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07SEOUL1216 2007-04-26 08:19:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Seoul
Cable title:  

THE POLITICS OF ALLIANCE RELATIONS (3 OF 3)

Tags:   PREL PARM PGOV PINS MARR MCAP KS KN CH JA 
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 07 SEOUL 001216 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT PLEASE PASS TO EAP A/S HILL AND EAP PDAS STEPHENS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/23/2017
TAGS: PREL PARM PGOV PINS MARR MCAP KS KN CH JA
SUBJECT: THE POLITICS OF ALLIANCE RELATIONS (3 OF 3)

REF: A. SEOUL 01211

B. SEOUL 01215

Classified By: CDA BILL STANTON. REASONS 1.4 (b/d)



1. (C) SUMMARY: This is the third and final cable in a
series reporting on the politics of U.S.-ROK Alliance
relations. Reftel A explored how the Republic of Korea views
its security environment. Reftel B looked at how the
U.S.-ROK Alliance fits with ROK security perspectives. This
final report examines how Alliance issues are likely to play
out during the 2007 ROK presidential election and beyond.
Based on our discussions with Korean security experts, we
think that Alliance issues are unlikely to be politicized
during the election because U.S.-ROK relations are currently
being viewed more favorably and are expected to improve
further after the election. However, much will depend on
progress in the Six-Party Talks. The level of understanding
between Washington and Seoul will also be more important than
ever, as the U.S. military presence continues to transform
and Korean society continues to change. END SUMMARY



--------------------------


REPORT 3: CHANGES IN THE ALLIANCE


--------------------------



Domestic Economic Concerns Will Dominate Election


--------------------------



--------------------------





2. (C) Many of the South Korean security experts consulted
for this series of reports have extensive experience in
Korean politics. Their consensus opinion was that U.S.-ROK
Alliance issues were unlikely to figure prominently in the
2007 ROK presidential campaign, despite their importance to
the Republic's national security. They predicted the
candidates would focus instead on domestic Korean economic
issues, such as surging real estate prices in Seoul and the
rise in South Korean unemployment. The U.S.-Korea Free Trade
Agreement (KORUS FTA) and reform of the South Korean
educational system were also expected to figure prominently
in the election. Education is the primary vehicle for
upward-mobility in South Korean society, while housing is a
major status symbol, hence the importance of both to the
electorate.



3. (C) Several experts we consulted pointed to the KORUS FTA
as the issue most likely to generate controversy in the
upcoming election. Soongsil University political science
professor Kang Won-taek said it is an issue that tells a lot
about a candidate's stance on several important fronts,
including economics, nationalism and social welfare. Since
the issue invites a debate on the benefits of globalization
vs. the dangers of foreign influence, it also contains strong
undertones of attitudes toward relations with the United
States. "If I were one of the ruling camp's presidential
campaign staff, I would advise my candidate to use this issue
as a means to stand out from the crowd by opposing the
agreement," Professor Kang said.

The Alliance Is Now Viewed More Favorably

SEOUL 00001216 002 OF 007




--------------------------





4. (C) In February, the USG negotiated an agreement with
South Korea on a number of important Alliance issues through
the Security Policy Initiative (SPI) process. That
agreement, approved by Defense Secretary Gates and ROK
Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo on February 23, resolved the
contentious debate over the transition of wartime operational
control (OPCON) to the Korean government. In exchange for
acceding to the ROK preference to delay the transition until
April 17, 2012, the South Korean government pledged to
accelerate the movement of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) to a new
headquarters in Pyongtaek, and to help transform the U.S.
military presence on the peninsula through implementation of
the Yongsan relocation and land partnership plans (YRP and
LPP). The ROKG also agreed to work through the Status of
Forces Agreement (SOFA) process to carry out the closure and
return of 23 USFK camps in the ROK.



5. (C) These are all important elements in transforming the
Alliance from its past Cold War construct into a healthier
and more politically sustainable security partnership for the
future. This will be accomplished by reducing our military
footprint in Korea via a drawdown to 25,000 troops, moving
our most visible military presence (USFK Headquarters) away
from prime real estate in the center of Seoul once used by
Japanese occupation forces, and constructing a new
consolidated headquarters facility Southwest of Seoul, and
building an improved logistical support hub in Daegu. The
USG had already reached agreement with the ROKG to do all of
the above several years ago. With the February 23 agreement,
however, we now have a commitment to implementation and an
understanding that we will proceed in a cooperative manner.
If this good faith effort holds, it will represent a
significant improvement in the complexion of the U.S.-ROK
Alliance after four years of contentious negotiations. It
should also help to depoliticize Alliance issues during the
remaining months of the ROK presidential election season,
thereby making it less likely that "We" will become the issue
in "Their" campaign.

Further Improvement Expected Next Year...


--------------------------





6. (C) Those interviewed for this report agreed that after
years of strained ties the U.S.-ROK Alliance had entered a
new period of reconciliation. That upswing was clearly
evident on April 2 when the U.S. and ROK reached agreement on
the KORUS FTA. With one voice our interlocutors predicted
that a more fundamental improvement would come after the
election of a new ROK president at the end of this year.
They also predicted that would be the case almost regardless
of who won the election. Professor Kang of Soongsil
University said that the independent views expressed by
President Roh and others of the so-called "386 generation"
had been a rite of passage for Korea that could be likened to
similar sentiments that erupted in Japan fifteen years ago
with publication of "The Japan That Can Say No." Seoul
National University Vice Chancellor for International Affairs
Dr. Lho Kyong-soo faults two generations of "uninformed

SEOUL 00001216 003 OF 007


liberals" who dominated South Korea's teachers unions. "They
have done damage to the Alliance. I can understand why the
United States feels disappointed and betrayed," Lho said.
Dr. Kim Byung-kook, Director of the East-Asia Institute at
Korea University, assessed that U.S.-ROK relations had
survived a bad phase, but that Koreans from across the
political spectrum believed President Roh had mishandled the
Alliance. Because of this, politicians on both the left and
the right want to be seen as preserving the Alliance, and so
would not seek to politicize it in the election, Kim
predicted.



7. (C) Post also sees favorable prospects for improved
relations with the next ROK administration. It is, however,
a long way to election day in December. Furthermore, the
degree to which Alliance issues may be politicized during the
ROK presidential campaign will largely depend on which
candidates emerge as the front runners. For example, the
U.S. military presence in Korea is more likely to be used as
a target by the left if the candidate on the right is Park
Geun-hye. That is because they are likely to campaign
against the record of her father, former strong man Park
Chung-hee, who enjoyed close ties with the United States
during his military rule. The success of such attacks will
depend on various factors, and could even backfire as there
is significant nostalgia in Korea for the rapid economic
development that occurred during Park's rule. On the other
hand, economic rather than security issues will be more
likely to dominate the campaign if Lee Myung-bok remains the
leading Grand National Party (GNP) candidate. Lee, a former
mayor of the city of Seoul, is best known for the notable
accomplishments of his economic and administrative
leadership. Both Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bok have voiced
strong support for the U.S.-ROK Alliance.



8. (C) In addition to predicting that Alliance relations
will improve if either GNP candidate should win the
presidency, many observers also believe that even the
candidates from the left would take steps to improve Seoul's
relations with Washington, aware as they are that the United
States is the ROK's key political, economic and security
partner. Or as Kookmin University professor Andrei Lankov
put it: "Even South Korean liberals don't want a repeat of
Roh."

...But Not As Much As Hoped


--------------------------





9. (C) That said, Professor Lankov and others we consulted
have warned that the anticipated post-election improvement in
U.S.-ROK relations may end up being somewhat less than many
might hope or expect. Lankov noted that the "Old Right" was
dying off in Korea. And while a "New Right" was emerging,
its members were less likely than their predecessors to align
squarely with U.S. policies. A recent indication of this was
seen in attempts by some in the GNP to soften its hard-line
policy approach toward North Korea. Dr. Choi Kang of the
Institute for Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS)
pointed out that while old guard GNP members still held the
view that the Alliance should not change, the younger

SEOUL 00001216 004 OF 007


generation of conservative politicians currently gaining
influence in the party tended to support the changes that
were occurring. Several said the U.S. Government
underestimated the political power of the left-wing "386
generation" and warned against similar underestimation of
changes on the right since today over 50% of the South Korean
population is under 30 years of age. One expert advised that
Washington would better understand the changing political
landscape in Korea if it thought of newer generation Koreans
as nationalists, rather than as being on the left or the
right, because they largely derived their support from calls
for greater Korean strength and independence, rather than
from the pursuit of outdated and largely discredited
socialist or isolationist ideals.

Much Depends On Progress in the Six-Party Talks


--------------------------

--



10. (C) According to Professor Moon Chung-in, a key advisor
to President Roh on Alliance issues, it wasn't the Hwy 56
accident that gave rise to anti-American sentiments in 2002.
"That was only the match to the fuel," he said. According to
Moon and several other prominent Korean political experts,
the "Axis of Evil" line in President Bush's 2002 State of the
Union address caused widespread concern among a large segment
of the Korean public. Anti-Americanism has never been
prevalent in South Korean society, and is not now, Dr. Moon
asserted. Nonetheless, strong reactions to certain aspects
of U.S. foreign policy and specific policy-makers had
occasionally given rise to "anti-USG" feelings. The opposite
was now the case, he said. President Bush's stated desire to
establish a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, and U.S.
decisions to resolve the BDA issue and negotiate directly
with the DPRK have been greeted with widespread approval in
Korea. As long as Koreans saw the United States as playing a
constructive role in resolving the DPRK nuclear issue, he
predicted that anti-U.S. sentiments would not be a factor in
the ROK presidential campaign.



11. (C) Hyun In-taek, Director of the Ilmin International
Relations Institute and a foreign policy advisor to GNP
presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak, agreed. He said the
USG was "handling itself well in this election year, keeping
alliance issues low-key and being supportive and
understanding of Korea's situation." Kim Byung-kook of Korea
University said the United States was currently doing "a very
good job" of managing the Alliance, but emphasized that U.S.
influence in the region could best be sustained by adopting
"a softer power approach" in the region.

Insight Is Key


--------------------------





12. (C) Soberingly, many of the Korean experts we consulted
felt that the number of U.S. officials who truly understand
Korean society today are far too few and too set in their
ways. Professor Kim Tae-hyo, a political scientist from
Sungkyunkwan University, called on both countries to
intensify their understanding of one another. Many of the
Korea experts in the United States he claimed were actually

SEOUL 00001216 005 OF 007


more focused on Japan or China, with Korea as their "side
job." At the same time, "Korea too lacks true U.S. expertise
and suffers for it," Professor Kim opined. Others said
American experts tended to rely too heavily on the views of
largely U.S.-educated, English-speaking, pro-American
interlocutors, and pointed out that such people are no longer
calling the shots in Seoul.



13. (C) Many urged USG officials not to "over-react" to the
changes that have occurred in Korean society, pointing out
that change is a part of the normal evolution of a new
democracy. That should not be surprising, they said, because
the United States has itself experienced similar phases in
its evolution, including a period when "revisionism" became
popular in American academic circles. They assured us that
ROK political views are gradually maturing. The clear
consensus was that Koreans still greatly value their security
relationship, strong economic ties and close friendship with
the United States. What they seek now is to develop a more
broadly defined Alliance with the United States that not only
provides for continued peace and stability in Northeast Asia,
but also helps further integrate the ROK into international
peace-keeping and disaster relief efforts that enhance
Korea's image in the world. All those we spoke with were
supportive of South Korea playing a more global role,
although many Koreans they said worry about being dragged
into conflicts not of their choosing.



14. (C) Dr. Kim Kyung-won, a former ROK Ambassador to the
United States who is now a senior editorial writer for
JoongAng-ilbo, believes the Alliance must transform as NATO
transformed following the end of the Cold War. He said a
centrist consensus was emerging in Korea that the U.S.-ROK
Alliance needed to change and was strong enough to endure
such change without damaging the security posture vis--vis
the North Korean threat. He cautioned, however, that such
changes needed to be done very carefully - "brick-by-brick" -
so the Korean people did not feel the United States was
forcing them into a new set of duties and responsibilities,
or reducing its commitment to Korea.



--------------------------


SERIES CONCLUSION


--------------------------





15. (C) More than fifteen Korean political and security
experts were interviewed for this cable series. Post agrees
with their consensus view that the outlook for the U.S.-ROK
Alliance is positive, and that rumors of its imminent demise
were greatly exaggerated. On the contrary, two million
Koreans currently live and work in the United States. A
large percentage of Korean households (and an even larger
percentage of Korean government officials) have immediate
family members and/or relatives visiting, studying or living
in the States. U.S. ICE has recently reported that the ROK
now has the more students than any other country in the world
studying at American schools. American ways are a part of
Korean life, and the average Korean likes Americans and fully
understands the need for a continuing Alliance with the
United States.

SEOUL 00001216 006 OF 007





16. (C) Nonetheless, South Korea is a country undergoing
significant change. Like all democracies, it has a political
pendulum that swings right and left. We believe it is
currently poised to swing back toward the center, perhaps
even the center-right, by 2008. While that will make
Alliance maintenance easier, it is important to visualize
that pendulum as sitting atop a railroad car that is moving
down the tracks toward the Korean future, and not necessarily
going all the way in our direction. In short, Koreans want a
close continuing relationship with the United States, but now
prefer it be a partnership in which they too more often get
their way.



17. (C) The ROK military is also undergoing a significant
period of modernization, but politically-speaking is not
equipped to single-handedly counter the North Korean military
threat, especially now that Pyongyang has developed nuclear
weapons. Even if the National Assembly chooses to fund the
approximately 9 percent annual increases in ROK defense
spending called for in the DR 2020 plan, the South Korean
military will be smallest in Northeast Asia. The ROK will
thus continue to need its alliance with the United States for
many years, perhaps even decades, to come. Most Koreans
understand this and are comfortable with that state of
affairs.



18. (C) So what will the Alliance look like in 2020? The
composite view of those we consulted is that there will be a
new U.S. Embassy facility in Seoul. More American business
people will be working throughout the Korean economy as a
result of more open markets and an expansion in free trade
under the KORUS FTA. A robust American air and naval
presence will remain in and around the peninsula, but there
will be fewer American soldiers stationed on Korean soil.
This will be possible because by working with other powerful
partners on the right side of history, the Alliance will have
succeeded in preventing a dying North Korean regime from
spoiling the hard fought peace and prosperity that are so
deeply valued by the peoples of the region. In such a bright
future, the United States would be seen by the South Korean
people less as a convenient punching bag, and more as a
partner in peace. END CONCLUSION.

List of Experts


--------------------------





19. (SBU) The following political and security policy
experts participated in interviews for this series of reports:



1. Dr. Lee Hong-koo, Former Prime Minister and ROK
Ambassador to the U.S. Current Chair Seoul Forum for
International Affairs and advisor to JoongAng-Ilbo.


2. Dr. Yoon Young-kwan, Former Foreign Minister. Current
professor at Seoul National University.


3. Dr. Moon Chung-in, Former Chair of Presidential Committee
on East Asia Regional Issues. Current professor at Yonsei
University and Ambassador-at-large for International Security
Affairs.


4. Dr. Kim Sung-han, Professor and Director General for

SEOUL 00001216 007 OF 007


American Studies at Institute of Foreign Affairs and National
Security (IFANS).


5. Dr. Kim Byung-kook, Professor of Political Science at
Korea University and Director of the East-Asia Institute.


6. Dr. Kim Kyung-won, Former Ambassador to the U.S. Current
JoongAng-Ilbo senior editorial writer.


7. Dr. Park Se-il, Former GNP lawmaker. Current professor
at Seoul National University Graduate School of International
Studies.


8. Dr. Lho Kyong-soo, Professor of International Politics
and Dean of the Office of International Affairs at Seoul
National University.


9. Dr. Kim Tae-hyo, Professor of Political Science at
Sungkyunkwan University.


10. Dr. Kim Geun-sik, Professor of Political Science at
Kyungnam University.


11. Dr. Andrei Lankov, Professor of History at Kookmin
University.


12. Dr. Jeong Se-hyun, Former Unification Minister. Current
professor at Ewha University and Chair of the Korean Council
of Reconciliation and Cooperation (KCRC).


13. Dr. Kim Yeon-chul, Research professor, Institute for
Asian Issues, Korea University.


14. Dr. Jeon Bong-keun, Professor at Institute of Foreign
Affairs and National Security (IFANS).


15. Dr. Kang Won-taek, Professor of political science at
Soongsil University.


16. Dr. Hyun In-taek, Director Ilmin International Relations
Institute and Professor of Political Science at Korea
University.
STANTON