The USA and South Korea will mark the seventieth anniversary of their alliance when South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol visits Washington, DC for a state go to on the finish of April. After seven a long time, the alliance has turn out to be a permanent partnership that continues to offer peace and safety on the Korean Peninsula, whereas the connection between the USA and South Korea has deepened to incorporate shut diplomatic, financial, technological, and cultural ties.
Regardless of the long-standing nature of the alliance, the following decade could current the U.S.-Korea relationship with extra profound adjustments than any prior decade. These adjustments will come not solely from shifts in geopolitics and North Korea’s weapons developments but additionally from local weather change, know-how and demographics. How the USA and South Korea reply to those 5 adjustments and the coverage challenges that can develop from them will form the prospects for U.S.-Korea relations.
In the newest U.S. Nationwide Safety Technique, President Joe Biden described the approaching decade as a “decisive decade” for the geostrategic competitors taking form with China. Whereas this competitors is usually described by way of a brand new Chilly Conflict, this geostrategic rivalry will play out in a different way for the USA and its allies.
In distinction to the unique Chilly Conflict, wherein the allies and companions of the USA and the Soviet Union have been largely in separate financial camps, China is built-in into the worldwide financial system and is the most important buying and selling companion for more than 120 countries – together with South Korea. China has additionally changed the USA because the world’s largest manufacturing hub. These deep financial ties make states, together with South Korea, extra delicate to their financial and diplomatic pursuits in China, a dynamic that was much less of an element in the course of the Chilly Conflict.
Since the USA continues to keep up a technological edge over China, it has turned to export controls to protect its benefit whereas utilizing subsidies to rebuild its manufacturing base. Within the areas of semiconductors and electrical autos, this has created tensions inside the U.S.-Korea alliance. South Korean corporations are closely invested within the manufacturing of semiconductors in China, and U.S. export controls and the CHIPS Act have raised considerations concerning the viability of sustaining these operations. The discriminatory granting of subsidies for electrical autos – the place U.S. nationwide safety coverage and local weather coverage intersect – within the Inflation Reduction Act has additionally been a degree of rivalry.
With the expectation that the USA will continue to deploy export controls in areas associated to cloud computing, quantum computing, biotechnology and synthetic intelligence (AI), the U.S.-China rivalry is prone to proceed to form the financial relationship between the USA and South Korea.
Geostrategic rivalry can be shaping coverage concerning North Korea because it attracts nearer to Russia and China. For a lot of the final three a long time, China and Russia have been companions, if not at all times as useful as Washington would have hoped, in efforts to denuclearize North Korea. That’s altering.
With North Korea resuming its missile assessments, China and Russia have offered political cowl by blocking new resolutions and sanctions on the United Nations. North Korea has reciprocated Russia’s assist by blaming the United States for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, voting against U.N. resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion, and criticizing the switch of U.S. tanks to Ukraine. On the identical time, North Korea is reported to be offering Russia with ammunition, one thing Moscow hopes to proceed, as Pyongyang seeks to barter an arms-for-food deal to deepen ties with Russia.
The U.S.-Korea alliance faces the prospect of diminishing leverage in its denuclearization efforts as North Korea continues to develop its weapons programs whereas receiving political cowl and sure financial assist from Moscow and Beijing regardless of U.N. sanctions. Whereas deeper ties among the many three nations, pushed by shifting geopolitics, don’t remove the prospect of talks with North Korea, they considerably dim them. In addition they complicate South Korea’s skill to work with the USA in its geostrategic competitors with China because of Seoul’s considerations associated to rising Chinese language affect over North Korea.
Geostrategic and safety considerations will not be the one challenges the U.S.-South Korea partnership might want to deal with. If the following decade will likely be key for the geostrategic competitors between the USA and China, a brand new U.N. report suggests that it’s going to even be crucial for averting the worldwide temperature rises that will result in excessive adjustments to the local weather.
The USA and South Korea have increased cooperation on local weather change in recent times, however the cooperation might want to deepen and develop to different nations if there’s to be measurable progress on quickening emissions reductions. The 2 allies can even must keep away from the kinds of disputes which have taken place over industrial coverage within the Inflation Discount Act.
Local weather change can even influence safety coverage for the alliance. North Korea’s already fragile infrastructure and agriculture will face greater strains from excessive climate. These strains on meals manufacturing might end in elevated instability in the event that they push the supply of meals to extra excessive ranges than have been seen in the course of the pandemic.
The USA and South Korea are additionally present process demographic shifts with implications for nationwide safety. These shifts will likely be gradual transferring and play out over the following 20 years however will likely be most dramatically felt in South Korea. A long time of declining births have resulted in decreases in each the working-age inhabitants and the general inhabitants. These developments are unlikely to vary anytime quickly and have turn out to be extra excessive in recent times. Since 2018, South Korea’s complete fertility fee has fallen below 1.0, properly under the inhabitants substitute fee of two.1, and reached a new low of 0.78 in 2022.
The demographic developments in South Korea have implications for the alliance. Because the workforce declines and the inhabitants ages, South Korea will face declining economic growth prospects and elevated pressure on assets from rising healthcare and pension costs, however it should additionally face a declining variety of conscripts for the army. Since 2018, South Korea has reduced its active-duty army from 618,000 troops to round 500,000. The present plan requires sustaining these ranges by means of 2027, however demographic developments will more and more create pressures to scale back the dimensions of active-duty forces additional. Enlisted members presently account for 299,000 active-duty troops, however over the past 20 years, male births have fallen from roughly 110,000 in 2000 to slightly beneath 105,000 final yr. As males born over the past 20 years start their service over the 20 years forward, there will likely be a scarcity of roughly 80,000 enlisted members.
Expertise will function one potential answer for South Korea’s troop shortages. Seoul is already experimenting with utilizing AI to power drones for reconnaissance and image recognition, and is working to develop different strategies for the future use of AI in protection. In the end, AI might assist with duties associated to the autonomous switch of weapons, area medical prognosis and therapy, and improved missile protection.
Whereas AI could possibly assist South Korea deal with the wants of future troop decreases, know-how can even current challenges past the questions on the ethics of using autonomous weapons and AI integration between U.S. and Korean programs.
In contrast to the Cold War, when states largely monopolized strategic applied sciences, the personal sector will play the dominant position within the improvement and deployment of AI and there will likely be comparatively low obstacles to entry. Two of the newer entries, ChatGPT and DALL-E 2, have proven the potential of AI, but additionally the chances for AI for use as a instrument of political subversion each domestically and by international powers; it’s more and more arduous to know if textual content, sound, and pictures are actual or synthetic.
Of the entire adjustments over the following decade, AI has the potential to be each probably the most profound for society, politics, economics, and nationwide safety, but additionally the one whose influence is most troublesome to foretell.
The subsequent decade will look very completely different from the previous decade, and can form the a long time to comply with. To handle these developments the USA and South Korean want to interact in deeper, long-term discussions concerning the future U.S. drive posture on the Korean Peninsula to higher put together for the demographic shifts to come back. There can even should be extra coordination between the USA and South Korea, and their companions and allies, on local weather change and rising applied sciences.
Local weather, demographic and technological shifts can even happen towards the backdrop of a special geostrategic context that’s reshaping the menace from North Korea. Managing these disparate however interconnecting challenges would require deeper coordination between the USA and South Korea, but additionally an method that integrates what was once regarded as separate points.