THREAD on South Korea as a regional geopolitical pivot or broker arbitrating between the US and NK, or the US and China.

This is not true.

I’ve reviewed repeated journal articles during the Moon years making this argument, and my comments are always the same. So to the left-

wing SK scholars who continue to push this (bc SK hawks never say this), please consider how obviously falsifiable this idea is:

1. SK is a formal, MNNA US treaty ally. That right there makes neutralism more a normative desire than an empirical claim.

2. There are emplaced

US bases, equipment, warfighters, and consultants all over the peninsula. Not that many US allies or partners actually have as much stuff as the US parks here.

3. USFK is pretty integrated with the ROK military. The relationships with Japan and NATO are more siloed.

4. The US alliance is popular in SK. The SK left may harbor ‘386 generation’ grudges about US ‘imperialism’ and domination of SK foreign policy – which you can see in SK geopolitical thrillers all the time (try “The Flu” or “60 Days”) – but the wider public is more or less

satisfied, especially now that Trump is gone:….

5. US pop culture and English remain hugely popular here. American movies are all over Korean TV; the SK left’s effort to de-emphasize English in schooling has failed; SK students still want and do go to

the US for higher ed in large numbers (the third largest foreign contingent after much larger China and India:…).

6. SK media is obsessed with the reception of Korean pop artists, movies, athletes, and so on in the US. They report on it breathlessly.

7. The transnational diaspora relationship between SK and Korean-Americans is thick.

8. Nothing regarding points 5-7 exists at similar scale regarding China.

9. Neither the US, China, nor NK take SK seriously as an arbiter, nor can I think of any serious deal SK has midwifed

between them. A nice example of an arbitration role is Norway in the Oslo process (try this: SK has no such record. In fact, both Trump and NK’s Kim Jong Un were quite explicit to cut out SK’s president when they met. NK has made it a point for

decades to not bargain seriously with SK but to demand to talk to the Americans. And I can’t recall Xi Jinping ever mentioning SK as some sort of convener of goodwill or whatever for northeast Asian tensions.

10. This whole discourse stems from the SK’s left lingering anti-

Americanism and nationalist dislike for being the smaller power in an obviously asymmetric relationship. I get that. But I’ve never seen a serious leftist figure call for the actions – USFK’s withdrawal, the end of the US alliance, doubling or tripling defense spending,

widening conscription to include women, nuking up, a major space program (for intelligence gathering) – which would make a neutral broker posture credible. And the reason no one says this is that it would be hugely unpopular with the SK electorate who senses, correctly, that

real neutralism between the US and China, or the US and NK, is a risky and expensive choice compared to sticking with the US alliance.

11. This doesn’t mean that the US should bully SK, and yes, Trump was awful for the relationship. But all these points are huge signals that

SK is aligned with one camp and not a neutral.


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