Korea: The Achilles' Heel of the U.S.-Japan Alliance

This discussion focuses on U.S.-Japan and U.S.-Korea relations and how the two interact. The U.S.-Japan review of the 1978 Defense Guidelines also will be considered, in terms of what it does and does not entail and in terms of its application to the security of the Korean peninsula and, more broadly, Asia.

An underlying theme of this presentation is that the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-Korea relationships can survive and prosper only if the United States, Japan, and Korea share some degree of confluence of views on relations with China. There are common objectives in Northeast Asia shared not only by the United States, Japan, and Korea, but by China, Russia, and perhaps even North Korea. Many of these objectives concern the Korean peninsula, where all of the powers want stability and no one wants to see war. From a theoretical viewpoint, everyone is looking toward a "soft landing" and eventual peaceful reunification. Sometimes the visceral South Korean view seems to differ, and some of the Republic of Korea's policies may be in contradiction with the stated desirable outcome; this may cause tension in the U.S.-Korea alliance in the future.

The desire for a soft landing does not mean that the major powers are pushing to hasten reunification. Ironically, the country least anxious to see it, namely China, is the one least often accused of trying to prolong separation of the two Koreas. South Koreans accuse Japan of trying to keep Korea divided, and whenever the United States talks with North Korea, it is similarly charged. That is not the policy direction of either Japan or the United States; in fact, the Koreans seem not to need help from the outside to be hostile to each other.

Published as part of the "America's Alliances with Japan and Korea in a Changing Northeast Asia" Research Project.