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Allying with the United States: Changing South Korean Attitudes

Lee, Sook-Jong  
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    The U.S.-ROK alliance has been strained over recent years. New challenges are facing both South Korea and the United States. Growing discontent and grievances over the presence of U.S. forces on Korean soil is complicating the management of the alliance. Bolder opposition from Korean politicians and civil society to Washington's North Korea policy is increasing the political cost for the South Korean government in maintaining its alliance relationship with the United States. On the other hand, the post-9/11 U.S. global strategy and accompanying redeployment of U.S. forces in South Korea are pushing the alliance to adapt to the new era. The strategic value of South Korea is being modified in the context of the new post-9/11 global strategy. Unless South Korea and the United States invest their political energy and wisdom into putting the alliance onto a clear and secure path, the U.S-ROK alliance could be ruptured during this transitional period. Understanding the structural changes taking place in South Korea is critical to restoring the alliance in a constructive fashion. South Koreans became more critical of the post-9/11 United States as they embraced a new nationalism of being more assertive vis-a-vis the United States and, at the same time, more sympathetic toward North Korea. With democratization of South Korea, the security policy process is today more open to diverse social groups beyond the narrower policy circle. While divisions clearly exist, the majority of Koreans no longer regard North Korea as a major threat. These domestic changes in South Korea make the task of a timely redefining of the U.S.-ROK alliance more necessary. Leveling-up the alliance to one preserving regional peace and prosperity would be a good option.


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