- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

At a time when Americans are understandably absorbed with issues of war and peace in the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region deserves more attention. This week, President Bush has a new opportunity to jump-start an alliance crucial to U.S. prosperity in the 21st century. Fifty years ago, the U.S.-South Korea alliance was forged in blood and shared sacrifice on the battlefields of Korea. The alliance has successfully deterred a second Korean War and sowed the seeds of South Korea’s economic miracle and vibrant democracy. And yet the last few years have seen our relations withering on the vine, as constructive dialogue has given way to distrust and acrimony.

The election of President Myung-bak Lee offers a new opportunity for the relationship to blossom once again. We have much in common and forging a shared vision of the future of our alliance is achievable if we are willing to rededicate ourselves. North Korea remains the most pressing security threat in Asia, and our interests there are intertwined. Our alliance is South Korea’s principal means of deterring aggression. And for the United States, our presence is an anchor for U.S. forces in Northeast Asia, strengthening significantly America’s strategic position in the region.

With the election of President Lee and recent changes in policy by the Bush administration, past friction over the approach toward North Korea can now be replaced by collaboration. Lee favors a pragmatic approach to North Korea and our goals should be threefold: o proceeding reciprocally and step-by-step toward the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program o Replacing the still existing technical state of war in Korea, under the 1953 armistice, with a comprehensive settlement that creates a new overall political and legal structure for long-term peace and security on the peninsula o launching sustained and high-level consideration of potential responses and outcomes in the event of a confrontation with North Korea — or alternatively, its collapse. Such developments would have profound consequences for the Asia region and the U.S., and given the seriousness of the challenge, merits ongoing collaboration.

But our relationship with South Korea extends well beyond our shared interest in combating proliferation in North Korea. Despite having the twelfth-largest economy in the world — bigger than those of Canada, Australia and Mexico — South Korea’s role as a major economic powerhouse is not always fully appreciated. A U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement which lowers trade barriers and significantly ramps up investment flows between the two countries would have great mutual economic benefit. It would also considerably strengthen the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

While we have seen many Americans and leading members of Congress raise concerns about certain provisions, we think it would be a mistake to allow momentum for a trade agreement to fade. Rather than allowing the current FTA to be defeated in the U.S. or South Korean legislatures — causing an inevitable political backlash which undermines the alliance — Presidents Bush and Lee should engage in a cooperative and constructive discussion of how we can move forward to address any still unresolved aspects of the agreement so that an FTA can be approved by Congress and South Korea’s National Assembly.

Finally, together we should begin to explore a more robust effort to address security, economic and humanitarian issues on a regional basis. We should encourage South Korea to play a leadership role in developing mechanisms to improve transparency and develop confidence-building measures in Northeast Asia. The region needs an effective forum for consideration of nuclear nonproliferation, terrorism, and plans for military modernization. In the economic realm, there is significant opportunity to collaborate on climate change as well as a new energy cooperation network, as all of Northeast Asia has a shared interest in stable energy supplies and tackling the looming climate crisis. And on the humanitarian front, South Korea’s example of a vibrant democracy can help further adherence to international human-rights standards in Asia.

This week Presidents Lee and Bush have an opportunity to turn a corner and chart a course to achieve a shared vision of stability and prosperity that would benefit both nations. Let’s hope both leaders can build the bridge we need to reach that vision.

Samuel R. Berger served as national security advisor to President Clinton and is co-chairman of the global business advisory firm Stonebridge International. Steven W. Bosworth served as U.S. ambassador to Korea (1997-2000) and is dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University.


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