Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Korea: From Ally to ‘Partner’

Chosun Ilbo has a piece up about Condoleezza Rice’s recent comments concerning the American-Korean alliance. They write:
“U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls South Korea a "global partner" but Japan and Australia "allies” in an article in the July-August issue of bimonthly journal Foreign Affairs, in what appears the latest manifestation of a subtle shift in America’s regional focus.”

While her comments are not a retaliation to the recent beef import nonsense in Korea (that likely reached its zenith last night), it does go to show the way the U.S. and Korea may work together on some key factors, our relationship has been seriously strained in the last 20 years. Chosun goes on to say:
“There is a suggestion that while Rice views Japan and Australia as allies, she regards South Korea as “merely” a partner in U.S. national security matters. That hints at a changing concept of security strategies in the U.S. regarding Asia and the Pacific. Indeed, it is becoming something of a trend in the U.S. to call South Korea a "partner", in contrast to Japan and Australia, which have been more fulsome in their support of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.”

I would disagree that our relationship with Korea has been strained only under President Bush’s presidency. For a number of reasons (some fair but most mindless), anti-American feelings are common amongst the Korean population as a whole, and the beef protests are a perfect representation of that. At the heart of that issue, is the fear among Koreans that the American government does not care about their safety, and is going to send them food that is contaminated. I have heard Korean protesters falsely assert that America is sending meat to Korea that they won’t even feed to their dogs. This belief is not rooted in fact, but it none the less caught on like wildfire, and goes to show a deep distrust amongst the Korean population towards the United States. Lies and mischaracterizations about the United States catch on so easily because there is so little confidence, which is why I see recent protests as rooted in anti-Americanism even if they are not burning American flags and calling for American blood.

But I digress. Rice wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs, where she makes an important point as to why Korea has been downgraded to a “partner” in recent years.
“Democratization is also deepening across the Asia-Pacific region... This is expanding our circle of allies and advancing the goals we share.”

The number of nations in the American political orbit has increased, making our special relationship between the United States and Korea that was forged after the Korean War looking like a relic of the past. With many candidates rethinking our trade relationship, and with the slow move of troops off the peninsula, our previous alliance may have run its course.


section9 said...

Rice has been criticized by people who should know better (like John Bolton, for instance) for her persistent engagement of the North in the Six Party arrangement. She continues down this path because she understands that in five years, North Korea won't exist.

Inevitably, this will lead to reunification under the authority of Seoul. This will only happen with Beijing's allowance and consent. Implicit in all this is a strictly neutral Korea.

She simply is allowing for future events, is all. The Koreans don't want us there, anyway.

Daniel Stark said...

Another great analysis of South Korea. I wonder what the future will hold in American-South Korean relations.

I can understand people being upset with the United States, but these beef protests run on absurdity. Hell, I don't even remember the last time there has been a mad cow report on the news (and I live in Minnesota!). If this protectionist fervor continues for too long, we'll look elsewhere in the region for markets. These protesters don't seem to look in the longterm.

hydralisk said...

'Partner'? I thought 'partner' indicated someone you were having sex with? That's not so bad, is it? If a tryst with Korea can make the formal relationship we have with the Japanese look platonic by comparison, perhaps the resulting jealousy can work to our advantage?

Roland Dodds said...

Hey Stark:

“If this protectionist fervor continues for too long, we'll look elsewhere in the region for markets.”

While I doubt the actual beef protests will our larger trade and military agreements, I think we are seeing the end of the close relationship the US shared with Korea. The steps are already taking place to end the FTA and move a bulk of our military out, so this beef spat will only go to show that no friendly alliance goes unchallenged. The only benefit these protests have is to make the Korean protester feel like they are standing up for their dignity, while the rest of the world rolls its eyes.


Maybe we will have a relationship where both our nations have a steamy night out, and then fail to call each other for a few weeks!

Eco said...

I am sorry to do this again, but this post needs an opposing view.

I get the sense from your post and from the comments on your post that anti-Americanism in Korea is causing the weakening of the US-Korea alliance. I would say that anti-Americanism is actually the result of diverging national interests.

There are many reasons a country or a group of people might harbor anti-Americanism...or any kind of sentiments. Of course, America is going to be the target of many pro and anti- sentiments, since it is the strongest and wealthiest country in the world. But that is not the only reason why other nations might like or fear America.

Other nations respond to America's policies. The overall changes seen in the US-Korea alliance is a reflection of the changing interests these two countries have.

For about fifty years, US and Korean interests remained pretty much the same due to mainly the geopolitical reasons in Asia. But changing times and new settings require a different set of interests. This is what's happening right now with S.Korea regaining its operational control over its military and relocation of American troops.

America and S.Korea have different views regarding North Korea. For America, it's just an "Axis of Evil" that has some nuclear weapons that need to go away. For most of his years, Bush has been very hawkish and did not engage with North Korea.

For South Korea, North Korea presents a far more complex and complicated problem. It is at once an enemy and a brother. If anything goes wrong on the Korean peninsula, S.Korea will take direct hits. It needs to prevent Kim's regime from collapsing, which will cause a huge uncontrollable refuge crisis, control issues, and loose nuke issues. At the same time, S.Korea has to look to the future as well as it will have to eventually reunite with N.Korea. These complex problems require S.Korea to be a lot more open to North Korea, hence the Sunshine Policy.

Bush's unilateral and hawkish approach to the North has deteriorated the little progress that has been made between the two Koreas. This is where some of the anti-American sentiment comes from. There are a whole bunch of other issues: Careless conduct of US troops in Korea(a tank running over two girls), its support of authoritarian regime during the GuangJu democracy movement, etc.

There are clearly conflicting interests between US and Korea, and that is being translated into conflicting feelings as well. Pointing out the Korean people's anti-Americanism without understanding the issues at heart misses the important points. Don't you think it's wrong to ask Korean people to like Bush when Bush pursues polices that goes against Korean interest? Or simply put, even Americans don't trust the Bush administration, not many people in this world trust that administration...isn't it kind of funny to assume that Koreans should just like and trust America?

An about the American troops relocating out of Korea. This is also more of a policy issue rather than Korea's anti-Americanism. You correctly point out that the special relationship is a relic of the past. I think that's the correct characterization of the current situation.

I don't mean to just argue with you. I just wish to present the other side of the issue. And I really don't like to see fractures arising between Americans and Koreans because of misunderstandings. Hopefully my comments helped some people understand better about the anti-Americanism in Korea. The important thing though is that S.Korean people fully embrace democracy and capitalism. It genuinely likes the American ideals.


Roland Dodds said...


Thanks for posting. This is how I see it.

America and Korea do have diverging interests. Alliances come and go, and aspects of this current one are nearing its end. But I am sorry to say, anti-Americanism in Korea is a part of the growing rift. Even when the Sunshine Policy was rejected by the electorate in Korea this last year, there continues to be those who think the main force against “reunification” on the peninsula is the United States. The fact that any person can truly believe this is beyond the pale, but 34% of the new officer recruits believed America to be South Korea’s main enemy. This again, just illuminates how the average Korean holds the United States.

Korea and the United States do not share a vision for foreign policy. That’s fine. What I find so unfortunate is the way some Korean parties have drummed up this idea that it’s the American government that is to fear and scorn. Concerning this beef protest, what I find the most insulting is the way a “candle light” event was used, and brought record numbers of people into the streets. If the South had that level of commitment to the people escaping from the North or the terrible tyranny they live under, reunification may have been achieved by now. But the protesters (and their left wing political party backers) are silent on issues that actually matter.

More importantly however, the United States military is here only as long as the Korean government asks them to be here. Colin Powell made clear “if the Korean people want us here, we are here. If they don't want us here, we will go home.'' It is really that simple for Korea: once they can take control of full operations, they can ask the United States to leave. But previous governments knew that it was easier to put off that date when they would take upon the full responsibility and cost of this operation. President Roh knew it well, even when he was stroking anti-American feelings throughout the country.

And of course, the situation with Korea is more important to Koreans than it is to the US. When, and I do say when, Kim’s regime falls, it is going to cost South Korea far more than it took for West Germany to incorporate East Germany. I believe this cost to be worth it.

But the Sunshine Policy, and the blind idealism that its followers held to, is not going to make reconciliation possible. NK’s regime is not able to change and adapt because it would mean the very end of that regime. For all this talk about Korean pride I hear in recent protests, it is astounding how the South co-tailed and gave in to the worst regime on the face of the earth and got absolutely nothing in return. It didn’t move the North an inch closer to peace and it only secured its regime some more time. The policy failed, and I hope that is what the last election proved.

The points you brought up as to why Koreans don’t like America (the truck/schoolgirl incident from 02 specifically) were situations created by Korean left groups to fuel that very anti-Americanism. As terrible as that situation was, it did not warrant the response it received (with groups going out saying the Americans wanted to hit the girls, and calling it callous). The media helped play into those feelings as well, the very way they have over this beef protest: by lying outright to the Korean population.

Again, as terrible as two kids getting hit by a car is, it brought more people out than any real criticisms of the North and its totalitarianism. Protests against the treatment of their fellow countrymen in the North are few and far between and sparingly attended. Where is the unified front against that injustice?

There isn’t one, because it is far easier (and safer) to hold America to a standard not applied to any other. There is not consequence for it, and so it has become to whipping boy when general levels of support need to be whipped up for a cause.

Anonymous said...

The protests in Seoul have everything to do with America hating. I live in the Gwanghwamun area, and I have talked to more than a few of the protesters this week, and they all believed that America was going to hurt Koreans because they don’t “respect” them.

The New Centrist said...

I agree with Eco's primary point. The interests of the US and SK are not analogous. OK, what next?

I also agree that a conflict of interest can lead to xenophobia. It happens here in the US and all over the world.

However, there are also, deeper, psychological elements at play and the political elements Roland describes are skilled at manipulating those fears. There are similar political forces here in the US.

When Eco writes:

“For America, it's just an "Axis of Evil" that has some nuclear weapons that need to go away.”

This is a dangerously simplistic notion of American foreign policy regarding NK. We are not worried NK will launch a strike against SK or any of our other allies (or, in this case, partners). We are worried a cash strapped and lunatic regime that possesses nuclear weapons (like NK) will sell those weapons to our enemies. This is no small matter to our foreign policy establishment, hawkish (DoD) or not (State Department).

Most people in the U.S. foreign policy community want to see a democratic, prosperous, and united Korea. The question is less when but how integration or reunification is to be achieved. It will be much more difficult and costly than the two Germanys. The infrastructure and technology of E. Germany was many years behind the West. But the population was reasonably educated, well-fed, etc. The same cannot be said for NK.

Roland also is correct in pointing out who guarantees American forces remain in SK. It is the government of SK. When they want us to leave, we will leave. Same with Europe.

In both cases, they would prefer the US subsidize their defense so they can spend government revenues on domestic programs. The governments realize this so they continually ask us to stay.

For the record, I do not think it is in either of our best interests to continue this way. I do not think the U.S. should retreat from the world. But there are a number of relatively safe, wealthy, countries who do not need their armed forces subsidized by the American tax-payer. When we leave, or threaten to, it will finally provide an incentive for these countries to start investing in their own defense.

Eco said...

To The New Centrist...

I absolutely agree with most of the points that you make. Just to clear up, when i said that North Korea is just an "Axis of Evil" and that the main concern for the US is its nuclear weapons, I did not mean to simplify the complexity of the challenge that NK crisis presents. I meant to point out the differences in how SK views NK and how America views NK. Of course, the real problem is proliferation and transfer of those weapons, hence the focus on nuclear weapons rather than engagement. Just wanted to make that clearer, because i completely agree with you on that point.

Where i have a different opinion is in regard to the military deployment in SK. I acknowledge that part of the deal is decided by what SK wants, and I do not deny the fact that many Korean officials, especially the conservatives, want the U.S. troops to stay. I think these people are being lazy just relying on the American lives for their protection when they should really be working hard to figure out the best way to defend themselves with their own might. The final decision about where to deploy troops, however, really is made by the American government.

The current move to decrease the number of troops in SK and to relocate those troops elsewhere, such as Hawaii, is made by the American government(DoD), according to their strategic needs. Like you pointed out, there are wealthy countries that can handle their own security. And many agree that SK is safe or at least has enough capabilities to build its defenses if it needs to. So this is another point that I agree with you that there are some places where America can reduce its presence without causing too much trouble. I doubt that America would listen to Koreans if America really thought that it was better to pull out.