Insights and Analysis

Challenges and Opportunities Converge: Exploring the U.S.-Korea Alliance

November 11, 2009

President Obama will also visit Korea on this trip against a backdrop of tensions between North and South Korea after a naval skirmish and just-announced plans to send special envoy Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang in the near future. On the heels of the joint vision statement between South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak and President Obama in June, The Asia Foundation’s Seoul office hosted a seminar last week to explore the challenges and opportunities of what the Hon. Hwang Jin-Ha, Member of the ROK National Assembly, called in his keynote address “one of the strongest alliances in the world.” Three presentations focused on international peacekeeping, overseas development assistance, and maritime security. Co-hosted by the Foundation’s Center for U.S. Korea Policy (CUSKP), this is the second discussion in a three-part series examining opportunities for U.S.-ROK cooperation. Read more about the speakers.

Addressing the seminar, the Hon. Hwang Jin-Ha discussed the strategic goals of the U.S.-ROK alliance as well as the role North Korea plays:

“Over the past few years, we witnessed remarkable changes in the ROK-U.S. alliance. … Now, the alliance is faced with a complex set of future challenges and opportunities in a regional and global context beyond the Korean Peninsula. It is imperative to articulate a joint vision and, accordingly, make mutual efforts to attain common strategic goals for a deeper, broader, and global alliance. In order to successfully overcome these challenges, both allies are required to explore what we can do to enhance the ROK-U.S. alliance further….

Although the ROK-U.S. alliance is no longer solely a security-oriented alliance, North Korea’s military threats such as nuclear weapon development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction seem to be a continuing significant variable in discussing the future of the alliance. For instance, the ROK-U.S. alliance traveled a troubled road for the past decade because the two nations’ different perspectives on addressing North Korean issues. It should not be understood mistakenly that the ROK-U.S. alliance is solely a strategic means to discuss and resolve North Korean issues, including cooperation with other issue-related countries if necessary. In other words, North Korea should not become an obstacle to the ROK and the U.S. achieving the future-oriented strategic goals of the alliance. The reason is that in a strategic context the alliance covers a range of issues directly or indirectly associated with the broad national interests of the two nations.

The United States’ strategic priority with North Korea is denuclearization and the prevention of WMD proliferation from the Korean Peninsula. In order to achieve these goals, the U.S. has initiated multilateral efforts such as the launching of PSI in 2003 and close cooperation with the UN Security Council. Currently, Korea actively participates in U.S.-led multilateral efforts. In this context, alliance-based cooperation between Korea and the U.S. aims to promote international consensus and consistency in dealing with North Korean issues.

In order to remove potential uncertainty caused by North Korean issues which may endanger the future of the alliance, it is essential that both governments not deflect attention from addressing other strategic issues that will shape the configuration of the future-oriented ROK-U.S. alliance. This does not mean underestimating the importance of resolving North Korean issues such as making a collective strategic plan for preparing for North Korea’s sudden change. But we have to remember the danger of North Korea’s traditional approach of driving a strategic wedge between Korea and the U.S. by luring the alliance to excessively focus on North Korean issues to the exclusion of our broader strategic interests….”


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