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Enhancing South Korea's Security: The U.S. Alliance and Beyond

Two decades ago, South Korea appeared on the path to greatly increased security. The Cold War was ending, fundamentally improving South Korea’s regional security environment. While retaining an alliance with the United States, South Korea was able to normalize relations with all of its neighbors except North Korea. It outpaced North Korea economically, technologically, politically, diplomatically, and militarily. Enjoying a dynamic democracy and firmly committed to the free market, South Korea seemed destined to grow only stronger vis-à-vis North Korea as the leading Korean state and to be well-positioned to preserve its security and integrity against much larger neighbors.

Today, however, South Korea unexpectedly faces a new constellation of significant threats to its security from both traditional and non-traditional sources.

  • North Korea has developed and tested a nuclear device and has continued to improve the capabilities of its long-range ballistic missiles. Despite economic collapse, North Korea still fields one of the world’s largest conventional militaries. The North Korean regime continues to monopolize information to the North Korean people, clouding the prospects for North-South reconciliation.
  • China’s rise presents not only opportunities but also challenges for South Korean security. Russia’s resurgence is a very recent phenomenon that has not been explored in depth. Despite converging attitudes and interests in many respects, historical grievances continue to limit security and diplomatic cooperation between South Korea and Japan.
  • The United States is focused on combating terrorism and managing the rise of China, while South Korean public opinion is divided about North Korea and the alliance with the United States.
  • Global developments—financial crises, economic recession, energy shortages, pollution, and climate change—are also testing South Korea. The ROK has one of the world’s lowest birth rates; the resulting dearth of young people and the aging of society will have major implications for South Korea’s long-term security.  

This closed workshop will examine the above issues from the viewpoint of enhancing South Korea’s security in coming decades.

This workshop is supported by the generous grant from Koret Foundation.