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Conference Report: International Workshop on the U.S.-ROK Alliance

Edited by Donald W. Boose Jr..

March 11, 1996

38 Pages

Brief Synopsis

In October 1995, scholars, military officers, diplomats, journalists, public figures, and concerned private citizens of the two alliance partners and regional states gathered in Seoul, Korea, to assess the impact of these changes and to seek new directions for the alliance. The Strategic Studies Institute is pleased to have co-hosted this international workshop on the U.S.-ROK Alliance in collaboration with the Institute for Far Eastern Studies of Kyungnam University and in partnership with The Korea Society and the Defense Nuclear Agency. This conference report summarizes the deliberations of the participants.

For nearly half a century, the security alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States has deterred aggression and helped assure stability in Northeast Asia. The alliance has stood firm through war and tumultuous political, economic, and social change. Much of the change in Northeast Asia has been positive and the Republic of Korea is now one of the advanced democratic industrial countries of the world. The countries of Northeast Asia, along with the United States, with its deep ties of history and interest in the area, now look ahead to a region which will progress rapidly as the Cold War recedes and the few remaining communist states undergo inevitable transformation.


The international workshop on the U.S.-ROK Alliance was held in Seoul, Korea, October 5-7, 1995. The workshop was organized by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) of Kyungnam University and the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) of the U.S. Army War College in partnership with the Defense Nuclear Agency and The Korea Society.

In their welcoming addresses, Dr. Kwak Tae-Hwan (Director of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, Kyungnam University), Dr. Park Jae Kyu (President of Kyungnam University), Colonel John R. O'Shea (Director of the SSI Strategic Outreach Program Office), and Dr. David I Steinberg (The Korea Society and The Asia Foundation) stressed the longevity and strength of the alliance and set the conference agenda: to discuss problems and suggest future directions to strengthen the alliance so that it may continue to promote peace and security. In his keynote address, Lieutenant General Richard F. Timmons (Commanding General, Eighth U.S. Army and Chief of Staff, ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command, United Nations Command, and U.S. Forces Korea) reminded the workshop participants of the preponderance of North Korean military force but noted the Republic of Korea's economic prowess and qualitative military edge. General Timmons characterized the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command as the most effective alliance in the world. He noted that North Korea is increasingly isolated and its former military allies now have much closer diplomatic and economic ties with a Republic of Korea which is deeply engaged in the global network of advanced nations.

During the first session, Prof Lho Kyongsoo (Seoul National University) traced the changes which have occurred since the inception of the alliance. He sees the alliance dealing in the future with such issues as arms control and suggested that, even after reunification, geostrategic factors of location and size will provide a basis for a continued security partnership. Dr. John Merrill (U.S. Department of State) stressed the way in which the partnership has adapted to change, benefiting both partners. He suggested that the current approach of engagement with the North is both a necessary adaptation and consistent with the policies both alliance partners have pursued over the past decade. Dr. Peter Hayes (Nautilus Institute) suggested that the concept of extended nuclear deterrence may no longer be relevant to Korea, particularly in light of the current U.S. capability to respond with conventional means. He also suggested that replacement of the Armistice Agreement with another security mechanism is essential to progress in engagement with the North.

In the second session, Prof Wang Fei-ling (Georgia Institute of Technology) provided a plausible speculation on the attitudes of the Chinese leaders, suggesting that they find a divided, but stable Korea with a U.S. military force presence to be consistent with their interests. But a continued troop presence in a unified Korea would be so threatening to Chinese leaders that they would work to prevent such an outcome. Prof Tsuchiyama Jitsuo (Aoyama Gakuin University) discussed the intellectual underpinnings of the concept of alliance and concluded that the Japan-U.S. and ROK-U.S. Alliances are likely to endure because of the shared interests of the alliance partners; the institutionalization of the alliance relationships; the reassurance that the alliances bring to both the security partners and the regional neighbors; and because the alliances are cost effective. Dr. Nikolai A. Geronin (ITAR- TASS Seoul Bureau) raised the possibility that, with the great changes that have taken place in the world, the alliance might now be seen as an obstacle to reunification and thus to the very peace and security it professes to protect. He also expressed concern that two of the great powers of the region--China and Russia--are not more involved in the Korea dialogue.

During the third session, Prof Han Yang-Sup (Korean National Defense University) examined the combined U.S.-ROK approach to the North Korean nuclear issue. He pointed out that, in the process of achieving the accords, the alliance underwent some strains, particularly since the South-North dialogue has not yet been reestablished. In spite of the problems he identified, Prof. Han suggested that the two allies have demonstrated that they can, together, cope with the most complex, challenging, and highly politicized of problems and still secure a positive outcome. Prof Takesada Hideshi (Japanese National Institute for Defense Studies) traced the negotiations leading to the U.S.-DPRK nuclear Agreed Framework and speculated on North Korea's motives in pursuing a nuclear program. He expressed concern about some aspects of the nuclear Agreed Framework and suggested a future policy which includes both incentives and sanctions. Dr. Larry Niksch (U.S. Congressional Research Service) argued that the Clinton administration strategy is based on several assumptions, including a belief in the near-term collapse of the DPRK. He warned that delays in implementing the Agreed Framework may boost the cost of providing North Korea with light water reactors (LWR) and increase congressional criticism. He also suggested that the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) may provide a useful and effective model for U.S.-ROK-Japan cooperation in addressing the problems posed by North Korea. Mr. Selig S. Harrison (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) reported on his recent talks with North Korean officials, who proposed replacement of the current Armistice Agreement with a two-track security dialogue beginning with U.S.-DPRK military talks. Mr. Harrison argued that North-South dialogue must begin simultaneously with any U.S.-DPRK talks, and that true tension reduction is a precondition to dissolution of the United Nations Command. Nonetheless, he considered the North Korean proposal to be worthy of serious consideration.

During the fourth session, Prof Kim Woo Sang (Sookmyung Women's University) proposed a "limited no first use" regime, in which nuclear powers would renounce the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. Prof. Kim also provided a persuasive argument as to why post-reunification Korea should be neither nuclear nor neutral and introduced the concept of Korea as a "pivotal power." Prof William T Pendley (U.S. Air War College) proposed a U.S. strategy which supports enduring American interests in a time of dynamic change. He argued for a continued U.S. force presence as essential to regional security, but stressed that capabilities and commitment, rather than some specific number of military personnel, are key to security and stability. Prof William E. Berry (U.S. Air Force Academy) traced the history and impact of the institutional tension between the American executive and legislative branches on U.S. Korea policy. He noted that, at present, the two branches are in general agreement about the U.S. force presence in Korea and suggested that this is because the North Korean nuclear issue has taken center stage in the policy debate.

In the final session, Dr. Edward A. Olsen (U.S. Naval Postgraduate School) reviewed the historical, institutional, and other factors impeding resolution of the Korean issue. He argued that the United States should be more proactive and suggested several bold approaches, including a proposal for a multilateral summit in which regional powers would demonstrate commitment to Korean reunification while leaving the actual reunification process in the hands of the two Koreas. Colonel William Drennan (Institute of National Strategic Studies, National Defense University) argued for a "peace system" based on existing agreements and emphasizing measures to improve transparency, reduce the dangers of accidental war, and create a more stable, defense-oriented force relationship. Dr. Lee Choon Kun (Sejong Institute) suggested that Korea has already experienced a measure of arms control through U.S. measures to inhibit ROK military development. Noting that the ROK now has the capability to wage an arms race on its own, he suggested that the United States use its newly-established links to influence North Korea while maintaining its alliance commitment to the ROK.

The discussants, with the enthusiastic participation from the larger workshop community, helped fine-tune the proposals made by the presenters and identified the concerns felt by many as the alliance navigates through new waters. Clearly there are problems. The growing symmetry of the relationship has led to a weighing of the benefits to each partner and an increased emphasis on economic and trade considerations. The process of engaging the North has revealed schisms within the alliance due to differing perspectives and objectives.

None of these problems is new, however. Over the past half-century, the alliance has weathered mutual suspicion, misperceptions, and debate over allocation of resources, strategic concepts, and objectives. If it endures, it will be because the two partners share a community of values and interests and the strength that comes from a long-standing, institutionalized relationship.

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