Since the Kim Dae Jung government's Sunshine Policy (appeasement policy toward North Korea) the South Korean society has been divided into "conservatives" and "reformists." Conservatives oppose substantial North-bound assistance until Pyongyang abandons weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and the security threat fades away. They usually take a whistle-blower's role with regard to national security. For them, settlement of North Korean nuclear problem, removal of the North's formidable bio-chemical weaposns and missile, protection of the ROK-U.S. alliance, reduced military tension etc. always have been priority issues. Reformists emphasize inter-Korean cooperation and reconciliation, looking largely to the racial homogeneity. They usually downplay the security threat, pointing to the poverty and backwardness of the North.
Catholic churches are not an exception in the division. The Catholic Priests' Association for Justice(CPAJ), represented by priest Mun Kyu-Hyeon, is in the center of the reformist movement. He and his elder brother, priest Mun Jong-Hyeon, another reformist, have long argued for withdrawal of US forces in South Korea(USFK) defining it "a symbol of American unilateralism." They vehemently oppose relocation plan for US military bases within South Korea. They insist that South Korea should continue economic assistance to Pyongyang and that it should not participate in accusation of North Korea's human right problem. They have led or participated in protests related to socially sensitive issues such as the candle-light demonstration right after the accidental killing of the two Korean girls by a USFK vehicle in 2002, the protest opposing the government's plan to construct nuclear waste disposition facilities in 2004, etc.
The CPAJ was established in 1974 to resist authoritarian rule of the military government and its contribution to South Korea's democratization is not negligible. Today, however, many South Korean Catholics question: "Why do they have to live as activists at a time when reformists control all broadcasting companies and most newspapers not to mention the government and the national assembly?"
A closer look at the Korean polarization reveals that each of the two camps can be divided again into two groups. Those who identify themselves as "conservatives" consist of pure and innocent conservatives and de facto self-protectionists〔soogoo saeryuk〕or impure conservatives. Unlike the pure conservatives who with a pure purpose of social development and well-being of the nation respect traditional values and norms while not rejecting necessary reforms, self-protectionists pursue selfish interests. They are camouflaged conservatives or free riders. Similarly, the soi-disant reformists are also divided into pure reformists who simply seek reforms for national development and intrinsic anti-American and pro-North Korean activists〔banmi chinbook saeryuk〕. The latter are camouflaged reformists, or impure elements, who eventually seek destruction of a free democracy. They are not easily differentiated from the pure ones since both groups use the same self-descriptions: "democracy force," "anti-dictatorial activists," "unification camp," "citizen force," "nationalists," etc. Of course, this intentionally fanned confusion encroaches on the honor of the pure reformists who sacrificed themselves for democracy or for the public's welfare.
Now priest Mun and his CPAJ should give a question to themselves: "Are we purposefully helping banmi chinbook saeryuk or simply doing what we believe we have to do?" In either case, they are wrong. When their ordination took place, they were made members of the clergy not activists fighting for mundane ideologies they prefer. If they help purposefully banmi chinbook saeryuk, they have to leave the church. Their indiscriminate participation in socially sensitive issues are too dangerous to the nation as they can not be expert in all areas. Their non-professional and ideologically slanted arguments in the debate on withdrawal of USFK, for example, can enormously distort public opinion with regard to national security.
Through continued presence of the USFK, South Korea can protect critical interests in many fronts. Militarily, it offers South Korea a credible security umbrella which it still needs. North Korea still poses security threats. The fact that the North has two different faces, "enemy" and "brothers and sisters" does not magically vanish it. South Korean fears are not restricted to the North's WMDs. The North, poorer than before, today possesses even greater capability of a surprise attack with its formidable artilleries, special operation forces (SOF), etc. It is painfully true that a poverty-stricken North Korea, with its military structured for offense, is capable of inflicting more damage to the South than before. Of course, some optimists points to comparison of national power through GDP (1/33), per capita GDP (1/15), trade volume (1/156), defense budget (1/9), etc. However, it is not only that the numbers do not reflect differences in system and price but also that South Korean superiority in sheer numbers, though not immaterial, does not compensate the North's first-strike capability.
Economically, the USFK are still critical to South Korean prosperity. A robust alliance with the US provides the nation with incalculable benefits. The monetary value of the USFK equipments is estimated at some $14 billion while a total value of the US military equipment in and out of South Korea to be used in a Korean contingency is estimated at $110 billion. Some benefits are not calculable in number. For example, a report made by the Korea Institute for Economic Policy (KIEP) in July 2004 points out that a weakened alliance will have far-reaching negative impacts on South Korean economy such as shrinking trade and foreign investment, degradation of national credibility rate, and escape of foreign capital, to list a few.
The ROK-US alliance can also serve as a stepping stone toward stable acquisition of crude oil. For South Korea, the world's sixth-largest oil consumer and fourth-biggest oil importer, much of its future economy hinges upon stable supply of oil. It was in this context that South Korea dispatched troops to Iraq. While South Korea depends on Middle East for 73% of oil imports and as competition with other importing countries like China and Japan over Middle East oil becomes increasingly vehement, military cooperation with the US in Iraq, a country with second-largest oil reserve with confirmed reserve of 112 billion barrels, will serve as an important variable helping South Korea seek sources of oil imports.
The ROK-US alliance gives diplomatic leverage, too. Without it, Japan might have been more assertive in claiming sovereign right over Dokdo Islands. It helps contain the ROK-China disputes over the latter's distortion of history of the old Korean kingdom, Koguryo in Manchuria as China might have been more contentious to South Korea.
Continued presence of the USFK will also help South Korea to be better prepared against future uncertainties. If China, with its continued military modernization, pursues regional hegemony and if Japan pursues military and diplomatic prowess proportional to its economic and technological might, their competition over regional hegemony may corner the South Korean shrimp into a difficult position like one around the turn of the 19th century. The situation can be further complicated if Russia regains economic strength, refurbishes its Pacific fleet, and attempts to recover its voice as a military superpower. The history of the late 19th century shows that the kingdom of Chosun did not have either defense capability or an alliance with an outside power. It tried to maintain independence through "use of one enemy to check another" strategy only to pave the way for 35 years of Japanese colonial rule over the peninsula.
For these and many other pragmatic reasons defense experts prefer continued presence of the USFK. They are not ignorant of American unilateralism. They are not ignorant of necessity for revising the SOFA into a more equal one. They are not unaware of lack of justification in sending troops to Iraq. But still many Catholic priests join in selling out defense specialists as "anti-unification forces" without sharing their agonies over how dreadful the North Korean nuclear bombs may be or how much more defense budget South Korea should bear without the USFK. They have to leave the church as soon as possible. Likewise, those priests who demand abolition of nuclear power generation without agonizing over the fact that South Korea depends on it for 40% of electricity production will have to quit his job as a clergy. They at least should turn off personal computers and refrigerators at their own homes before joining anti-atomic industry protest. If they believe that the religious position justifies arrogance, presumptuousness, and irresponsibility of the leftist priests, society will have to strip them of it. Then, it is up to their own decision to live as anarchic socialists, help banmi chinbook saeryuk, or to become members of it.
Taewoo Kim received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the State Univ. of New York at Buffalo in 1989. He is the author of some 500 books, papers, and columns pertaining to nuclear and security matters including "The US-DPRK Nuclear Rapprochement in the South Korean Dilemmas," Third World Quarterly(Nov.1995), "South Korea's Missile Dilemmas," Asian Survey(May/June1999), "Japan's New Security Role and ROK-Japan Relations," Korea Journal of Defense Analyses(Summer 1999), "North Korean Nuclear Politics at the Crossroads," Korea Journal of Defense Analyses(Fall 2004), We Should Know US Nuclear Strategy〔Korean〕(2003), Should We Let USFK Go or Stay?〔Korean〕(2005), etc. Currently he is Director for Arms Control Research at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA). 82-2-961-1752, email@example.com