The ROK-U.S. Alliance: Where Is It Headed?

The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (September 2002) provides an important framework from which to examine the current crisis on the Korean
Peninsula and other challenges in Northeast Asia. With its focus on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD), this strategy is concerned with North Korea as much as, if not more than, any other state. In particular, North Korea poses a unique set of challenges in regard to WMD. North Korea stands in sharp contrast to the Republic of Korea (ROK) on issues such as human rights, democracy, and market economies. The National Security Strategy suggests that the United States should revitalize its alliance with South Korea, while encouraging North Korea to transform its political and
economic system. Yet South Korea and the United States are currently having some difficulties in developing a consensus on how to approach Pyongyang, and appear to have no clear plan to operationalize the strategy to deal with North Korea.

At issue are increasing ROK pride coupled with economic and other successes, the North
Korean nuclear weapons development program, and the U.S.-led war on global terrorism. As South Korea and the United States are marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty, internal and external confusion lingers and a crisis looms, caused by Pyongyang?s nuclear weapons program and the political repercussions of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Europe, due to varying national interests, some countries opposed military action by America and Britain against Iraq. While South Korea and Japan supported coalition forces in Iraq, there are concerns in both countries over
future preventive military actions by the United States. But the focus of the security debate in Northeast Asia continues to be Pyongyang?s nuclear weapons development. Sensitive differences in American and South Korean assessments of and predictions about these clandestine nuclear programs, coupled with concern about the dangers of war, have led to broad debate on the series of North Korean actions and even some claims that the United States is responsible for this crisis.

Nationalist anti-American sentiments seen among some South Korean media and citizens, and reactive anti-Korean sentiments in the United States that are often exaggerated by some American media reports, have led to an eruption of demands for reductions and relocations of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, further straining the time-honored alliance of the two nations. Differences appear to persist in their assessments of the current situation and expectations for the future, including on whether they can accommodate the unraveling situations and have confidence in their own
capabilities to resolve them.

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