It’s an exciting time in ROK-US relations, according to The Diplomat‘s Zachary Keck, as both states disagree over different visions of the future. Keck outlines several issues where Seoul and Washington have different opinions.
1. Ballistic missiles
2. A ROK-Japan alliance
3. Nuclear weapons
…[A]t a time when the region is undergoing sweeping changes, the U.S. is increasingly less confident that South Korea will continue to rely on Washington for its security indefinitely. Indeed, there are already a number of signs that Seoul is seeking greater autonomy. These come at a time when the U.S. will need South Korea more than ever in order to properly rebalance its forces in the region.
Just from this paragraph, it’s easy to see why a South Korean might be annoyed with a diplomatic perspective, that cannot distinguish between friendship and alliance. “Reliance” sounds a bit condescending, since it implies that Seoul’s interests are subordinate to American ones. And, “rebalancing” is an ambiguous term for the anti-Beijing alliance Washington is forming. Overall, I’m surprised after 60 years, American commentators don’t realize, that South Koreans have a geopolitical perspective on the region, that stresses the Korean peninsula’s precarious location between great powers and values an alliance based upon what an ally delivers to Seoul’s protection, not what an ally expects of South Koreans.
Seoul looks around the region, and sees potential agressors, in the form of North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles and Japanese conventional and missile forces. Seoul is also ambivalent about China’s value as a trading partner and its developing military capabilities. Historically, Korea has drifted into China’s diplomatic orbit, because Chinese rulers have accorded Korea limited autonomy for a minimal display of loyalty. Japan has challenged this tributary relationship with its own assertion of western-style sovereignty and used force, principally deployed against Korean territory, to express that challenge. If Washington asks for Seoul’s decision, between China and Japan, it might not like the answer it gets. Washington needs to ask itself what its interests are in a region where South Korea is an ally, but not a friend.
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