The US 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 develop into an everlasting 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 might current the U.S.-Korea relationship with extra profound modifications than any prior decade. These modifications will come not solely from shifts in geopolitics and North Korea’s weapons developments but in addition from local weather change, expertise and demographics. How the USA and South Korea reply to those 5 modifications 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 commonly described when it comes to a brand new Chilly Struggle, this geostrategic rivalry will play out in a different way for the USA and its allies.
In distinction to the unique Chilly Struggle, through which the allies and companions of the USA and the Soviet Union had been largely in separate financial camps, China is built-in into the worldwide financial system and is the biggest buying and selling accomplice for greater than 120 international locations – 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 through the Chilly Struggle.
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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 automobiles, this has created tensions throughout the U.S.-Korea alliance. South Korean companies are closely invested within the manufacturing of semiconductors in China, and U.S. export controls and the CHIPS Act have raised issues in regards to the viability of sustaining these operations. The discriminatory granting of subsidies for electrical automobiles – the place U.S. nationwide safety coverage and local weather coverage intersect – within the Inflation Discount Act has additionally been a degree of competition.
With the expectation that the USA will proceed 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 relating to 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 all the time as useful as Washington would have hoped, in efforts to denuclearize North Korea. That’s altering.
With North Korea resuming its missile exams, China and Russia have offered political cowl by blocking new resolutions and sanctions on the United Nations. North Korea has reciprocated Russia’s help by blaming the USA for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, voting towards U.N. resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion, and criticizing the switch of U.S. tanks to Ukraine. On the similar 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 methods whereas receiving political cowl and sure financial help from Moscow and Beijing regardless of U.N. sanctions. Whereas deeper ties among the many three international locations, pushed by shifting geopolitics, don’t eradicate 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 on account of Seoul’s issues associated to rising Chinese language affect over North Korea.
Geostrategic and safety issues are usually not the one challenges the U.S.-South Korea partnership might want to deal with. If the following decade will probably be key for the geostrategic competitors between the USA and China, a brand new U.N. report suggests that it’ll even be vital for averting the worldwide temperature rises that will result in excessive modifications to the local weather.
The US and South Korea have elevated cooperation on local weather change lately, however the cooperation might want to deepen and broaden to different international locations if there’s to be measurable progress on quickening emissions reductions. The 2 allies will even must keep away from the sorts of disputes which have taken place over industrial coverage within the Inflation Discount Act.
Local weather change will even affect safety coverage for the alliance. North Korea’s already fragile infrastructure and agriculture will face larger 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 through the pandemic.
The US and South Korea are additionally present process demographic shifts with implications for nationwide safety. These shifts will probably be sluggish shifting and play out over the following twenty years however will probably 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 traits are unlikely to alter anytime quickly and have develop into extra excessive lately. Since 2018, South Korea’s complete fertility charge has fallen under 1.0, nicely under the inhabitants alternative charge of two.1, and reached a new low of 0.78 in 2022.
The demographic traits in South Korea have implications for the alliance. Because the workforce declines and the inhabitants ages, South Korea will face declining financial progress prospects and elevated pressure on assets from rising healthcare and pension prices, however it’ll additionally face a declining variety of conscripts for the army. Since 2018, South Korea has lowered its active-duty army from 618,000 troops to round 500,000. The present plan requires sustaining these ranges by 2027, however demographic traits will more and more create pressures to cut back the scale of active-duty forces additional. Enlisted members at the moment account for 299,000 active-duty troops, however over the past twenty years, male births have fallen from roughly 110,000 in 2000 to just a little below 105,000 final 12 months. As males born over the past twenty years start their service over the twenty years forward, there will probably be a scarcity of roughly 80,000 enlisted members.
Know-how will function one potential resolution for South Korea’s troop shortages. Seoul is already experimenting with utilizing AI to energy drones for reconnaissance and picture recognition, and is working to develop different methods for the long run use of AI in protection. In the end, AI might assist with duties associated to the autonomous switch of weapons, area medical prognosis and remedy, and improved missile protection.
Whereas AI might be able to assist South Korea deal with the wants of future troop decreases, expertise will even current challenges past the questions on the ethics of using autonomous weapons and AI integration between U.S. and Korean methods.
In distinction to the Chilly Struggle, when states largely monopolized strategic applied sciences, the non-public sector will play the dominant position within the improvement and deployment of AI and there will probably be comparatively low obstacles to entry. Two of the more moderen entries, ChatGPT and DALL-E 2, have proven the potential of AI, but in addition the probabilities for AI for use as a device of political subversion each domestically and by overseas powers; it’s more and more laborious to know if textual content, sound, and pictures are actual or synthetic.
Of all the modifications over the following decade, AI has the potential to be each probably the most profound for society, politics, economics, and nationwide safety, but in addition the one whose affect is most tough to foretell.
The subsequent decade will look very completely different from the previous decade, and can form the a long time to observe. To handle these traits the USA and South Korean want to have interaction in deeper, long-term discussions in regards to the future U.S. pressure posture on the Korean Peninsula to higher put together for the demographic shifts to return. There will 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 will even happen towards the backdrop of a distinct 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 in addition an strategy that integrates what was once regarded as separate points.