Global Insights: Obama, Lee Partnership Solidifies U.S.-South Korea Ties

Global Insights: Obama, Lee Partnership Solidifies U.S.-South Korea Ties

This past week’s 44th annual U.S.-South Korea Security Consultative meeting chaired by South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta provides an opportunity to benchmark the health of the alliance at a moment when at least one of the presidential administrations, that of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, is certain to leave office soon.

At their meeting, the two countries’ defense establishments agreed to continue transitioning wartime operational command responsibilities to the South Korean military, retain 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, expand U.S.-South Korea cooperation in new areas such as outer space and the cyber domain, and refine their deterrence strategies to counter North Korea’s nuclear, missile and other asymmetric capabilities.

When Lee took office in 2008, U.S.-South Korean relations were still recovering from tensions that had surfaced during the first term of U.S. President George W. Bush, largely due to disagreements over South Korea’s “Sunshine” policy of engagement toward North Korea pursued by Lee’s predecessors. These tensions began to dissipate in the period between 2005 and 2007, when North Korea agreed to several compromise settlements with the United States and South Korea that saw Pyongyang dismantle key elements of its nuclear program, although North Korea later went back on those deals.

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