Special Forum

The US relationship with the Korean Peninsula is an interesting variation of a strategic triangle.1 Indeed, the United States’ relationships with North Korea and South Korea are hard to analyze except as part of this triangle. Traditionally, the tight and robust US-ROK alliance, along with North Korea’s isolation from the international system, has limited if not precluded North Korea from playing one side off of the other. In order to deal with the North Korean security threat, the United States and South Korea have sought to maintain the status quo in a coordinated fashion (deterrence), with relatively few coordinated efforts at engagement in tandem with continued show of military resolve and capabilities (cautious confidence-building). A nuclear North Korea has in effect strengthened the US-ROK alliance while also preventing the United States or South Korea from moving independently. All three states have stated the need for tension reduction and improved relations. However, with uncertainty and understandable, valid distrust, each has been paralyzed—unable and/or unwilling to disrupt the current balance—and waiting for the other to make the first move.

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