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South Korea's New Leader

Thursday's election of Roh Moo-hyun as president of South Korea will likely lead to a different treatment of the 37,000 US forces stationed there, and perhaps a clash with the US over how tough to be on North Korea.

Mr. Roh's victory represents mainly the views of younger voters who barely remember the US as the necessary bulwark against global communism during the cold war, and who don't see their backward cousins to the north as much of a threat.

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The new president plans to continue the "sunshine policy" of the current leader, Kim Dae-jung, in trying to pacify the North with friendship. Both men were once leading human rights advocates against the South's military-dominated governments that ended in 1987, and were part of a democratic movement that suspected a US hand in maintaining that authoritarian rule for decades.

Many young South Koreans also aren't eager for the communist regime to collapse. The costs and turmoil of absorbing the North would be heavy, much more so than what Germany experienced after reunification.

Then, too, resentments are especially high now against US soldiers, many of whom haven't exactly been model guests. Hosting a foreign army isn't easy for any nation; the sense of inferiority often can overwhelm the sense of security derived by its presence.

Roh has only lately accepted the strategic reason for US defense: to repel the first wave of a massive invasion by the North and ensure long-term US support for what would essentially be a civil war, unlike the more international 1950-53 Korean War.

He's expected to ask for more legal jurisdiction over errant US soldiers who harm South Koreans. Such disputes could embolden the North to be more belligerent. But these two democracies, which are also longtime allies, can work to find compromises on difficult issues, and not let the North think it can split them apart.