“South Korea’s only viable strategic option for the foreseeable future is continued cultivation and strengthening of the alliance with the United States,” argues Scott A. Snyder in South Korea at the Crossroads: Autonomy and Alliance in an Era of Rival Powers.
“Despite China’s rising economic and political influence in East Asia, the United States remains the country that is most capable, committed, and strategically aligned with South Korea,” writes Snyder, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea Policy.
“A major factor influencing South Korea’s strategic choices is the relative balance of power between China and the United States,” he writes. “Korea’s historic preference has been to accommodate the country with the greatest influence on Korea while seeking to preserve Korea’s security and sovereignty.”
He notes that after China surpassed the United States as South Korea’s number one economic partner in 2004, the “divergence between South Korea’s economic opportunities with China and the security alliance with the United States began to draw attention in South Korean policy circles.”
According to Snyder, the United States “shares democratic values with South Korea” and “remains more powerful than China and continues to guarantee an open and liberal global order under which South Korea as a leading exporter has thrived.”
Snyder contends that as long as U.S. defense commitments remain credible and the United States remains the most powerful actor in global affairs, “the U.S.-ROK [Republic of Korea] alliance will remain the anchor and platform that enables South Korea’s pursuit of its fundamental strategic objectives” of security, prosperity, and national unification.
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Educators: Access Teaching Notes for South Korea at the Crossroads.