South Korea’s Search for New Security Architecture and the Future of the Western Alliance

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Asia-Pacific geopolitics is becoming a field of serious competition between the West and the “others” of the West, China and North Korea. The level and severity of that competition is also increasing gradually. As a matter of fact, with the rising tension, the region is rapidly moving towards the brink of a geopolitical break. In this competition, the United States of America (USA) sees Japan and South Korea as partners that enable it to maintain its presence in the region. Because of the danger posed by North Korea’s nuclear tests and power, exercises are held between these three countries. Althoaugh it is said that these exercises are carried out against the danger of North Korea, it is also claimed that they aim to surround China.

In addition to all these, China responds to the Western alliance, which was established with the cooperation of Japan and South Korea in the region under the leadership of the USA and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and which includes Australia, Taiwan and Vietnam, by increasing its pressure on Taiwan and by organizing exercises with Russia.

On the other hand, North Korea is provoked by all kinds of presence of the USA in the region and all the actions of the states that are in alliance with the Washington administration. This causes Pyongyang to increase its nuclear power and ballistic missile tests. As a matter of fact, North Korea also responds to the Western presence in the region with missile tests.

While the alliances and competition conjuncture of the Asia-Pacific geography is like this, North Korea and China, which do not act in a monolithic way as in the Western alliance, are implementing more and more proactive foreign policies on their own. As a result, both states increased the pressure of the USA on their allies. In addition, Beijing has become more threatening to Taipei, both due to the start of the third term of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s hardening rhetoric. Because in 2022, due to the visit of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, Beijing expanded its threat to Taipei, and China doubled its violations of Taiwan’s air defense zone with warplanes in 2022 compared to the previous year.[1]

North Korea is also increasing its nuclear moves. Moreover, there is no indication that Pyongyang will change this policy. According to the information provided by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the official news agency of North Korea, North Korean President Kim Jong-un made a speech at the opening of the annual meeting of the North Korean Workers’ Party on December 27, 2022. In this speech, he stated that both the military and economic developments of Pyongyang are admirable and said that the country will “make important struggles by pursuing both more exciting and more confident policies” in the future.[2]

Considering all these developments, it can be deduced that countries such as South Korea and Japan, which feel those dangers, may also turn to more independent moves from the Western alliance as the pressures on them increase. Currently, Japan has started to make proactive moves in its foreign policy. At this point, it can be predicted that if South Korea finds the support of the USA and its allies insufficient, it will pursue a strategy of “taking care of itself”. For example, it is an important development that South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol proposed to the United States to conduct joint exercises involving nuclear assets to counter the activities of North Korea. As a matter of fact, Yoon said that Washington’s “extended deterrence” was not enough to relieve the South Koreans and that joint nuclear exercises in the region became a necessity.[3] This proves the argument. Therefore, it can be said that the Seoul administration is in search of new ones.

However, it is seen that the name of Japan was not mentioned at the time of the request. Considering that the exercises in the region are currently being conducted with the cooperation of South Korea, Japan and the USA, this is quite remarkable. Therefore, the idea of a nuclear exercise with the United States can be read as South Korea’s discomfort with Japan’s increased military spending. Because South Korea’s offer to the US may be aimed at balancing Japan. This points to a fragile situation for the future of the Western-based alliance.

In addition, Washington’s rejection of Seoul’s request and the USA’s statement that it does not intend to conduct joint nuclear exercises with South Korea[4] can be considered as a negative development for the future of the alliance. At the same time, this situation is important in terms of showing the importance that the US attaches to the framework of cooperation in the region and the security of its allies. Because the USA seems reluctant to raise the level, even though it makes security commitments to its allies in the region due to the threats from China and North Korea. Of course, this reluctance may lead to a result that undermines the credibility of the United States in the eyes of its allies in the region.

On the other hand, Washington’s attitude can also be read as the USA does not want a new conflict while the Russia-Ukraine War continues. It can also be said that while the USA is carrying out denuclearization efforts in the region, it does not want South Korea to increase its nuclear power.

As a result, the rejection of this proposal by the USA can be interpreted as the cracking of the alliance established between the USA, South Korea and Japan. The attitude of the Washington administration may also lead to the idea that the USA will not provide sufficient support in case of a hot conflict in South Korea. This may lead the Seoul administration to implement a more proactive foreign policy despite the United States. In such an environment, it is possible that the tension between South Korea and Japan will escalate.

[1] “China’s Warplane Incursions into Taiwan Air Defence Zone Doubled in 2022”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession:02.01.2023).

[2] “Seoul Greenlights 2023 Projects to Develop Defenses Against North Korea”, NK News,, (Date of Accession:28.12.2023).

[3] “S Korea, US Discussing Joint Nuclear Exercises, Says Yoon”, Al Jazeera,, (Date of Accession:06.01.2023).

[4] “US Says It’s Not Considering Joint Nuclear Exercises with South Korea”, VOA News,, (Date of Accession:06.01.2022).

Zeki Talustan GÜLTEN
Zeki Talustan Gülten, 2021 yılında Yalova Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden “Amerikan Dış Politikası” başlıklı bitirme teziyle ve 2023 yılında da Anadolu Üniversitesi Açık Öğretim Fakültesi Dış Ticaret bölümünden mezun olmuştur. Halihazırda Marmara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda Tezli Yüksek Lisans öğrenimine devam eden Gülten, lisans eğitimi esnasında Erasmus+ programı çerçevesinde Lodz Üniversitesi Uluslararası ve Politik Çalışmalar Fakültesi’nde bir dönem boyunca öğrenci olarak bulunmuştur. ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Araştırma Asistanı olarak çalışan Gülten’in başlıca ilgi alanları; Amerikan Dış Politikası, Asya-Pasifik ve Uluslararası Hukuk’tur. Gülten, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.