The U.S.-South Korean Alliance is 60 Years Old: What Next?

The U.S.-South Korean alliance was forged in war from 1950 to 1953. Coming just five years after the close of World War II, few Americans wanted to go to war again. However, fear of Soviet involvement as the Cold War was deepening caused the Truman administration to fight the first full-scale U.S. conflict (downplayed as a “police action”) without congressional authority.

Three years later the combatants approved an armistice (no peace treaty ever was signed). Washington offered Seoul a formal defense alliance, essentially a unilateral security guarantee backed by American troops. The alliance has changed little over the ensuing 60 years, other than a reduction in the number of U.S. troops. But the need for the alliance has been superseded by South Korea’s dramatic entry onto the world stage as an economic powerhouse.

So now what to do? Cato knows what to do: host a Policy Forum, scheduled for noon on July 19, to discuss the issue. We are very pleased that the Republic of Korea’s ambassador, Ahn Ho-Young, is headlining the event. I first met the ambassador over in South Korea in May. He has recently taken up his duties in America representing a new administration in Seoul and is sure to have some interesting observations about the future of the alliance.

Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations, and long-time Korea specialist, will be commenting. One of his specialties is China-Korea relations. Most everyone seems to believe that Beijing is the solution to the North Korea “problem,” but is it? And what would it take to get China to go along with Washington and put significantly more pressure on Pyongyang?

I also will offer some “appropriate” comments on America’s relations with both South and North Korea. Like America’s alliances with Europe and Japan, the commitment to the Republic of Korea has been a dramatic success, shielding the war-torn South from the threat of renewed aggression, thereby enabling the ROK to achieve great economic success. But the South now is well able to navigate past the shoals of international affairs without an American security guarantee. And no one, least of all Washington, seems to know how to deal with the North.

These questions and more will be discussed at our policy forum. Lunch will be provided. So if you are in the area, we hope you will come. But please RSVP first, at events [at] cato [dot] org, 202-789-5229 (phone), or 202-371-0841 (fax).