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The South Korea–United States alliance has evolved from one focused solely on the security of South Korea to a partnership that encompasses a broad array of issues of mutual concern. Described in the 2013 Joint Vision Statement, the Alliance seeks to cooperate on issues such as climate change, piracy, trafficking, and WMD proliferation. However, several hurdles remain, including possible disagreement over a common policy on dealing with North Korea, defense burden sharing, latent anti-Americanism, the KORUS FTA, and the friction associated with South Korea begin caught in the middle of China–United States relations. The alliance remains on relatively solid ground, but maintaining the relationship will require regular attention and dialogue. Serious challenges loom on the horizon that will test leaders in both countries, and working together in a collaborative relationship will be essential to successfully navigate the rough waters that lay ahead. This chapter reviews the future of the alliance and makes some concluding remarks about the evolving nature of the alliance.
After the Korean War, South Korea was decimated and a large share of its defense was provided by the United States and the alliance. The United States deployed over 60,000 troops in South Korea, including two combat divisions positioned close to the DMZ and along the likely invasion routes from the north. Washington also deployed tactical nuclear weapons to the peninsula and supplied extensive amounts of military and economic aid to ensure South Korea’s security. As the years passed, South Korea slowly assumed a greater share of its defense responsibilities, in large part due to the growth of its economy and the increasing capability of its military. Thus, the alliance has evolved from a patron–client relationship to one that resembles more of a partnership. This chapter charts the evolution of the military elements of the alliance.
In 1987, South Korea made the transition to democracy after years of authoritarian rule. The democratic transition was crucial not only for South Korea’s political development but also for the South Korea–United States alliance. Democratization removed an obstacle to closer political ties since Seoul and Washington now had similar political systems and values that allowed further growth as a partnership that went beyond security interests. However, democratization also brought elections and new elites to power who sometimes had different policy positions than Washington on South Korea–United States relations, North Korea, and other issues that affected the alliance. This chapter examines South Korea’s road to democracy, the role Washington played in this journey, and the impact ROK democratization has had on the alliance.
The South Korea–United States alliance began as a security arrangement, but over the years has grown to be an important economic relationship. In the 1950s, South Korea was a poor country, but by the 1960s the ROK economy was on its way to becoming the “Miracle on the Han River.” Over the years, trade ties have grown significantly along with foreign direct investment. An important element of economic ties is the KORUS FTA that went into effect in 2012. South Korea has increased its trade in goods while the United States has seen an increase in ROK investment and the provision of services. However, the Trump administration has been unhappy with the growing trade deficit and has called for a renegotiation of the FTA. This chapter examines the economic elements of the relationship as an important indicator of the evolution of the alliance.
Chapter 1 begins by briefly setting the context of the South Korea–United States alliance and reviewing its history. The alliance began as a product of the Cold War that over the years evolved from an asymmetric, patron–client relationship to one that resembles a partnership. Grounded in alliance theory, this book is a study of how the alliance has changed over time and the factors that have contributed to that evolution. Few studies have examined how alliances change and adapt as a result of endogenous factors, particularly how the power relations spurred by the economic growth and political development of junior partners have affected the alliance. In South Korea’s case, democratization, economic growth, and a desire to be a more active player in international relations have played an important role in alliance transformation.
The most common reason for forming an alliance is a common security threat among the alliance partners. In the early years of the South Korea–United States alliance, the chief concern was the threat of communist expansion through the joint action of Moscow, Beijing, and Pyongyang. As the years passed, it became clear that the Soviet Union and China were not interested in starting another war in Korea. With the end of the Cold War, both former enemies established normal diplomatic relations with South Korea, much to the dismay of North Korea. Threat assessments focused solely on North Korea, but by the 2000s these assessments began to diverge among leaders in Seoul and Washington, leading to serious friction within the alliance. This chapter examines the security concerns that underlie the alliance and how the assessment of these concerns has evolved over time.
Korea–United States relations began formally in the late 1880s, but in these early years were modest. Washington was largely a bystander as Korea was embroiled in the competition between China, Japan, and Russia. Korea hoped that relations with the United States might help protect it from this regional struggle for power. In the end, Korea was just not that important to the United States. After World War II, Korea reemerged from Japanese occupation but was soon divided by Washington and Moscow. As the Cold War played out, the country remained separated into two hostile regimes. North Korea attempted to reunite the peninsula by force and nearly succeeded. However, after three years of war, the fighting ended with an armistice, locking in the divisions of North and South. After the war, the United States and South Korea signed the Mutual Defense Treaty and established a formal alliance that has lasted for over six decades. This chapter describes the early history of the relationship between the two countries.
In contrast to previous studies of the South Korea-United States alliance, Uk Heo and Terence Roehrig analyze the bigger picture, including the history, economics, security, alliance structure, politics, and the future of the alliance. Taking alliance theory as a starting point, the authors argue that the alliance provides an ideal case study to examine how the political development and economic growth of junior partners impact an alliance. As South Korea's capabilities and ambitions have grown, the alliance has evolved from an asymmetric regional security relationship to an economic partnership with global interests, while China's rise and North Korea's nuclear development mean that South Korea remains of strategic importance for American interests in East Asia. This book will be read both as a major contribution to Korean studies and the study of alliance politics and theory.
In addition to its many important bilateral relationships, South Korean power has also grown in its involvement and influence in international organizations and multilateral cooperation. As South Korea has grown, so too have the interests that it has at stake in multilateral venues as well as the tools to achieve its goals in these forums. Moreover, South Korean economic growth, aided over the years by large amounts of international assistance, created a sense of responsibility among its leaders and the public to play a larger role in maintaining international peace and security. In a 2011 address before the UN General Assembly, President Lee Myung-bak maintained:
Now, the Republic of Korea wants to give back to the international community even more than what it has ever received. The Republic of Korea stands ready to extend a helping hand to those who are in need, providing them with appropriate support and care. We are keen to closely cooperate with the UN and to play a constructive role in combating various challenges the international community faces.
The South Korean government is thus involved in numerous multilateral organizations and is determined to be a leader in UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKO). Currently, Seoul participates in 8 UN PKOs along with several other multilateral operations to bring security and development to troubled domains. South Korea also became a member of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in 2010 to help less developed countries reduce poverty and assist development.
The story of South Korea transforming itself from an aid recipient to a donor shows how economic success can lead to increased international involvement and influence in international organizations. This chapter examines South Korea’s increasing involvement and influence in global multilateral institutions and the role its economic development played in these efforts by examining three specific areas: contributions to foreign aid and development assistance; involvement in the United Nations and international peacekeeping operations; and participation in Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, the multilateral counter-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden.
Since the division of the country, the relationship between the two Koreas has fluctuated. In general, the inter-Korean relationship can be divided into four different periods based on the characteristics of the relationship: (1) antagonistic period: from the Syngman Rhee administration to the Chun Doo-hwan government, 1948–1987; (2) period of coexistence: the Roh Tae-woo and the Kim Young-sam administrations, 1988–1997; (3) engagement policy period: the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, 1998–2007; and (4) conditional engagement policy period: the Lee Myung-bak and the Park Geun-hye administrations, 2008 to present.
Four factors have affected South Korea’s policy toward North Korea: economic development, democratization in South Korea, the end of the Cold War, and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Among them, South Korea’s economic development played a key role in changing its approach toward North Korea because economic development led to democratization, which gave way to political elite changes and subsequent policy changes. Furthermore, democratically elected leaders implemented their North Korean policy with confidence thanks to political legitimacy and economic superiority. In this chapter, we study the effects of economic development on South Korea’s policy toward North Korea.