US South Korea Alliance

The enduring U.S-South Korea cooperation, which was initially founded during the Cold War as a barricade against the communist growth in Asia, has gone through gradual transformations in recent years. During the late 1990s, when political power first passed from the dictatorial governorship to the political opposition, the United Democratic Party, succeeding UDP governments have driven a more independent path from the U.S.A, which in some instances has led to friction. Various concerns that have led to the bedeviled ties include; differences over how to handle Pyongyang’s erratic behavior, a generational divide in South Korea on the U.S military presence in the region as well as the alliance, a  rising China and disagreements during bilateral trade negotiations.

The first foreign policy concern of successive governments of the Republic of Korea (ROK) since 1948 has been Korean American diplomatic ties. The first U.S military contingents arrived in Korea on September 8, 1945, as an occupying force. Its main tasks included disarming the Japanese army and upholding order below the 38th parallel. Later on, the United States became the primary sponsor of the Republic of Korea founded in 1948, its provider of aid for the nation to become economically sustainable and its protector from foreign military threats.

Of utmost importance, is the United States involvement in saving the ROK from a military takeover by Communist North Korea when they invaded the South in 1950 during the Korean War.  The Korean war broke out in June 25, 1950, when close to 75,000 troops from the North Korean people’s army crossed the 38th parallel, a border separating the Soviet-supported Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the South. This was the height of the Cold War since it was the first military action at the period. The U.S troops joined the war on South Korea’s side. After a decade, two nations were formed on the peninsula. In the south, the anti-communist dictator Syngman Rhee enjoyed the unenthusiastic support of U.S.A’s government while the north, Kim II Sung enjoyed more passionate support of the Soviets. Both dictators were reluctant to remain on their side of the 38th parallel leading to several border skirmishes. The conflicts lead to close to 10,000 North and South Korean troops dying in battle before even the war started.

Immediately after the war which ended in 27th July 1953, in which the U.S suffered close to 34,000 battle deaths and incurred expenses of over 18 billion dollars, the South Korean and American governments came up with a mutual defense treaty which serves as the formal basis of the alliance up to date. Since 1953, the ROK depends on the U.S troops as well as its naval and air protection entirely to refrain the North from launching another armed invasion. The benefits that ROK has enjoyed in its survival and development from collaborating with the U.S.A in the post-Korean war period is seen by the substantial amount of military and economic aid provided by the U.S.A to South Korea. In the two-decade period after the Mutual Security Treaty, the U.S extended to ROK close to 8 percent of its international foreign military and economic help. In fact, the United States has offered more support, a total of $ 11 billion by 1973, to South Korea than any other nation with the exemption of South Vietnam. Apart from the enormity and pervasiveness of the U.S activities in Korea shown by the amounts of aid, it can be stated that the Korean armed forces owes its functioning and existence almost entirely to the United States, that offered military help in training, equipment, organization as well as tactical and operational skills during and after the Korean War. In addition to this, the U.S.A also took over the role of looking after the interests of ROK in international organizations like the UN where it played as the primary sponsor of the nation as an applicant for membership according to the U.S government.

As much as the U.S-South Korean alliance has been extraordinarily close and generally cordial for the most part, it is still characterized by a high degree of unevenness in the objectives, capabilities, perceptions as well as the influence of the two partners. While the sole purpose of South Korea joining the alliance was to prevent another North Korean invasion, U.S.A’s primary objective was to check the spread of Chinese and Soviet communism power in East Asia. South Korea currently stands at a potential turning point as it analyses the direction of its foreign policy as well as its strategic choices. The long-standing reliance of its ties with the U.S.A comes under increasing examination. China is growing in regional influence and power as well, creating more pressure for ROK to consider alternatives to its reliance on the U.S as the primary guarantor of its security. If China could surpass the U.S.A in military power, economic influence as well as its capacity to shape global norms, then South Korea could consider the Republic of China as a strategic choice to back its military defense.