- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

The U.S.-ROK Alliance and the U.S. Rebalance to Asia

Scott Snyder


This chapter examines the current status and future prospects of the alliance between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea (ROK).

Main Argument

The U.S.-ROK relationship, once focused solely on deterrence of North Korean aggression, has developed into a comprehensive security alliance as a result of South Korea’s economic, democratic, and military transformation. The alliance contributes to the foundation of the U.S. rebalance to Asia and has the potential to be an important component of this policy going forward. Factors likely to influence the future contributions of the alliance to broader U.S. strategies in Asia include the sustainability of a combined command structure, the continued interoperability of U.S. and ROK systems in areas such as missile defense, the deepening of defense cooperation to deter expanding North Korean asymmetric capabilities, strengthened relations between South Korea and other U.S. security partners, a sophisticated response to China’s efforts to bound the alliance’s applicability, and sustained support from both the U.S. and South Korean publics.

Policy Implications

  • The U.S. and South Korea should maintain a combined approach to existing and emerging security challenges in order to ensure close security cooperation and interoperability and to increase efficiency in use of defense resources.
  • With U.S. support, South Korea should prioritize defense diplomacy, development assistance, and other forms of security cooperation with other U.S. allies both as a viable hedge against China’s rise and to reinforce regional and global security interests.
  • The U.S. should attempt to frame the alliance in ways that reduce pressure on South Korea to choose between the U.S. and China and that expose China’s efforts to force such a choice as detrimental to South Korea’s security.