The Sixty Years of the Korea-U.S. Security Alliance

Past, Present, and Future

Published in: International Journal of Korean Studies, v. XVII, no. 2, Fall/Winter 2013, p. 1-43

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2013

by Bruce W. Bennett

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The Republic of Korea (ROK) and the United States have maintained a strong security alliance for 60 years. Throughout that period, North Korea has posed continuing threats that have evolved significantly in recent years. Because North Korea is a failing state, the ROK and the United States must seek to deter, and, if necessary, defeat a range of North Korean challenges, from provocations to major war. They must also be prepared to deal with a North Korean government collapse. All of these challenges potentially involve a ROK/US offensive into North Korea to unify Korea, with significantly different force requirements than the historical defense of Seoul. North Korea has made all of these challenges more dangerous by developing significant weapons of mass destruction and especially nuclear weapons. The ROK and the United States must do more to collect intelligence on these threats and must field robust offensive and defensive capabilities against them. ROK demographics will complicate future Korean security efforts. The ROK has experienced low birthrates for several decades now and cannot sustain the historical or current size of its military. The current twenty-two active duty ROK Army divisions are scheduled to be reduced to twelve or so in 2022, which likely is insufficient for successful offensive and stabilization operations in the North. The ROK has several options available for offsetting the loss of ten active duty divisions, but these options tend to involve financial and political costs that the ROK government will be reluctant to accept. Regardless of whether the ROK provides adequate forces, China is likely to intervene into North Korea in any of the scenarios involving ROK/US intervention into the North, forcing the ROK/US to work more closely with China to avoid the possibility of an accidental but disastrous conflict.

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