U.S.-South Korea Alliance Must Not Fail, Warns Scott Snyder in New Book

U.S.-South Korea Alliance Must Not Fail, Warns Scott Snyder in New Book

December 6, 2023 11:47 am (EST)

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“[T]he U.S.-South Korea alliance faces significant risks and dangers in the event that both countries were to elect nationalist America-First and Korea-first leaders,” Scott A. Snyder contends in his new book, The United States-South Korea Alliance: Why It May Fail and Why It Must Not

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Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), explores “how the weakening or possible degradation of the alliance might influence U.S. and South Korean security strategies and the Northeast Asian regional security order.” He explains that “these risks and dangers [to the alliance] have both internal and external sources, particularly South Korean nationalist ideology, American retrenchment, and domestic political polarization.”  

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In the book, Snyder examines the “America-First rhetoric” of the Donald Trump administration and the “Korea-first approaches” of the Moon Jae-in administration, which led to “a heightened risk of a toxic and corrosive erosion of U.S.-South Korea alliance coordination and capabilities.”  

“Under the management of Trump and Moon, the alliance faced a moment when both leaders harbored narrow desires influenced by their own respective versions of nationalism that might have led them to place national self-interest above the shared challenges of dealing with threats from North Korea and China,” he writes. 

Against the backdrop of turbulent domestic politics, external challenges to the U.S.-South Korea relationship grew. While North Korea aimed to “weaken and ultimately sever alliance ties between the United States and South Korea,” the “revival of U.S.-China strategic rivalry on the peninsula...catalyzed domestic polarization over how South Korea should navigate rising U.S.-China tensions and stimulated debate on China policy among South Korea’s conservative, moderate, and progressive camps.”  

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Snyder argues that a weakened alliance would be detrimental to both U.S. and South Korean interests. “A loss by the United States of an effective, long-standing security partnership with South Korea and the accompanying U.S. military withdrawal from the peninsula would diminish U.S. influence and power in Northeast Asia.” Meanwhile, the “loss of U.S. security guarantees to protect South Korea from external threats would be the most significant near-term challenge for South Korea’s leaders to address in the event of an end to the alliance.”  

“A better approach for the United States and South Korea comes from treating the alliance as a foundation for mutual benefit and as an active contributor to global stability,” Snyder concludes.  

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“But the viability of such an approach would depend on the ability of Americans to promote global stability judiciously and on the ability of South Koreans to realistically assess North Korean intentions while determining how to best achieve South Korea’s standing, needs, and aspirations in a peninsular, regional, and global context.”   

Snyder will assume the role of president and chief executive officer of the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI) on April 1, 2024. 

Read more about The United States-South Korea Alliance: Why It May Fail and Why It Must Not and order your copy at cfr.org/book/united-states-south-korea-alliance.

To interview the author, please contact CFR Communications at 212.434.9888 or [email protected]

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