By: Heasu Lee (CSPS-Korea)
The longstanding ROK-US alliance, established in earnest during the Cold War against the spread of communism in Asia, has consistently undergone transformations. In this vein, the ROK-US alliance confront different challenges and issues while seeking the best national interests of each country. During the trip to Korea Army Academy at Yeong-Cheon (KAAY), CSPS Korea attended a special lecture given by Captain Ji-Min Kwon on the importance of ROK-US alliance. 10 KAAY cadets accompanied the lecture to have a discussion over the materials afterwards.
The lecture started with a simple question: “Do you know the names of Korean girls who were hit and killed by US armored vehicle in 2002?” As the students nodded their head, he moved on to the next question, “Then, does anybody remember the names of 46 South Korean soldiers who died when a North Korean submarine sank ROKS Cheonan in 2010?” The silence filled the classroom representing the lack of public apathy and awareness on these critical security issues. Captain Kwon commented that South Koreans in nowadays are indifferent about such national security issues because people are blinded by the abrupt transition to peace.
Next, Captain Kwon discussed about discrepancies concerning the potential peace agreement for the Korean Peninsula. According to him, North Korea argues that South Korea is not part of the ceasefire agreement signed in 1953 because no South Korean representative signed the document and thus has no legal status to be a part of drafting the peace agreement. Captain Kwon refuted the claim by saying that General Mark Clarke signed the ceasefire as the Commander of the UN Forces in which South Korea was part of. Hence, South Korea has every legal right to be part of the peace agreement.
Captain Kwon also remarked on the importance of US military presence in South Korea. Compared to the Sino-DPRK Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty, the ROK-US Mutual Defense Agreement does not contain any clause on automatic military intervention. This indicates that US military cannot intervene unless its forces are under attack. That is why all US military bases in South Korea have their addresses in the United States.
Moreover, ROK and US soldiers are grouped in the same squad when executing military operations near the border so that US Army can immediately intervene when any of their bases or soldiers are attacked. However, there is still discrepancy on who should have the wartime operational control in case of a war. The debate mainly focuses on whether ROK-led wartime operations can effectively deter North Korea from posing military threats.
The lecture was particularly enlightening for our CSPS-Korea fellows because the materials are not often covered at typical university classes. The visit granted a valuable time for the fellows to rethink about the national security and learn about the importance of the ROK-US alliance.