Domestic Political Challenges Facing the U.S.-South Korea Alliance

Friday, April 19, 2024
12:00 PM - 1:15 PM
Philippines Conference Room
Encina Hall, Third Floor, Central, C330
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305
  • Scott A. Snyder, President and CEO, Korea Economic Institute of America
Scott Snyder talk event image card

The alliance between the United States and South Korea has endured through seven decades of shifting regional and geopolitical security contexts. Yet it now faces challenges from within. Domestic political turmoil, including deepening political polarization and rising nationalism in both countries, has cast doubt on the alliance's viabilitywith critical implications for the balance of power in East Asia.

In this talk, Scott Snyder will discuss the internal and external pressures on the U.S.-South Korea alliance and explore its future prospects. He argues that nationalist leaders' accession to power could put past successes at risk and endanger the national security objectives of both countries. In the United States, "America First" nationalism favors self-interest over cooperation and portrays allies as burdens or even free riders. "Korea first" sentiments, in both progressive and conservative forms, present the U.S. military presence in South Korea as an obstacle to Korean reconciliation or a shackle on South Korea's freedom of action.

Snyder will also examine North Korea's attempts to influence South Korean domestic politics and how China's growing strength has affected the dynamics of the alliance. He considers scenarios in which the U.S.-South Korea relationship weakens or crumbles, emphasizing the consequences for the region and the world. Drawing on this analysis, Snyder offers timely recommendations for stakeholders in both countries on how to preserve and strengthen the alliance.

headshot of Scott Snyder

Scott A. Snyder is president and chief executive officer at the Korea Economic Institute of America. Previously, he was senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations from 2011 to March 2024. Mr. Snyder is the author of The United States-South Korea Alliance: Why It May Fail and Why It Must Not (December 2023) and South Korea at the Crossroads: Autonomy and Alliance in an Era of Rival Powers (January 2018). Mr. Snyder received a BA from Rice University and an MA from the regional studies East Asia program at Harvard University.