Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The Future of U.S.-Rok Relations: The U.S. Approach

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The Future of U.S.-Rok Relations: The U.S. Approach

Article excerpt

This article argues that there is potential to establish a considerably more comprehensive relationship than has previously existed between the United States and South Korea. Compared to the trans-Atlantic relationship or even the U.S.- Japan alliance, cooperation between the United States and its allies in South Korea is under-institutionalized, does not benefit from the same broad array of cultural programs and policy interaction, and remains quite narrow in its vision and practical application to modern-day global challenges. The broadening of institutional cooperation on the basis of common values and interests is a critical task if meaningful standards are to be established for the future development of multilateral security institutions in Northeast Asia. There is an opportunity to transform the U.S.-ROK alliance relationship so as to fully realize its contributions to regional and global stability and prosperity while simultaneously bolstering the respective national interests of both countries in Asia and around the world. A policy agenda designed to achieve these objectives would promote the expansion of U.S.-ROK bilateral cooperation in global, regional, and nontraditional security and economic areas as well as address changes in the traditional core areas of the bilateral relationship.

Key words: South Korea-U.S. relations, U.S. foreign policy in East Asia, East Asian security, Democracy - East Asia

Introduction

The U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) security alliance has been one of the key components of U.S. policy in Asia for over five decades, but the alliance has traditionally been premised on the narrow task of guaranteeing security on the Korean peninsula. The security alliance was established at the end of the Korean War with the establishment of the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1954. This treaty between unequal partners was negotiated at a time when the two countries had little in common aside from the strategic interest of deterring communist aggression. In those circumstances, the United States was South Korea's security guarantor and patron, and South Korea was a war-torn economic basket case that had little other than geostrategic location to offer in return.

The security alliance provided stability necessary for South Korea to pursue rapid economic development and eventually to achieve a political transition from authoritarianism to democracy, conditions that have enabled prospects for a much more farreaching relationship between the two countries than could have been envisaged even twenty years ago in the midst of Korea's democratic transition. South Korea's transformation as a leading economic power and its transition from authoritarianism to democracy has led to the convergence of the two societies and has created opportunities for practical cooperation in new areas that extend well beyond the peninsula itself.

However, the U.S.-ROK relationship continues to be conceptualized primarily in bilateral terms while neglecting the opportunity to expand the foundations for cooperation in the service of shared regional and global interests in stability and prosperity. Although much has been done in recent years to readjust alliance-based interactions from a patron-client framework to one that emphasizes mutual partnership based on shared interests and values, that process remains incomplete. Whether or not it is possible to develop the relationship into a "21st century strategic alliance," as South Korean President Lee Myung-bak referred to it in his April 19, 2008 joint press conference with U.S. President George W. Bush,1 depends on whether or not the alliance can establish a common vision that fully takes advantage of the dramatically expanded potential that derives from a convergence of values and interests between the two nations.

This article argues that there is potential to establish a more comprehensive relationship than has previously existed between the United States and South Korea, two fellow democracies and market economic systems that share common values and interests. …

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