Alignment despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle

Alignment despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle

Alignment despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle

Alignment despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle


Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have been two of the most critical pillars of peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region for the past thirty years. At the same time, their relationship has fluctuated markedly and unpredictably. Despite the existence of a common ally in the United States and common security threats from the former Soviet Union, China, and North Korea, bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea have been persistently marred by friction.

In the first in-depth study of this puzzling relationship in over fifteen years, the author compares the commonly accepted explanation for this relationship -- historical enmity -- with one that focuses on policies of the United States as the key driver of Japan-ROK relations. He finds that while history and emotion certainly affect the ways in which Japanese and Koreans regard each other, cooperation and dissension in the relationship are better understood through what he calls a "quasi-alliance" model: two states that remain unallied but have a third party as a common ally.

This model finds that the "normal" state of Japan-ROK relations is characterized by friction that stems not only from history, but also from fundamental asymmetries in Japanese and Korean expectations of support from each other. The author shows, however, that in periods when the American defense commitment to the region is weak, Japan-ROK relations exhibit significantly less contention over bilateral issues. Without the prop of U.S. assistance, the two countries are seemingly willing to overlook the usual causes of friction and to adopt a more pragmatic approach. The author discusses the effects of democratization and the post-ColdWar era on the triangular relationship, and addresses the prospects of a united Korea and its future relations with Japan, the United States, and China.

The book covers the period from 1965 to 1998 and draws on recently dec


At the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul the overtones of the cold war were clear. The United States and Soviet Union had boycotted successive Olympic Games in Moscow and Los Angeles in 1980 and 1984. As a result, American and Soviet spectators and participants at the Seoul Games dutifully cheered the athletes and teams from their respective geopolitical spheres of influence. However, a peculiar sight astonished some observers of the host Koreans that year: in events pitting the Soviet Union against Japan, Koreans cheered their Communist adversaries, not their cold-war partners. While this may have defied logic for many, it is not surprising for those even vaguely familiar with Japan-Korea relations. Ask a Korean how she feels about Japan, and the response will almost certainly be overwhelmingly negative. Pose the question to a Japanese, and the response will most likely be one of ambivalence.

Such responses epitomize the puzzle that the Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) relationship poses for East Asian security and international relations theory. Throughout the postwar era the security of Northeast Asia has figured prominently in U.S. geostrategic thinking. America's two key allies in this region are Japan and the ROK. The bilateral defense treaties concluded with these states in 1951 and 1953 have constituted the two legs of the U.S.-Japan-ROK security triangle and served as the foundation of the American-led defense network in East Asia. However, an important but precariously unpredictable third leg of this triangle has been the Japan-ROK bilateral relationship. Despite the existence of shared threats from the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea and generally convergent security interests, relations between Japan and Korea have been marred persistently by friction since normalization in June . . .

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