US forces’ presence hinders peninsula self-determination

By Li Jiacheng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/4 10:41:18

During an interview with Fox News on September 25, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that the two Koreas and the US had generally formed a consensus over the fact that a declaration to end the war should be issued as soon as possible. However, he added, "Even after the conclusion of the Peace Treaty and further after the conclusion of the peace treaty and achievement of the reunification of the Korean, the US Forces are needed to stay on the Korean peninsula for the sake of the peace and stability of the Northeast Asian Region."  

Some say that signing a war-ending declaration would lead to a crack in the Washington-Seoul alliance and a pullout of the US Forces Korea (USFK), and will affect the status of the UN Command. Moon's words can be seen as a response.

North Korea has been demanding that the US withdraw its forces from South Korea, not deploy its strategic forces on the Korean Peninsula, and to stop protecting South Korea under the nuclear umbrella to achieve complete denuclearization. But Moon's words may not affect the further development of the two Koreas' relations, because both sides had discussed it before.

During the Q&A session on the 2018 Inter-Korean Summit Pyeongyang, Moon said that "a political declaration to end the war should first be made, and should be regarded as a starting point for peace negotiations to arrive at a peace treaty, and when the North achieves complete denuclearization, the peace treaty should be signed and North Korea-US relations can simultaneously be normalized," and that the declaration "will in no way affect the status of the UN Command, the necessity for the US forces stationed in the South or other related matters." He also said, "Regarding the issue of the US forces, they are stationed in the South pursuant to the South Korea-US alliance, and thus [their status] depends entirely on a decision made between South Korea and the United States, regardless of a declaration of an end to the war or a peace treaty. Chairman Kim agreed to this." "A peace treaty would be reached in the final stage wherein complete denuclearization is fulfilled. Until then, the existing Armistice System would be maintained," Moon said.

From Moon's words, it is obvious that he communicated with Kim during the third Moon-Kim summit and won Kim's understanding and approval. Moon has played an important role in persuading Kim, but it's also closely related to Pyongyang's own interests.

Pyongyang's most important diplomatic appeal to Washington is signing the war-ending declaration. North Korea wants to end their hostile relations and attain denuclearization as soon as possible, as well as achieve a peaceful environment that benefits its economic development. To persuade the US to sign the war-ending declaration, South Korea may agree that the US forces can still stay.

The US has been deploying forces in South Korea since 1953, with approximately 28,500 US troops in the country at present. The US still has South Korea's wartime operational control, and the USFK will affect the situation on the peninsula and the security of East Asia.

North Korea's temporary concession is expedient. It has agreed to let the USFK stay on the peninsula, hoping that the US will sign the war-ending declaration. Once signed, Pyongyang may change its position again. After all, the USFK makes Pyongyang feel more unsafe compared to South Korean forces.

The Chinese People's Volunteer Army withdrew from the Korean Peninsula in 1958, showing the world that China loves peace and never interferes in other countries' domestic affairs. But the US still keeps its forces on the peninsula, which keeps the Cold War structure in the region. The issue of the end-of-war declaration would only tell the outside world that the war status has ended, but still can't change the Cold War structure.

If the peninsula is reunified in the future, whether the USFK will be realigned to the China-North Korea border will be a significant security issue which influences China-US strategic balance. Countries that host the USFK will be forced to take part in a major power geopolitical game and will be hard for them to extricate themselves. That's the strategic price these countries need to pay for hosting the USFK, and the price may be too high.

Moon Jae-in hopes that the US-South Korea military alliance goes beyond an economic alliance and will expand into a global partnership. It means that the US-South Korea alliance will be weakened. Whether their alliance can be turned into a global partnership depends on the US' attitude.

The US-South Korea alliance is an imbalanced one, as South Korea is relatively weaker. South Korea is dependent on and obedient to the US' dominance, while the US leads the future of their alliance. Such a condition will harm South Korea's diplomatic independence, national defense, strategic initiative, and make the country fall into "flunkeyism."

The US and South Korea haven't reached a consensus on burden sharing in support of the US military presence in South Korea. It shows that there are rising tensions between the two allies. "We have 25,000 soldiers over there protecting them. They don't pay us. Why don't they pay us?" complained Donald Trump in 2016 before he was elected US president.

At the third Moon-Kim summit, the two leaders waved the flag of self-determination. But how can a peninsula which allows the USFK's permanent stay achieve self-determination? It is obviously a deceptive daydream. We hope that the two Koreas will wake up from that dream, and re-weigh the pros and cons of letting the USFK stay on the peninsula.

The author is a research fellow at the research center for economies and politics of transitional countries of Liaoning University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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