The US-South Korea Alliance and the China Factor

In the current context of U.S.-China competition, Washington’s strategic preferences and Seoul’s search for greater autonomy are clashing.
By Clint Work Author

This article was originally published in the Diplomat

In July, the U.S. Army War College’s (USAWC) Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) released a report titled “An Army Transformed: USINDOPACOM Hypercompetition and US Army Theater Design.” It questioned U.S. preparedness in the Indo-Pacific vis-à-vis China and argued that U.S. forces in South Korea (and Japan) are too concentrated and, though sufficient for a large-scale clash with North Korea, are “grossly inadequate for either hypercompetition or armed hostilities” with China.

Despite being the product of a U.S. Army think tank and not official U.S. government policy, the report apparently caused significant consternation among South Korean officials as a sign of things to come: either U.S. troop reductions or U.S. forces becoming entangled in wider regional contingencies.

Nonetheless, the report highlights a long-running fact: The U.S. presence in South Korea has never been just about the Korean Peninsula. Rather, it’s one node within a wider strategic tapestry. Although the immediate mission is to assist deterring and defending against Pyongyang, U.S. policymakers have long conceived of those forces and the U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) alliance within a larger framework. This enduring fact has run through U.S. discourse and strategic planning since World War II and continues today.

Read the full article.

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