to the change in the international environment and to each other's needs.
In short, the Korea-U.S. alliance is evolving.
The thing to keep in mind is that such a transformation be carried out while:
① maintaining the firm defense posture on the Korean Peninsula;
② contributing to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia;
③ ensuring a process of full consultations and agreement between the two countries;
④ meeting the needs of the two countries;
⑤ further promoting the future-oriented development of the alliance.
□ The Participatory Government is Continuing to Develop the Korea-U.S. Alliance to Meet the Needs of the Future
Since the inauguration of the Participatory Government, Korea and the United States have set the goal of building a more comprehensive and dynamic partnership, and have been working to accomplish this goal.
On the security front, our two countries have been closely working to modernize the alliance by reaching agreement on major alliance issues, such as the relocation and realignment of the USFK, strategic flexibility, and the transition of wartime operational control.
The base relocation project, including the transfer of the Yongsan Garrison, is aimed at laying a firm foundation for the future development of the alliance, by returning more land to the Korean people and providing a stable stationing environment for the USFK. Once the two countries fully implement the agreement reached between the two sides, USFK bases stationed all over the country will be consolidated into 17 bases within two regions. This would result in the U.S. returning 170 million square meters of land, which is a total of two-thirds of the present USFK base sites.
In addition, the two governments agreed on the transition of wartime operation control by 17 April 2012, based on the agreement to build the ROK led - U.S. supported defense posture. The two governments also agreed to maintain the number of USFK at 25,000, after reducing 12,500 personnel between the year 2005 and 2008. This reduction is now under way, along with efforts to augment the Korea-U.S. alliance, including the $11 billion investment to strengthen USFK capability from 2003 to 2006.
Regarding strategic flexibility, the two countries have fulfilled their needs by confirming that Korea respects the necessity for strategic flexibility of U.S. Forces in Korea while the United States respects the ROK's position that it shall not be involved in a regional conflict in Northeast Asia against the will of the Korean people.
Meanwhile, Korea and the United States are engaging in close consultations to improve the current Special Measures Agreement (SMA) formula by enhancing transparency, predictability and accountability in the negotiation and implementation process. Our goal is not to reduce the level of our burden-sharing but to assume a part of the USFK stationing costs in a more stable and rational manner.
These readjustments of the alliance have been carried out on the basis of careful consideration and joint studies into what kind of changes are required to improve the present system, such as through the "Comprehensive Security Assessment" and "Joint Vision Study" conducted between the military authorities of the two countries. It is a shared goal of Korea and the United States to develop the alliance so that it can respond more effectively to the changing security environment in the future, while maintaining the principle that its fundamental role of deterrence be strengthened.
In the economic field, not only have we managed to smoothly resolve various trade issues, we have now concluded the Korea-U.S. FTA negotiations, building a new institutional framework that will expand the economic possibilities for both countries.
The FTA negotiations achieved a balance of interests between the two countries.
Recently, due to a new Trade Policy on the part of the U.S., additional consultations will commence today. In this regard, the Korean government is of the position that it is absolutely essential that the Korea-U.S. FTA reflect a balance of interests between the two countries.
Korea anticipates a wide range of benefits from the Korea-U.S. FTA - increased trade, ensuring access to the U.S. market, enhanced productivity and efficiency due to investment and the opening of the services market. In addition to these economic benefits, the strategic implications of the Korea-U.S. FTA for the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia has also been noted.
In fact, the Korea-U.S. FTA is an example of a presidential agenda, a task which the Korean government has been strongly pursuing as part of a broader long-term national strategy, rather than having the immediate political gains or losses in mind. Considering the direct impact of the Korea-U.S. FTA on both countries' economies, as well as the general impact on the future relations between the two countries, I sincerely hope that the FTA will be ratified in our National Assembly as well as the U.S. Congress.
Furthermore, our two countries are currently working together to increase people-to-people exchanges with a view to strengthening the basis of our friendship. In this regard, Korea's efforts to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program hold particular importance. Currently, the U.S. Congress and administration are discussing new legislations that takes into account not just the criteria of the visa rejection rate but more comprehensive elements, including passport security. If this legislation is enacted, this is expected to create an even more favorable environment for Korea to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. The Korean government will continue to exert every possible effort to achieve the goal of Korea joining the Visa Waiver Program by early next year.
□ The Resolution of the North Korean Nuclear Issue is being Pursued through the Common and Broad Approach of Korea and the United States
For almost two decades, Korea and the United States have been cooperating to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
The Participatory Government, which was launched around the time when the North Korean nuclear crisis had again come to the fore, has been cooperating with the United States at a strategic level, while adhering steadfastly to the principle of no tolerance for North Korea's nuclear weapons, based on a broader perspective of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue peacefully and diplomatically and facilitating the peace process on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.
The North Korean nuclear issue remains the foremost security challenge. It first emerged in the 1960's when the North started taking an interest in nuclear development. Then in the 1980's the North earnestly engaged in nuclear development and in the early 1990's we experienced the first nuclear crisis. North Korea's nuclear development represents not only a major threat to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, but also a serious challenge to the international non-proliferation regime.
Korea and the U.S. have cooperated with the parties concerned since the North Korean nuclear issue reemerged in October 2002. As a result the relevant countries were able to adopt the September 19 Joint Statement at the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks in September 2005, which sets out the goals and principles of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, laying the foundation for the peaceful and diplomatic resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. The September 19 Joint Statement specifically mentions, inter alia, the abandonment of the North's nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, normalization of relations between the concerned states, economic cooperation, joint efforts for lasting peace and stability in Northeast Asia, and negotiations on a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula among the directly related parties at an appropriate separate forum.
In other words, the September 19 Joint Statement is not confined to the North Korean nuclear issue, but lays out a far-reaching blueprint for the security structure of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.
During the process of mapping out a concrete roadmap for the implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement, many ups and downs have been experienced such as the Banco Delta Asia (BDA) issue, North Korea's missile launch and nuclear test, and, consequently, the adoption of the UN Security Council resolutions against North Korea's actions.
Amidst these difficult circumstances, Korea and the U.S. have come to an agreement on the "common and broad approach" at the bilateral summit meeting in September 2006, and on this basis, have been actively dealing with these challenges. Our two nations share the view that the North Korean nuclear issue cannot be resolved through an approach modeled after a surgical operation that focuses solely on the nuclear issue.
Rather, Korea and the United States see eye to eye on the need to take a comprehensive and multi-layered approach that addresses the North's security concerns and economic difficulties. For the most effective way is to take an approach in which various elements, including the enhancement of U.S.-North Korea and South-North Korea relations, the launching of a peace process on the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a multilateral security system in Northeast Asia, form part of a concentric arc.
One can raise the question, what if despite all these efforts, North Korea decides not to give up its nuclear program? Korea and the U.S. believe that we are fully capable of convincing North Korea that it has more to lose than to gain from possessing nuclear weapons. The two countries are determined let North Korea clearly recognize that there lies a brighter future for the North if it chooses to give up its nuclear weapons as opposed to not giving them up.
The essence of the "common and broad approach" pursued by Korea and the U.S. is to bring North Korea onto the right side of history, resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, and advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. The leaders of Korea and the U.S. share such strategic goal. Based upon that, the two governments laid out the basic framework for maintaining close coordination.
To resolve the BDA issue, Korea and the United States have exerted our utmost diplomatic efforts to come up with a concrete solution. In the process, I have had frequent contacts with foreign ministers from the countries concerned, and in particular, with U.S. Secretary of State Rice through numerous meetings and phone calls. I applaud the U.S. government for its willingness and efforts to resolve this technical issue from a larger strategic goal. I also appreciate that the relevant countries cooperated in resolving the BDA issue without losing sight of the strategic goal of upholding the February 13 Agreement.
Even though the implementation of the February 13 Agreement has been delayed for several months, I believe that we are now back on the right path. Therefore, each country should embark on the process of the prompt implementation of the Initial Actions of the February Agreement. For our part, we will provide the North with 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil in tandem with the North's implementation of the Initial Actions. Other countries participating in the Six Party Talks too will provide energy to the North. North Korea has already begun to take the necessary measures to shut down and seal the Yongbyun nuclear facility and invite back the IAEA personnel. Rather than adhering to a strict simultaneity, we need to take a proactive attitude in the implementation of these reciprocal steps. As this view is shared by the relevant countries, we will be able to see concrete actions from this week.
Along with the swift implementation of the Initial Actions, the next round of the Six-Party Talks will have to be resumed at an early date to discuss plans for implementing the next phase actions, such as complete declaration of list of nuclear programs, disablement, economic assistance to North Korea and normalization of U.S.-North Korea relations.
In addition, we will seek ways to generate political impetus to facilitate the denuclearization and the peace process on the Korean Peninsula and open up a new chapter of multilateral security cooperation in Northeast Asia.
The Korean and U.S. governments share the assessment that bringing the denuclearization process to a solid stage and consolidating the peace process on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia is in the interest of all relevant countries and are closely cooperating with each other to accomplish this strategic goal. If North Korea clearly decides on the abandonment of all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs Korea and the U.S. are prepared to move forward in a proactive manner at a fast pace.
□ Conclusion : The Future of the Korea-U.S. Alliance is Bright and Beneficial to All
As I have pointed out, Korea and the U.S., as treaty allies, have been consistently developing our relationship to meet the needs of the changing environment over the past half century.
The reason why the alliance remains strong is because there have always been 'common interests' between the two countries. The paradigm of the 'common interests' changes depending upon the circumstances. Moreover, in realizing a common objective, the necessary means and the method of mobilizing resources also change. Therefore, there is a need to have the flexibility to adjust as needed.
The initial paradigm soon after the birth of the alliance was security and economic cooperation to gain predominance in the Cold War rivalry. In the current paradigm, the emphasis is more on cooperation through engagement on the Korean Peninsula, in Northeast Asia and beyond, with the promotion of democracy, the market economy and universal values as the major premise. In other words, 'common values' have emerged as an important pillar.
As a result, there exists now the following vision for cooperation between Korea and the United States, and the two countries are strengthening strategic cooperation to that end:
- On the Korean Peninsula, we are striving to ①peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, ②change the armistice regime to a peace regime and ③realize democracy, freedom and prosperity on the entire Peninsula through ultimate peaceful unification.
- In Northeast Asia, we are making efforts to ①maintain stability, peace and prosperity in the region, ②institutionalize multilateral security cooperation, and ③ensure that the U.S. role for regional stability continues.
- In the global arena, we are striving to ①advance universal values, ②prevent the spread of WMD, and ③cope with key international threats and challenges in such areas as Iraq and Afghanistan.
- In terms of the bilateral relations between Korea and the U.S., expanding common economic space through the Korea-U.S. FTA, and expanding people-to-people exchanges through Korea's joining the U.S. Visa Waiver Program will be of a particular importance.
During the past half century, the Korea-U.S. alliance has provided Korea with opportunities for peace, stability and prosperity. The future of the Korea-U.S. alliance will be of an exemplary alliance, evolving to actively contribute to peace and stability in not only Korea, but also in Northeast Asia and the world.
President Koo of the Association introduced me as having worked most of my thirty-two year career on Korea-U.S. relations. In real life economy, what people feel about market conditions is more important that economic theory. What I feel about Korea-U.S. relations is that more than ever, it is evolving in a positive direction. Today I mentioned the 'balance of interests' and 'common interests.' Korea and the U.S. are evolving our relationship with a strategic and comprehensive view, by finding the balance of our common interests, and by searching and sharing solutions to our needs. I believe that Korea-U.S. relations should continue to evolve this way.
There are those who argue that recently Korea-U.S. relations are not very well. I have asked them to pinpoint the problems, but have not been able to receive any specific answers. As a cabinet minister of the government, I regret that such misunderstandings have happened at all, but I can assure you, with confidence, that in reality Korea-U.S. relations are very good.
Thank you very much for listening to my words on this major topic of Korea-U.S. relations.