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Separate nat`l security affairs from politics

Posted August. 04, 2012 07:55,   


Military authorities of Korea and the U.S. recently stopped negotiations over the proposed reorganization of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division stationed in the cities of Euijeongbu and Dongducheon in Gyeonggi Province. Until last month, the two sides had discussed turning the division into a joint unit modeled after the Combined Forces Command and leave it stationed north of the Han River. The talks were urgent for Seoul in that they were for discussing fears over a potential vacuum in military power after the U.S. handover of wartime operational control to the South in December 2015. Bilateral talks on the proposed extension of Korea’s ballistic missile range have also been postponed until after Korea’s presidential election in December. Military officials in Seoul speculate that Washington instructed its negotiators to stop the talks as the election is just four months from now.

A 1974 bilateral nuclear energy agreement expires in March 2014. If negotiations to revise the pact fail to reach a conclusion by the deadline, the agreement will become invalid, disturbing Seoul’s procurement of nuclear energy. Considering follow-up procedures after a new agreement is signed, the talks need to be concluded before year`s end. The two sides have differences over Seoul’s reprocessing of spent fuel for energy. Certain officials in the Obama administration say the negotiations for the agreement should also be postponed until after the December election. Washington seems to feel uncomfortable about diplomatic and security issues becoming topics for heated political debate ahead of the election. Halting diplomatic and security talks because of presidential elections in both countries –- every five years in Korea and every four years in the U.S. –- can cause a major vacuum in handling key state affairs.

Korea also failed to sign a military agreement with Japan because of public criticism over its secrecy, resulting in the resignation of a presidential aide. In a sense, political wrangling ahead of the December election has aggravated the situation. This is a typical phenomenon seen toward the end of a presidency that an agreement initialed by working-level officials of the two neighbors and the president’s office and the Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry argue over who was responsible for the diplomatic fiasco.

In his final year in office, President Lee Myung-bak has become a lame duck amid a series of corruption scandals involving his relatives and key aides. Bureaucrats care more about presidential candidates of the ruling and opposition parties than about the president. Any country should take a bipartisan approach to key diplomatic and security issues, two areas that the entire nation depends on for survival. President Lee should take meticulous care of the issues with a resolve to hand over to a new president the developments made by the end of his term in office Feb. 24 next year. Presidential hopefuls should also refrain from taking partisan approaches to important security issues that will determine the fate of the country.