ICAS Special Contribution


Alliance at Risk:
How the U.S. Congress Currently Views U.S.-Korean Relations

Dennis P. Halpin

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3289
Email: icas@icasinc.org

Biographic Sketch & Links: Dennis P. Halpin

[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge the special contribution with written permission from the author to ICAS.

Alliance at Risk:
How the U.S. Congress Currently Views U.S.-Korean Relations

Dennis P. Halpin
Professional Staff
East Asian Affairs
Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives *

Presented at: The Korean Association of International Studies (KAIS) Conference
March 25, 2005
Seoul, Republic of Korea

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen: Let me thank the Korean Association of International Studies for hosting this very timely conference. I also wish to offer special thanks to Dr. Sang-Hyun Lee, Director of the Security Studies Program at the Sejong Institute, for his diligence in organizing a conference with speakers from both sides of the Pacific. It is an honor to be here.

I also extend best wishes for the conference and its success from the Chairman of the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Henry J. Hyde. Chairman Hyde, as some persons in Seoul are seemingly not aware, is one of the longest-serving and most distinguished Members of the House of Representatives. Most importantly, he is one of the last of the World War II generation serving in the Congress, a generation called "the Greatest Generation" by American journalist Tom Brokaw. I have read that the widespread existence of collaborators in South Korea during the World War II period has required the establishment of a "Truth Commission" by the National Assembly here, along the South African model. I mention this because Chairman Hyde was serving at that time under General MacArthur, fighting against Japanese imperial forces in the Philippines to remove the scourge of fascism from the face of the earth. Korea was one of many nations in the world thus liberated by the efforts of Chairman Hyde and his fellow World War II veterans. Chairman Hyde's record as an influential Member of Congress speaks for itself. One need look no further than a March 16th vote on the floor of the House of Representatives on a Hyde-sponsored resolution, H. Con. Res. 98, "Expressing the grave concern of Congress regarding the recent passage of the Anti-Secession Law by the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China." The 424 to 4 vote in favor of the resolution shows the esteem which Chairman Hyde's colleagues hold for his expertise on Asian issues. Opinions expressed by some in Seoul seem to be to the contrary. I had been taught, when I was in the Peace Corps in Korea over thirty years ago, that younger men making disparaging remarks in public about their senior, an elderly man, is the highest impropriety in Confucian culture. I must assume, based on recent remarks made about Chairman Hyde, that Confucian etiquette is no longer the measure of what constitutes a gentleman in Korea.

I should also add that alleging "interference" in South Korea's internal affairs over comments addressing alliance issues seems overly one-sided. Alliances, by their very nature, are a two-way street and may be commented on by both sides. South Korean parents were reportedly very concerned over the dispatch of 3,600 ROK troops to Iraq to assist that nation, as South Korea was once so generously assisted, with restoration of order after conflict. The South Korean public raised very vocal questions about this deployment, an action for which the American government and people remain extremely grateful. But who, then, in this country can assert that American mothers and fathers have no right to express concern about the possibility that 690,000 of their children may be sent to this far-off land in some future conflict? Who can call such concern "interference" in internal Korean affairs? Who has the insensitivity to say that these American parents, through their duly elected Representatives in the American Congress, have no voice in what happens to their own children in Korea? Demanding an "apology" for expression of such concern also seems to be parroting North Korean propaganda which demands a similar apology from Secretary of State Rice over her "outposts of tyranny" remark. Secretary Rice, as you are aware, named six "outposts of tyranny" in her Senate confirmation hearing. Given what the Congress has learned about the excessive human rights abuses in North Korea, I can state clearly that Ms. Rice would have been open to criticism on Capitol Hill if she had omitted Pyongyang from this list.

The question placed before me to address at this conference is the current attitude held by leading Members of the U.S. Congress regarding the state of the alliance between the United States of America and the Republic of Korea (ROK). I will address this issue with the focus on the U.S. House of Representatives, where I am employed. It is unfortunate that an article published March 11th in the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, titled "U.S. Congress Catches South Korea Chill," reflected a great deal of truth about current attitudes of Members of the American Congress.

The Chosun Ilbo reported to its readers that: Hyde's statement (at a March 10th International Relations Committee hearing) reflects what many within the U.S. Congress have been silently thinking. Both Washington and Seoul have been stressing the solid nature of the alliance through summits and discussions between foreign ministers, but congressional conservatives and especially Korea experts with civilian think tanks say fundamental disagreements lie just below the surface. 1

What exactly did Chairman Hyde say that drew the attention of the Korean press? I have brought copies of his statement for conference participants. The Chairman raised three fundamental points with regard to the alliance: 1) that we must stand together in confronting the North Korean nuclear crisis, even if that means holding back economic incentives as long as Pyongyang is engaged in nuclear blackmail and until such time as it enters into sincere negotiations within the six party framework; 2) that the Republic of Korea Ministry of National Defense 2004 white paper caused confusion in Washington by deleting North Korea's designation as "the main enemy" while presenting, at the same time, "the great expectation" of deployment of 690,000 U.S. troops to the peninsula over four times the number deployed in Iraq -- in case of a conflict; and 3) expressing disquietude that North Korean propaganda was gaining receptivity with certain younger and left-leaning elements in Seoul. Chairman Hyde's statement "if you need our help, please tell us clearly who your enemy is" drew special attention in South Korea.

From a Washington perspective, the Chairman's words were quite understandable. For Congress reflects the thinking of the American people, the constituents whom all Members serve. And Americans have, historically, taken a largely isolationist view of world events. Only catastrophes or near catastrophes, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Cuban missile crisis, or the September 11th attack can fully engage American public attention toward the world stage. Many Americans listen to the words of our first president, George Washington, in his Farewell Address of 1796 on the difficulties caused by entering into entangling alliances: It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world. 2

American leaders who get too far out ahead of George Washington in this regard, like Woodrow Wilson with the Treaty of Versailles, do so at their peril. The isolationist Senate, even after viewing the carnage of the First World War, voted that treaty down. We do not really have a recorded vote of what the Congress thought of Harry Truman's solitary decision to sign an executive order calling for a "police action" to assist the Republic of Korea in 1950 in repelling the sudden attack of North Korea. The deliberateness of this North Korean attack was confirmed by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's release of the Soviet Archives on the Korean War despite a contrary view on the origins of that war expressed to me by some South Korean students, over a decade ago, when I was American consul in Pusan. Truman circumvented a war-weary Congress and did not seek a declaration of war. Instead, Truman went directly to the UN for support, since the Soviets were conveniently boycotting the Security Council on the China question. One could possibly say, with regard to America's commitment to come to the aid of South Korea, never have so many owed so much to one solitary man Harry S. Truman. Tragic and inexcusable events like the mass shooting of refugees at Nogunri, in the opening days of the war, do not diminish the fact that Harry S. Truman is the savior of South Korean democracy. A decade earlier, even Franklin Roosevelt hesitated in going to the Congress for a declaration of war as Europe fell before Hitler's onslaught and Korea and China suffered under the heel of Japanese imperialism. Newsweek Managing Editor John Meacham, in his excellent book on the ideal alliance, Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, records that in an October 1940 poll, 83 percent of Americans did not think "that the United States should enter the war against Germany and Italy at once" 3, even as London bled in the Battle of Britain. It took the shocking attack on Pearl Harbor to shift American public opinion on entry into the war. Even then, according to Meacham, Churchill sweated for a few days. Roosevelt only asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941; the United States only entered the war in Europe on December 11th when Hitler and Mussolini

foolishly honored their commitment to their "Axis of Evil" partner, Imperial Japan, by declaring war on the United States and bringing America's full might into the struggle.

America was, in some ways, shamed into coming into alliance with Britain. The island by then was no longer led by the policy of appeasement. This failed policy was represented by the statement of then-Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, after he signed the Munich Pact with Hitler, regarding "peace for our time." Chamberlain's peace proved an illusion. In less than one year, Hitler again broke his word and attacked Poland. The new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, pledged in stirring words that touched American hearts to "not flag or fail." Eleanor Roosevelt, visiting London soon after America entered the war, reflected the admiration felt for the back bone of the British people, stating "the spirit of the English people is something to bow down to." 4

In this regard, a binational survey in September 2004 by the respected Chicago Council on Foreign Relations indicates isolationist attitudes are still alive in the United States with regard to potential conflict on the Korean peninsula. There is a contrast with South Korean reported expectations on the likelihood of U.S. intervention. Here are the results: An overwhelming 89 percent (of those South Koreans surveyed) believe that the United States would support South Korea militarily in the event of North Korean aggression... Sixty-four percent of Americans favor contributing U.S. troops together with other countries to a UN- sponsored effort to defend South Korea against attack from North Korea. However, without UN approval specified, only 43 percent favor using U.S. troops if North Korea invades South Korea. 5 Thus, in the American context of traditional reluctance with regard to entangling alliances, Chairman Hyde's observation "if you need our help, please tell us who your enemy is" seems quite natural. For the Congress, which reflects the views of the largely isolationist American public, the following is a truism: Neither the American Congress nor the American people expected that Harry Truman's commitment of U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula would last over a half century. If there is no longer a need, and Seoul and Pyongyang stand ready to work things out as "brothers" between themselves without outside "interference," just let the American people know. They are more than ready to have their sons and daughters pack their duffel bags and come safely home from across the Pacific. In addition, the Cato Institute has calculated that the U.S. Defense contribution to South Korea costs the U.S. taxpayer fifteen to twenty billion dollars annually. 6

The American Congress reflects the representative process where the opinions of constituents are taken very seriously. The voice of the American people usually reaches the elected Representatives in the Halls of Congress before making itself heard in the State Department or the Pentagon. Constituents' concerns matter very much, even in shaping Congressional Members' attitudes on foreign policy. With regard to the Korean-American constituency, I noted the following in remarks in Chicago last year, before the April 28, 2004 celebration on Capitol Hill of the first North Korean Freedom Day: "Unlike some other ethnic groups mentioned above (Cuban, Taiwanese, Irish, Jewish, and African- Americans) Korean-Americans have a reputation for being apolitical, except perhaps in the case of the Los Angeles riots of the early 1990s when Korean-American shopkeepers took to their roofs to defend their businesses. Korean-Americans have this American stereotype of their own, that they diligently run their small businesses for sixty or more hours a week and then send their children to Harvard or Yale." 7

A few Korean-American groups have contacted the Congress expressing their support for Seoul's "sunshine policy." Most Korean-Americans, however, are silent on matters relating to their homeland. The most active groups by far have been non-governmental organizations (NGOs), like the Pennsylvania-based Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS) and the Maryland-based Asia Pacific Human Rights Coalition, some of whom draw on the strength of Korean-American churches and Korean-Americans with direct family ties to North Korea, up to one-fourth of the Korean-American community. These NGOs have very effectively advocated for North Korean human rights and refugees on Capitol Hill.

It should be noted also that the nationwide reaction in South Korea three years ago to the unfortunate accident involving a U.S. military vehicle and two school girls, who were tragically killed, drew the attention of both the U.S. Congress and the American people. We honor free speech and appreciate the grief and distress expressed by the candlelight vigils. But the screams of "Yankee Go Home!" by some in the crowd and certain Seoul restaurants' refusal, in a sickening replay of the Jim Crow laws in the segregated American South, to serve certain customers based on their race or nationality, did get American attention. Above all, the burning of the Stars and Stripes, the symbol of the American people and those who died defending freedom, including the 36,000 U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in the Korean War, did not go unnoticed. These are not the actions of a friend. These actions deeply hurt the feelings of the American people who believe that the United States, even with many mistakes along the way, contributed to the Korean economic miracle, making your economy the tenth largest in the world, and gave assistance to the emergence of full democracy here.

There were great misunderstandings and mistakes in this new birth of Korean democracy. As I have said previously, it is regrettable that the Department of State waited until 1989 to issue a white paper on the Kwangju Massacre. It is also regrettable that it took until last year for both an American Ambassador and a Congressional staff delegation to visit the national cemetery dedicated to the Kwangju martyrs. Mistakes have been made by both sides, as in any long-term relationship. But that is no reason for displaying vehement hostility.

I am certain many Congressional offices received phone calls like the one my cousin made during these events. Her son was then serving as an Military Policeman (MP) at Yongsan and other bases in the Republic of Korea. My cousin had spoken with her son and had learned that irate young Koreans were throwing garbage over the fence at American soldiers while screaming "Yankee, Go Home!" Knowing I worked for Congress, she contacted me and asked plaintively "Dennis, why is my son serving over in a country where they don't even like Americans? Why can't he just come home?" This cousin's son went on to serve as at the border checkpoint on the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border. He said the warmth of the Kuwaiti people and the comradery he experienced with both British troops and Japanese Self-Defense forces serving in southern Iraq was a welcome contrast to the cold reception he had met in South Korea.

A private publication by Mr. Jeffrey Robertson, an employee of the Australian Parliamentary Information and Research Service, titled New Dynamics in U.S.-Korean Relations, reports on a particularly disturbing event which took place during the anti- American demonstrations in Seoul: An American soldier was detained by an angry mob, forced to watch an anti-American demonstration at which he was photographed, videotaped, and forced to make a public statement demanding justice from the United States. He was then taken to another location to apologize to the co-chairman of an anti-American organization. 8

The university where this incident took place happened to be Kyunghee University where I spent most of my Peace Corps service. Invited to the university for a reunion several months later, I told the University's President that the incident reminded me of stories told by Chinese friends when I lived in Beijing about the public excesses of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. When I asked what consequences were given to those students who had forcibly kidnaped an American citizen, he meekly replied "none."

The International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives had an even more pressing reason to be aware of the widespread anti-American demonstrations going on in Seoul and other South Korean cities. For in December 2002, Chairman Hyde was in Tokyo leading a Congressional Delegation to Asia. The next stop was to be Seoul, before Beijing, where the Chairman was to deliver a speech at Tsinghua University. When Chairman Hyde learned of demonstrations in Seoul and spoke with the former American Ambassador here, he was advised that "up to one million" people would be demonstrating on Seoul streets the next day, some using anti-American slogans. The decision was made immediately to overfly Korea and go directly to Beijing.

After Chairman Hyde's speech a few days later in Beijing, one of our young Chinese hosts, riding with our delegation to the airport, made the following observation: "I read Chairman Hyde could not go to South Korea because the students there were demonstrating against America. Isn't it interesting that students in China, a rival of the United States, welcome Chairman Hyde, while students in South Korea, America's ally, rejected his visit?"

Was there U.S. Congressional reaction to these events on Seoul? None directly and America watchers in Seoul seem to have missed a major nonverbal message sent by the U.S. House of Representatives. It is, interestingly, Asians who are supposed to be quiet and inscrutable and Americans who are supposed to be loud and boisterous. During the past 108th Congress, three resolutions were put forward commemorating relations with our friends in Asia. Chairman Hyde and the House's Taiwan Caucus, which includes well over one hundred Members at last count, sponsored a resolution in 2004 commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act. It was favorably reported out of our Committee and overwhelmingly adopted. Mr. Lantos, our Ranking Democratic Member on the Committee, similarly sponsored a resolution commemorating one hundred and fifty years since the establishment of relations between Japan and the United States in 1854. Again, it was favorably acted upon by our Committee and swiftly adopted on the floor of the House. The third resolution was put forward by the Korea Caucus, a rather modest group compared to that of Taiwan, honoring the fiftieth anniversary of the ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty. It had not moved during the 2003 anniversary year and I sought, as a former Peace Corps volunteer and friend of Korea, to encourage action in early 2004, as the Japan and Taiwan resolutions moved forward. But I found the memories of the flag-burnings in Seoul were still too vivid. Not one powerful Member of the House came forward to champion the resolution and it died a silent death without even being considered by the International Relations Committee. So, while the U.S. House of Representatives honored our official relationship with Japan and our close relationship with Taiwan, the fifty year defense relationship with the Republic of Korea, forged in the crucible of war, was met with a stony silence. That was a message from the House of Representatives for those who were prepared to listen.

Those on Capitol Hill have also taken note of the rather loud, verbal criticisms of U.S. Congressional actions, and Administration statements, being made by both members of the South Korean National Assembly and even officials in the South Korean government. Some of these have been made publicly, rather than through the traditional channel of quiet diplomacy, as is customary when one has a disagreement with an ally. Those criticisms, which in some cases even questioned the motives of those supporting Korea-related legislation, at times caused offense.

Elder leaders of the American Congress, who remember well President Reagan's designation of the former Soviet Union as an "Evil Empire," were not shaken by President Bush's inclusion of Pyongyang as part of an "axis of evil" in his State of the Union address to the American Congress a few years ago. While many in Seoul reacted with absolute consternation, fearing the remarks would trigger a conflict, these senior Members pointed out that "Evil Empire" did not stop glasnost nor Mr. Gorbachev from coming to the negotiating table successively in Iceland, Geneva and then even Washington itself. This was because Mr. Gorbachev had issues to discuss and rhetoric was secondary. Thus, most in Washington thought that the high decibel reaction in Seoul was not warranted, based on historic analogy.

The reaction in South Korea to the North Korea Human Rights Act, which was unanimously adopted by the 108th Congress, was particularly striking. I remember well the visit of a National Assembly delegation to Capitol Hill last summer, where the then pending Act was the topic of much conversation. Some Members of the Assembly were quite critical of the Act, seeing it as being drafted by a secret cabal of fanatic "neo-conservatives" bent on causing havoc on the Korean peninsula by stimulating the overthrow of the North Korean regime. These shrill critics had not focused on the fact that the two chief sponsors of the legislation in the House were Mr. Leach of Iowa, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and Mr. Lantos, the Ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee. Neither would ever be described in Washington as "a neo-con." Only a little advance work by those visiting Washington would have led them to discover this. Mr. Leach has been rated by some as the most liberal Republican Member of the House; Mr. Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who fought the Nazis in the underground during the Second World War, is a founder of the Human Rights Caucus in the House. Thus the appellation "neo-con"showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the motivation behind those sponsoring this legislation.

One of those Members of the National Assembly visiting last summer told Congressional staff members, in a discussion of the reported shooting of a North Korean refugee by a Chinese border guard on the Mongolian border, that such incidents were of little concern. "The North Koreans kill them when they are returned so what does it matter whether they die in China or die in North Korea?" he asked. Not exactly the sentiments of a "brother."

Those on Capitol Hill were, of course, already aware that North Korean human rights are not a priority for the South Korean government, as evidenced by Seoul's failure to vote in favor of the EU-sponsored resolution on North Korea during the past two sessions of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. I was there in Geneva last spring when the Vice Chairman of our Committee, Mr. Chris Smith of New Jersey, made a futile plea to representatives of the South Korean Mission to vote in favor of the resolution. Americans have a saying: "Actions speak louder than words." Speaking of North Koreans as "brothers" may sound nice, but it is an empty slogan without concrete action. Your government has a chance to demonstrate commitment to your brothers and sisters, the people of North Korea, by voting this year for the resolution that the EU has again introduced in Geneva. The American Congress would welcome such a display of humanitarian concern on the record. The South Korean Unification Minister compounded a growing impression of a lack of perception in Seoul regarding the North Korea Human Rights Act by remarks made after its signing into law by President Bush on October 19, 2004. He reportedly said that "human rights problems in communist countries have never been solved by way of applying pressure." 9 This statement caused great surprise in Washington as people concluded Seoul officials are seemingly still unaware of the momentous events of the nineteen eighties, such as the work of Lech Walesa, Pope John Paul II, and Solidarity in Poland or of President Reagan's famous remark "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." The Berlin Wall, which once divided Germany as the DMZ divides this peninsula, became a pile of rubble just a few years after that remark.

The motives of the North Korea Human Rights are as old as the United States Constitution, as American as apple pie. Thomas Jefferson first spoke of universal human rights in the Declaration of Independence. Eleanor Roosevelt championed the cause, after the human rights debacle of the Second World War, promoting with all her energy the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the newly-formed United Nations.

All Koreans are aware of both American success and failure in this regard. You all still recall the promise held out by President Woodrow Wilson in his Fourteen Points, that his call for self-determination for the peoples of fallen empires in Europe would also apply to people under the yoke of empire in Asia. The immense disappointment caused when Koreans sought unsuccessfully to petition the American President at Versailles led directly to the March 1st movement against the Japanese occupation, which began at Pagoda Park here in Seoul.

But as an ally, you should remember that Americans honor human rights, even in the breach. Is this the message that you really want to send the American Congress: that the United States should compound the disappointment felt by your fellow countrymen at Versailles almost ninety years ago by now turning its back equally on your northern brethren in their hour of greatest peril? And do you really wish to bite the hand of America as it is extended in friendship to offer assistance for what everyone can see is a coming humanitarian crisis in North Korea? Once again: tell us clearly if you need and want our financial help, which will be largely determined by Congressional legislation. Otherwise America has pressing needs elsewhere that require the implementation of scarce resources. When American lawmakers, in response to President Bush's inaugural call for spreading democracy and freedom to "the darkest corners of our world," recently introduced the Advance Democracy Act, the South Korean wire service, Yonhap, carried stinging criticism of the proposed legislation (whose chief architect, in the House, is Mr. Lantos, the Ranking Democrat on our Committee.) Yonhap reported that the bill was "adding fuel to North Korea's suspicion that Washington is plotting to overthrow the communist regime." 10 This view seems overly Korean-centered on an issue of global importance, the spread of freedom.

The Congress has also, via the Illinois Congressional Delegation, been involved in seeking answers in the abduction case of the Reverend Kim Dong-Shik, a South Korean citizen but U.S. permanent resident, who wife, Esther, resides in suburban Chicago. Last month twenty Members of that state's delegation, including the Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Senators Durbin and Obama as well as Chairman Hyde, sent a letter to North Korea's UN Ambassador making inquiries into Reverend Kim's whereabouts and cautioning that, until Pyongyang gives a full accounting on the fate of Reverend Kim to his family, among other concerns, the Illinois Delegation will not support the removal of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) from the U.S. State Department list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. As Illinois is known as the "Land of Lincoln," this letter is not surprising. The letter compared Reverend Kim to Ms. Harriet Tubman, who assisted escapees in an underground railroad before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, since Reverend Kim was assisting with the escape of North Korean refugees out of China when he was abducted into the North Korean gulag..

Speaker Hastert, at a Washington meeting on March 8th with the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Kim Won-ki, which I attended, raised the abduction issue in general, as well as the particular case of Reverend Kim, and asked for joint cooperation with South Korea in saving Reverend Kim.

When I first came to South Korea thirty-four years ago, it was still largely a Buddhist country, although the imprint of Christian missionaries was even then much in evidence, given the existence of many churches and those great institutions of higher learning, Yonsei and Ewha. The missionaries, mainly American, had their greatest success in Pyongyang, the cradle of Korean Christianity before the division. Now, three decades after my Peace Corps service, South Korea is the center of Protestant Christianity in Asia, as the Philippines is of Roman Catholicism. South Korean missionaries go to the far corners of the globe yet, ironically, they dare not cross the Yalu River to spread the faith to their countrymen in that part of the country where Christianity first flourished.

So it would seem that mentioning Reverend Kim, a South Korean citizen and Christian missionary, to the Speaker of the ROK National Assembly would be natural, although the Korean side gave no response to Mr. Hastert. As we meet here on Good Friday, I urge the National Assembly to give some official response to Mr. Hastert's plea for cooperation in the grave matter of Kim Dong-Shik. And to the South Korean people, as they gather today in churches to sing the old American spiritual "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?," I would say look no further than to North Korea to find the Passion of the Christ.

At the same meeting in Mr. Hastert's office, Mr. Lantos raised concerns over polling results from last year which showed a plurality of the South Korean public polled, particularly younger people, named the United States as a greater potential threat to the Republic of Korea than North Korea. The South Korean side indicated to Mr. Lantos that they were not aware of these polling results, which have been widely circulated in the United States. 11 South Korean visitors to Washington, while acknowledging this polling data, have told Congressional staff that these results should not be a cause for concern. They state South Korea's young people are unaware of events from the Korean War of fifty years ago which is before they were born although these same young people seem well aware of the history of the Japanese colonial era, which came before the Korean War. It seems a matter of educational priorities. My response to those who contrast the attitudes of Korean youth with the good will expressed by South Korea's older generation is this: an alliance based upon the good will of a dying generation is a dying alliance.

With regard to the nuclear issue, people on Capitol Hill were surprised by the comments made by President Roh Moo-hyun in Los Angeles on last November 12, 2004. The President indicated that North Korean perceptions of a threat from the United States justify Pyongyang's contention that it needs a nuclear deterrent and, second, that there is little threat that North Korea will proliferate weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. This is according to a report by a Congressional Research Service analyst which is circulating on Capitol Hill. 12

These comments bring to mind the observation of the nineteenth century British Foreign Minister, Lord Palmerston, who said that "nations have no permanent allies, only permanent interests." If the "perceived threat" of the United States is seen as the rationale for justification of North Korean nuclear adventurism and if the American people's permanent interest after September 11th, to prevent a rogue nation from trading weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organizations for use in attacking the United States, is not appreciated, then Lord Palmerston's dictum would seem to apply regarding the future prospects for this alliance. If the United States becomes aware, for example, of a North Korean ship sailing from port with weapons of mass destruction bound for sale in South Asia or the Middle East, the American people will fully expect that their armed forces, wherever they be stationed, will interdict that vessel and remove that threat. The Congress of the United States, in my opinion, will never acquiesce in granting a veto power to a foreign leader, even an ally, over the deployment of such forces in a case of paramount national interest. If such a veto is demanded, then new security arrangements between the two sovereign nations will clearly have to be negotiated.

With regard to the issue of hostile intent, Chairman Hyde addressed this in detail in his comments at the International Relations Committee hearing on March 10th. The Chairman said:
Questioning the United States over "hostile intent" turns history on its head. It was not the United States that launched an attack in 1950. The United States did not attack North Korea when Pyongyang seized our ship, the Pueblo, in 1968 and held its crew hostage for eleven months. The United States did not attack even when North Korean soldiers murdered Major Arthur Bonifas and First Lieutenant Mark Barrett with axes in the DMZ in 1976. The United States has never threatened to turn Pyongyang into "a sea of fire" as North Korea has threatened to do to Seoul. Allegations of the hostile intent of the United States are patently ludicrous. 13
If we cannot agree on such questions of permanent interest as which party has hostile intent on the Korean peninsula, how much of a threat is represented by Pyongyang's possession of weapons of mass destruction, and how fundamentally important are the human rights of the North Korean people, then we are sticking our heads in the sand if we state that this alliance is healthy and assured of another half century of relevance.

Koreans have long recognized the strategic importance of their peninsula, as well as its vulnerability to being caught up in Great Power rivalry. "When whales fight, shrimp get broken", runs the old Korean proverb. So it would seem to be in Korea's interest, as well as America's, to maintain the alliance. In this regard, the Washington Times reported on March 12th that "South Korea is fast approaching a critical decision as to whether to try to revive its troubled alliance with the United States or dissolve their joint security treaty, expel American forces from the peninsula, and seek an alliance with China." The article went on to report that, at a recent gathering of South Korean and American scholars and officials in Honolulu, the future of the alliance was considered open to question. 14

I wish to note here an old Chinese expression, "the mountains are high and the Emperor is far away." Washington, unlike Beijing, lies an ocean and a continent away from Seoul. If American officials, including the Congress, seem often distracted from Korean issues by events elsewhere in the world, that can at times be a favorable development for the more junior partner in any alliance. And while some in Seoul have criticized a lack of respect given to Seoul in its alliance with Washington, let me remind you that Washington does not have a two thousand or more year history of treating Korea as a vassal state or, at best, the younger brother in a Confucian relationship, the way the Chinese have.

I had many conversations during my three years in Beijing, from 1995 to 1998, with Chinese officials regarding the Korean peninsula. I always detected a certain air of superiority with regard to Korea. Those in Seoul who are concerned about kowtowing to Washington should consider the Middle Kingdom, which over a period of the five hundred years of the Chosun Dynasty assumed there would be yearly tribute missions from Seoul, brought by emissaries who fully kowtowed before the Son of Heaven. With Washington there is no territorial dispute like Tokdo nor any dynastic dispute like Koguryo. Americans never claimed to sit as kings upon a Korean throne.

The strains in our alliance are many. It is indeed an alliance at risk. Only concentrated cooperation, between our two governments and our two legislatures, can assure that this alliance will last to flourish for another half century. Let us hope that the able representative of the United States in the Inter-Parliamentary Exchange, Mr. Ed Royce of California, can overcome the recent personal attacks to encourage genuine and frank dialogue with his legislative counterparts on these critical alliance issues. Without such frank dialogue, we will slowly go our separate ways. And then, having attained the unswerving goal of his father to separate South Korea from the American alliance, Kim Jong Il's smile will turn into a frown. He will demand that South Korea enter into the Koryo Federation, the unfulfilled dream of his father. And South Korea will then be reduced, under "one country, two systems," to a dependency of Pyongyang. As we have watched Hong Kong's autonomy slowly erode under such a system, we know what will be the fate of South Korea. Thank you.

* The views expressed in this paper are my own and do NOT necessarily reflect the views of the International Relations Committee or its Chairman, Henry J. Hyde

1"U.S. Congress Catches South Korea Chill," Chosun Ilbo, March 11, 2005
2Farewell Address, President George Washington, 1796
3"Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship," John Meacham, Managing Editor, Newsweek, Random House, 2003, p. 76.
4"Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship," John Meacham, Managing Editor, Newsweek, Random House, 2003, p. 196
5"South Koreans and Americans Remain Committed to Alliance, but views differ on North Korea and Use of Force," PR Newswire, Chicago Council on Foreign Relations Survey Results, September 30, 2004.
6"North Korea Threatens U.S. Bases; South Korea Drops North as 'Main Enemy,'" The Command Post Web Page, February 5, 2005
7"I Have a Dream: The North Korea Freedom Day and the Korean-American Community," Dennis P. Halpin, Chosun Journal, Chicago, March 27, 2004
8"New Dynamics in U.S.-Korean Relations,"(private paper), Jeffrey Robertson, Trade Research Specialist, the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Group of the Australian Parliamentary Information and Research Service, January 7, 2003
9"North Korean Human Rights Act," The Korea Times, Chang Se-moon, Professor of the University of Alabama, December 30, 2004
10"U.S. Pro-Democracy Bill Likely to Deepen N. Korea's Suspicions," Yonhap, March 4, 2005
11"North Korea Threatens U.S. Bases; South Korea Drops North as 'Main Enemy,'" The Command Post Web Page, February 5, 2005
12"President Roh's Challenging Pronouncements on North Korea: The Mixed U.S. Reactions Mask the Deeper Meaning," (private paper), Larry A. Niksch, Specialist in Asian Affairs, U.S. Congressional Research Service, published in The Weekly Chosun, December 14, 2004
13Opening Remarks of Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Full committee Hearing on :The Korean Peninsula: Six Party Talks and the Nuclear Issue, International Relations Committee, U.S. House of Representatives web page, March 10, 2005
14"U.S.-Korea Relations at Crossroad," Richard Halloran, The Washington Times, March 12, 2005

This page last updated 3/25/2005 jdb

ICAS Fellow
ICAS Speakers
& Discussants