April 12, 2023

Sharper: U.S.-ROK Alliance

Analysis from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges for U.S. foreign policy.

With the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK alliance this year, a summit between Presidents Biden and Yoon on the horizon, and an increasing emphasis from Washington on security in the Indo-Pacific, the relationship between the United States and South Korea is at an inflection point. Will the two allies seize opportunities to achieve shared objectives? Or will they forfeit these chances in the face of external tensions posed by China, Russia, and North Korea. CNAS experts are sharpening the conversation about diplomatic, security, economic, and technological trends in the U.S.-ROK alliance. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their ideas and recommendations.

Features

Peninsula Plus: Enhancing U.S.–South Korea Alliance Cooperation on China, Multilateralism, and Military and Security Technologies

A new report from Jacob Stokes and Joshua Fitt examines the future of the U.S.-ROK alliance in a dynamic moment marked by enormous security challenges as well as some new cooperation opportunities. Specifically, the report focuses on three areas that have been relatively understudied by policy and academic communities: coordination on China, alignment in minilateral and multilateral settings, and defense technology collaboration. The report concludes with several actionable recommendations for U.S. and ROK policymakers.

U.S.-ROK Strategy for Enhancing Cooperation on Combating and Deterring Cyber-Enabled Financial Crime

Following the May 2022 U.S.-ROK Summit, which revitalized previous bilateral commitments to establish a joint cyber working group to address cyber-enabled financial crime, a report from CNAS provides specific policy recommendations for Washington and Seoul to incorporate within the cyber working group. Author Jason Bartlett argues that Pyongyang is likely to continue hacking cryptocurrency exchanges and laundering the stolen funds as long as the potential gains exceed potential risks and resources to conduct these operations.

Digital Allies: Deepening U.S.–South Korea Cooperation on Technology and Innovation

Rapid advances in digital and other emerging technologies have become a defining feature of international geopolitics in the 21st century. The United States and South Korea both possess key advantages as leading technological powers and robust democracies. Clearly, technology issues will play a central role in the U.S.-South Korea alliance going forward. In a CNAS paper, authors Jacob Stokes, Alexander Sullivan, and Joshua Fitt explore how the United States and South Korea can broaden and deepen their alliance through expanded cooperation on issues related to technology and innovation.

Indo-Pacific Security

Peninsula Plus: Enhancing U.S.–South Korea Alliance Cooperation on China, Multilateralism, and Military and Security Technologies

The United States–Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) alliance has entered a critical phase. In 2023, the two countries will commemorate the 70th anniversary of signing the...

Energy, Economics & Security

U.S.-ROK Strategy for Enhancing Cooperation on Combating and Deterring Cyber-Enabled Financial Crime

The May 2022 U.S.-ROK Summit between President Joe Biden and President Yoon Suk-yeol revitalized previous bilateral commitments to establish a joint cyber working group to add...

Indo-Pacific Security

Digital Allies: Deepening U.S.–South Korea Cooperation on Technology and Innovation

Rapid advances in digital and other emerging technologies have become a defining feature of international geopolitics and geoeconomics in the 21st century. This report explore...

Commentaries

Can North Korea Be Deterred?

"The main deterrent against North Korean aggression was (and remains) the U.S.-South Korea alliance," writes Dr. Duyeon Kim for the Council on Foreign Relations, "operationalized by the stationing of U.S. troops on and around the peninsula, maintenance of American nuclear weapons on South Korean territory until 1991, provision of the U.S. extended nuclear deterrent (or nuclear umbrella) over South Korea, and the conducting of combined defensive military exercises every year. These components constitute a deterrence strategy by providing the capability to impose costs in the event North Korea acts aggressively (e.g., invades or attacks the South), and they demonstrate America’s resolve and political will to act (e.g. threat of retaliation) in the event of North Korean aggression. Deterrence, however, has failed to prevent Pyongyang from engaging in numerous provocations (limited, calculated acts of aggression beyond nuclear and missile tests) and acts of terrorism over the past fifty years that have resulted in the deaths of American and South Korean civilians and soldiers."

What South Korea’s Election Means for Its Technology Alliance with the United States

"In terms of foreign policy, Yoon is expected to take a more hawkish approach to China, and to pursue a renewed, strengthened alliance with the United States," argues Ryan Fedasiuk in The Diplomat. "Under Yoon’s presidency, for example, the United States is likely to resume bomber flights and carrier strike group deployments to the Korean Peninsula, which have been on pause since 2018. But Yoon’s election also presents opportunities to strengthen the South Korea-U.S. relationship beyond traditional security concerns. One of these is the promotion and protection of critical and emerging technologies. First, the Yoon administration can build on the work of its predecessor to strengthen South Korea-U.S. promotion of emerging technologies."

What South Korea’s Election Means for Biden and Democracy

"It is no secret that Korea has not been a top priority in U.S. foreign policy in the same way as other Asia-Pacific powers," observes Dr. Duyeon Kim in The National Interest. "Yet, Washington should still watch this election closely. The result will determine the state of democracy in South Korea for the next five years in a pivotal corner of the global community. It will also determine whether South Korea will remain as the weakest link in President Joe Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy, as I warned last year; whether Washington and Seoul will finally be in lockstep to deal with North Korea; and whether South Korea will unambiguously step up to the plate to help protect the rules-based international order, democracy, and human rights around the world."

Indo-Pacific Security

Can North Korea Be Deterred?

Nuclear deterrence discourages an adversary from using nuclear weapons for fear of retaliation....

Technology & National Security

What South Korea’s Election Means for Its Technology Alliance With the United States

Yoon’s election presents opportunities to strengthen the South Korea-U.S. relationship beyond traditional security concerns....

Indo-Pacific Security

What South Korea’s Election Means for Biden and Democracy

South Korea’s democratization is a triumphant success story, yet every administration was criticized for its share of undemocratic practices....

In the News

Featuring commentary from Joshua Fitt, Sam Howell, Dr. Go Myong-Hyun, and Dr. Duyeon Kim.

Indo-Pacific Security

Seoul's integration into Quad will benefit all parties

Speaking to The Korea Times, Joshua Fitt, an associate fellow at the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), said the Quad is not likel...

Technology & National Security

US, Japan, South Korea Launch Forum to Cut Off Chips to China

Much work still needs to be done in getting Japanese and South Korean industries to buy into Biden's strategy of cutting off chips to China, said Samantha Howell, a research a...

Energy, Economics & Security

North Korea Cuts Phone Link With South, Slamming ‘Traitors’

The two Koreas, which are technically still at war, don’t have regular phone service. They set up hotlines in 2018 after a series of summits aimed at decreasing tensions on th...

Indo-Pacific Security

US Not Discussing Nuclear Exercises with South Korea, Biden Says

"South Korean concerns and wishes are understandable, but the US won't be able to jointly discuss nuclear plans to the degree that Seoul wants. That's still a bridge way too f...

About the Sharper Series

The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.

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