A Survey of Korean Sentiment
The potential reduction, redeployment, and movement of U.S. troops in South Korea is major news here. Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Daily, and Ohmynews all ran front-page stories on the issue yesterday. The coverage is fascinating. It reveals a lot about Korea’s ambivalence regarding the U.S. Military, U.S. power, and America’s image.
The Chosun Ilbo has been vehement in its criticism of the United States. In a May 27 commentary the newspaper claimed the U.S. Military showed “arrogance in the U.S. attitude toward the Korea-U.S. alliance.” Commentator, Kim Dae-joong railed against the United States in a May 25 piece. He opened by saying: “There is one thing I just can’t understand. Why does Korea keep its relationship with the United States in this way and for what? First of all, obviously it is neither because we like the United States nor because the United States had been generous to us. Once people live in the United States and the more they learn about the country, there is a tendency in which those people begin to despise the arrogance and the lopsided ways of the powerful nation. There are many times when those experiences develop into anti-American sentiments. Eventually those feelings create impotence and fear against the power of the United States, which leads to concerns and a gloomy view of Korea’s future.” Later he went on to say, “Korea is far from taking advantage of its alliance with the United States.”
The JoongAng Daily has been a little more balanced in its commentary. On June 1, it ran an article by former Ambassador to the United States, Kim Kyung-won. He opened by criticizing U.S. 8th Army, Lieutenant General Charles Campbell for publicly speculating that Republic of Korea troops may be jointly involved in future peacekeeping missions in Northeast Asia. The primary problem with this speculation as Kim sees it is that Campbell did not consult with the South Korean government before making the statement. Kim goes on to claim, “The problem is that the United States and South Korea do not trust each other” and urge the South Korean government to work out its problems with the United States. “The important thing is that we should not make the mistake of losing the trust of our existing allies when we try to choose another ally out of strategic necessity. Throwing away something old before we get something new is not a matter of a choice between progressivism and conservatism, but between wisdom and stupidity,” he concludes. In a May 28 editorial, the paper directly criticized the South Korean government for not doing more to assume the responsibility for self-defense: “As it is now clear that the force reduction will be on a grand scale, our government needs to do more than pay lip service. How does it intend to come up with the money, and cope with the negative economic and social effects that could follow such a large force reduction are very important issues? The government needs a plan.” The piece suggested part of the plan would be to “readjust our combined command structure, currently led by the United States.”
The Ohmynews article was predictably liberal, but surprisingly well balance considering Ohmynews’ general reportage. The May 24 article titled, “Less Military Means More Peace,” argued that the U.S.’s troop reduction was an opportunity to reduce tensions on the peninsula and warned South Korea against military buildup in an attempt to fill the resulting “security vacuum”. In the author’s opinion South Korea was already capable of defending itself against North Korean aggression. He writes:
“The ‘security vacuum’ argument doesn’t make much sense. Without the strengthened military presence in and around Korea, the U.S.-Korea alliance is seen to have already secured an ‘excessive’ level of deterrence against North Korea.
Excluding the U.S., South Korea has injected three to four times more money than North Korea to buildup its military capability over the last 20 years. Today, South Korea’s military budget is almost same as North Korea’s GDP. If South Korea is losing its ability to fight with North Korea despite all the money it is poured in, the South Korean government is either lying to its citizens or plagued with inefficiency.
North Korea is indeed a great military threat to South Korea. Even though it is not able to win a war against South Korea, any military conflict between the two Koreas will claim a lot of lives and result in widespread damage. This means that preventing a war, at any cost, is a top priority.”