THAAD and Other Issues: Korean-American Alliance Won’t Automatically Strengthen Itself

As President Park Geun-hye pointed out, the Korean terror attack on U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert was an attack on the U.S.-Republic of South Korea (ROK) alliance itself. Ambassador Lippert, who has a background with the Navy Seals, bravely responded to the attack; and in the eyes of Korean citizens, the pro-North Korea terrorist failed to inflame the cracks in the U.S.-ROK alliance. Ambassador Lippert has responded that this incident has “only strengthened [the Lippert family’s] love and affection for this country.” In addition, both the ruling and opposition parties have stated that “as the ground hardens after the rain, so too will the U.S.-ROK alliance.” This is the desirable outcome.

However, the situation isn’t as simple as this superficial statement would imply. On the other side of Ambassador Lippert’s “We go together” public diplomacy, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman’s remarks on Feb. 27 revealed a colder truth. She stated that it’s easy to “earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy.” These unexpected remarks laid bare the climate within the U.S. administration and congressional circles. They are suspicious of pro-China policies, a view to which Japan is lending a hand. The reality is, since the beginning of the Park administration, issues have not properly been issues and have slowly begun to mount.

Some of these issues cannot be included in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ rhetoric as part of a trial for a 21st century alliance. Most prominent of these issues is the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Moreover, issues are widespread and include Korea-Japan relations, the North Korean nuclear issue, the U.S.-centered Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the China-centered Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership (RECP), the South Korean Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the status of U.S. Forces Korea in Yongsan. The Park administration can no longer claim the strategic ambiguity angle regarding THAAD. In order to defend against North Korea’s nuclear missiles, South Korea should actively cooperate with the U.S. and seek to persuade China. South Korea must objectively analyze the U.S.-ROK alliance and find a way to genuinely bolster relations. Like Ambassador Lippert’s recovery, the U.S.-ROK alliance will not automatically strengthen itself. It is only an illusion to think that it will.

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