STRATEGIC ANALYSIS REPORT / Corey J. Hubbard and Paula Mora Brito
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Intense military pressures on South Korea have been present for half a century, with the country being at the centre of numerous regional conflicts. The government’s technique for addressing external security threats differs depending on its nature, varying from assuming the position of great foreign powers to implementing its independent policy. The Republic of Korea’s reliance on foreign assistance for defence and protection shows no signs of ending, especially concerning North Korea. The incitement of Kim Jong Un’s government risks hostility in the region.
The country is under growing domestic pressures to find solutions for a rapidly ageing population and record low birthrates, one of the world’s weakest. Failure to do so compromises South Korea’s status as a growing power in East Asia, one of the four Asian Tigers, and risks leading the country to economic stagnation. Suppose the South Korean government does not find a way to make immigration more palatable to the Korean people. In that case, it is unlikely that South Korea will avoid a significant population decline.
Well-established antagonism with Japan could worsen as Japanese nationalist policies conflict with the South Korean government’s goals. However, the recent signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership opens up several possible developments in Korean-Japanese relations, extending from an improbable reset in their bilateral ties to an equally unlikely economic confrontation. The Liancourt Rocks dispute also stands to be influenced by recent events, which may incline South Korea to turn to foreign mediation on the issue.
South Korean relations with the United States are evolving, with the Biden Administration recently inking a new cost-sharing deal with the South Korean Government to cover the expenses of American troops stationed on the Peninsula. Nevertheless, China’s growing influence threatens to overturn the established order in the region, and a rapprochement of South Korea to China may take place over the coming decades.
The future security of South Korea is directly tied to developments on the Korean Peninsula. Suppose relations with the North Korean Regime significantly improve, which most expect to be improbable in the near future. In that case, reunification may result, but North Korea’s nuclear weapons development could destabilise the region too. Scenarios relating to these events vary from an improbable reunification to an equally unlikely nuclear war.
South Korea’s attempts at navigating the growingly tense feud between the United States and China may force the country to choose a side in the conflict, which will have severe ramifications for its security architecture.