A Window of Opportunity for U.S.-South Korea Relations?

A Window of Opportunity for U.S.-South Korea Relations?

The disintegration of historic American alliances, particularly U.S.-Europe relations in the wake of the Iraq war, has been much analyzed in recent years. But the untold story of U.S. alliance disintegration is the Asia-Pacific region, where America's strategic preoccupation in Iraq and China's rapid ascension are gradually altering and degrading America's influence.

Unfortunately, the U.S.-South Korea (ROK) alliance has followed this trend. Over the past five years, President Bush and South Korea President Roh Moo-hyun have together undermined bilateral cooperation. To be fair, the Bush administration has made major overtures to South Korea, including transferring control of wartime operations from U.S. Forces Korea to South Korea and negotiating a major free trade agreement. Without reciprocal compromises from Seoul, however, it is unlikely that alliance proponents will be able to beat back disheartened opponents of the alliance in Washington.

But the prognosis for the future of the alliance improved in December, when South Korea elected a new leader. The election of President Lee Myung-bak of the Grand National Party (GNP) is refreshing not only for the people of South Korea but also for the U.S.-South Korea alliance, as the GNP has historically been a proponent of the alliance. However, legislative elections in April will be even more important for the future of U.S.-South Korea cooperation -- particularly, if the GNP wins a majority, which would increase the chances of passing the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as KORUS.

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