The Korean Peninsula may be the last vestige of the Cold War, but the strategic environment of the Northeast Asian region is undergoing rapid change. South Korea has become both a global economic power and a major player in the Asia-Pacific region. The United States has shifted its strategic focus to the war on terror and adopted “strategic flexibility” as a military principle, which involves reducing, restructuring, and relocating its forces in Korea and transferring wartime operational control to the South Korean government.

At the same time, North Korea has acquired nuclear weapons, and the rapid rise of China signals a fundamental shift in the regional and global order. Thanks to its economic strength, China is rapidly enhancing its military power, and its economic and political influence in Asia and the world continues to grow. At the same time, China and Russia are strengthening their strategic ties.

Faced with the threat of North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons as well as China’s growing power, Japan has mover further away from the post-World War II restrictions on its military forces and posture. South Korea’s security cooperation with the United States fluctuates depending on which parties hold power in the two countries, and South Koreans remain hesitant to deepen security relations with Japan. Efforts to further deepen bilateral economic relations after the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement stalled with the collapse of the Trans Pacific Partnership in 2017.

What are the implications for South Korea of these rapid changes in the security environment? What might be the South Korean national strategy if there is a resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue? What might be the national strategy of a unified Korea? Should a unified Korea choose a strategy of neutrality or strategic independence? What will happen to the US-South Korea alliance? How can South Korea maintain peaceful relations with its neighbors, and what policies should it adopt toward Japan, China, and Russia?

The POSCO Fellowship will examine the following issues:

  • Long-term security outlook of Northeast Asia and South Korea’s national strategy
  • The role of South Korea in the peace and security of the Asia Pacific
  • The US-South Korea security alliance
  • Prospects for US-South Korea-Japan trilateral security cooperation
  • The Japan-China rivalry and its implications for Korean security
  • Prospects for multilateral security cooperation in East Asia and the role of South Korea

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Denny Roy