South Korea at the Crossroads

Autonomy and Alliance in an Era of Rival Powers

An authoritative look at South Korea's foreign-policy choices in an increasingly uncertain Asia.

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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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Against the backdrop of China’s mounting influence and North Korea’s growing nuclear capability and expanding missile arsenal, South Korea faces a set of strategic choices that will shape its economic prospects and national security. In South Korea at the Crossroads, Scott A. Snyder examines the trajectory of fifty years of South Korean foreign policy and offers predictions—and a prescription—for the future. Pairing a historical perspective with a shrewd view of today’s political landscape, Snyder contends that South Korea’s best strategy remains investing in a robust alliance with the United States.

Snyder begins with South Korea’s effort in the 1960s to offset the risk of abandonment by the United States during the Vietnam War and the subsequent crisis in the alliance during the 1970s. A series of shifts in South Korean foreign relations followed, from the “Nordpolitik” engagement with the Soviet Union and China at the end of the Cold War; to Kim Dae Jung’s “Sunshine Policy,” designed to bring North Korea into the international community; to “trustpolitik,” which sought to foster diplomacy with North Korea and Japan; to changes in South Korea’s relationship with the United States. Despite its rise as a leader in international financial, development, and climate change forums, South Korea will likely still require the commitment of the United States to guarantee its security. Although China is a tempting option, Snyder argues that only the United States is both credible and capable in this role. As South Korea remains vulnerable relative to other regional powers in northeast Asia despite its rising profile as a middle power, it must ultimately balance the contradiction of desirable autonomy and necessary alliance.

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Reviews and Endorsements

At a critical moment for the alliance, Scott A. Snyder has done it again—producing an important work that both provides insightful historical perspectives of the relationship and also advances our understanding of South Korean strategic decision-making. This latest contribution from Snyder will inform academics, policymakers, and those who follow the alliance in Washington, Seoul, and around the world.

Mark Lippert, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, 2014–2017

The dizzying developments on the Korean peninsula have assumed a central place in our national conversation as recent developments in both Pyongyang and Seoul remind us of the stakes in play for the United States in Asia. Scott Snyder, perhaps America's premier Korean watcher, has written an indispensable book about how to chart a course for America and South Korea in the complex period ahead.

Kurt M. Campbell, Chairman and CEO, The Asia Group

South Korea at the Crossroads provides a lucid and expansive coverage of the major forces that have shaped and influenced South Korean diplomacy since its founding in 1948. Snyder emphasizes the contradictory forces that have shaped Seoul’s foreign policy through each administration, such as the pluses and minuses of geography, nationalism, and internationalism and the poles of autonomy and alliance. This volume will stand out as the best single-volume study on South Korean foreign policy.

Chung Min Lee, Yonsei University

[A] solid introduction to the history of South Korea’s foreign policy. . . . Snyder is adept at describing the ups and downs in South Korea’s relationships with the U.S. and China, which illustrate his insightful thesis that there exists a ‘conflict between South Korea’s aspirations for autonomy and its need for alliance.’

Publishers Weekly

Students of geopolitics will appreciate Snyder’s thoughtful analysis of a troubled region.

Kirkus Reviews

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