The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash

East Asian Security and the United States

Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

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Japan and South Korea are Western-style democracies with open-market economies committed to the rule of law. They are also U.S. allies. Yet despite their shared interests, shared values, and geographic proximity, divergent national identities have driven a wedge between them. Drawing on decades of expertise, Scott A. Snyder and Brad Glosserman investigate the roots of this split and its ongoing threat to the region and the world.

Snyder and Glosserman isolate competing notions of national identity as the main obstacle to a productive partnership between Japan and South Korea. Through public opinion data, interviews, and years of observation, they show how fundamentally incompatible, rapidly changing conceptions of national identity in Japan and South Korea—and not struggles over power or structural issues—have complicated territorial claims and international policy. Despite changes in the governments of both countries and concerted efforts by leading political figures to encourage U.S.-Korea-Japan security cooperation, the Japan-Korea relationship continues to be hobbled by history and its deep imprint on ideas of national identity. This book recommends bold, policy-oriented prescriptions for overcoming problems in Japan–Korea relations and facilitating trilateral cooperation among these three northeast Asian allies, recognizing the power of the public on issues of foreign policy, international relations, and the prospects for peace in Asia.


Reviews and Endorsements

In East Asian Security and the United States, Brad Glosserman and Scott Snyder unbundle one of the most consequential and seemingly illogical puzzles in contemporary East Asia. Whether scholars and policymakers agree with their call for a bold American move to reset relations between these two critical allies and democracies, one cannot ignore the authors' pathbreaking analysis—or the strategic consequences they point to in the current impasse.

Michael J. Green, former special assistant to the president and senior director for Asia at the National Security Council

Easy to read, this book covers a very timely topic as many pundits, officials, and experts are struggling with the issues that are raised. I can think of no book on Japan and South Korea together and on their relationship that is a serious rival.

Gilbert Rozman, Princeton University

Brad Glosserman and Scott Snyder lay bare in this book the dueling narratives of Japan and South Korea. Both modern, democratic, and market-driven economies animated by twenty-first century possibilities, Japan and South Korea nevertheless are mired in historical resentments and misunderstanding that continually cloud the future. This political alienation between Seoul and Tokyo provides a vexing challenge for American foreign policy, and the authors here offer valuable insights on how to mitigate and manage the bruised feelings, apprehensions, and latent rivalries that shape one of Asia's most dynamic and least understood relationships. East Asian Security and the United States is required reading for anyone seeking to better understand both the possibilities and inherent limitations of this complex relationship.

Kurt M. Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for Asia and Pacific affairs, 2009–2013

International relations studies tend to focus on military and economic strength, but Glosserman and Snyder take a different approach. Identity, they argue, is the foundation of statehood. On paper, Japan and South Korea should be able to work together. National identity explains why they can't.

Iain Maloney, Japan Times

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