South Korea-U.S. relations in turbulent waters

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This research examines the nature and sources of South Korea-U.S. political frictions in recent years. It begins with a brief discussion of the evolution of ROK-U.S. relations, focusing on the G.W. Bush administration. It then discusses the salient issues dividing the two allies. This is followed by an examination of diverging goals, interests, perception and attitudes as sources of tension and distrust in ROK-U.S. relations. Finally, it concludes with an assessment of the current state of ROK-U.S. relations. Diverging approaches to North Korea’s nuclear issue, Roh’s assertive and independent postures, anti-American sentiment in South Korea, and Bush’s abrasive and self-centered behavior all led to distrust, tension, and awkwardness in ROK-U.S. relations. Frictions in ROK-U.S. relations are also ascribable to emotionalism and simplistic approaches on both sides. The ROK needs to assert itself defending its own national interest vis-à-vis the U.S., but should not confuse aspirations (equality) with political reality. The Bush administration should realize that “soft power” is often more persuasive and effective than hard power and that even the global superpower cannot manage international affairs alone without cooperation and support from interested states. North Korea’s nuclear issue will test the ROK-U.S. alliance. It would be prudent for the U.S. and the ROK to get their acts together on North Korea and coordinate their policies at the six-party negotiation table. The U.S. and the ROK relations are now undergoing a transitional period, and it will take a lot of imagination, patience, and efforts on both sides to sustain friendship and the alliance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-104
Number of pages46
JournalPacific Focus
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • G.W. Bush
  • Kim Dae-Jung
  • North Korean nuclear crisis
  • Roh Moo-Hyun
  • Sunshine policy
  • U.S.-South Korean relations


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