South Korea–United States relations

South Korea–United States relations

South Korea

United States
Diplomatic Mission
Korean Embassy, Washington D.C. United States Embassy, Seoul
Ambassador Ahn Ho-Young Ambassador Mark Lippert

Republic of Korea–United States relations (Korean: 한미동맹(韓美同盟) Romaja: Hanmi dongmeng) have been extensive since 1950, when the United States helped establish the modern state of South Korea and fought on its UN-sponsored side in the Korean War (1950–1953). During the subsequent four decades, South Korea experienced tremendous economic, political and military growth, and significantly reduced U.S. dependency. From Roh Tae-woo's administration to Roh Moo-hyun's administration, South Korea sought to establish an American partnership, which has made the SeoulWashington relationship subject to some strains, especially with the Anti-US/Korean sentiments. However, relations between the United States and South Korea have greatly strengthened under the conservative, pro-U.S. Lee Myung-bak administration. At the 2009 G-20 London Summit, U.S. President Barack Obama called South Korea "one of America's closest allies and greatest friends."[1] In addition, South Korea has been designated as a Major non-NATO ally.[2]

According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 58% of South Koreans view United States' influence positively, and with 28% view of negatively, and 55% of Americans views South Korea's influence positively, and with 34% view of negatively. South Korea is one of the most pro-American nations in the world.

On May 7, 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama cited Psy's "Gangnam Style" as an example of how people around the world are being "swept up by Korean culture—the Korean Wave."[3]

Country comparison

South Korea Republic of Korea United States United States of America
Population 50,620,000 323,135,000
Area 99,392 km2 (38,375 sq mi) 9,820,630 km2 (3,791,770 sq mi)
Population Density 491/km2 (1,270/sq mi) 31/km2 (80/sq mi)
Capital Seoul Washington, D.C.
Largest City Seoul – 10,464,051 (25,650,063 Metro) New York City – 8,363,710 (19,006,798 Metro)
Government Unitary presidential constitutional republic Federal presidential constitutional republic
First Leader Rhee Syng-man George Washington
Current Leader Park Geun-hye Barack Obama
Official languages Korean English (de facto, none at federal level)
GDP (nominal) US$1.450 trillion ($28,739 per capita) US$16.245 trillion ($51,704 per capita)

Historical background

Korean War (6.25 War)

Main articles: Division of Korea and Korean War
The statue of MacArthur at South Korea Jayu (Freedom) Park.[4]

Cross-border skirmishes and raids at the 38th Parallel escalated into open warfare when the North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950 after President Rhee excluded communists from the elections. [5] The Korean War broke out when North Korea invaded South Korea. In response, 16 member countries of the United Nations, including the United States, came to the defense of South Korea against the North. It was the first significant armed conflict of the Cold War with extensive deployment of American and other troops.[6]

Letter from President of the Republic of Korea Lee Myung-bak

… About 37,000 Americans lost their lives. They fought for the freedom of Koreans they did not even know, and thanks to their sacrifices, the peace and democracy of the republic were protected. … On this significant occasion, all Koreans pay tribute to the heroes fallen in defense of freedom and democracy. I firmly believe that future generations in both countries will further advance the strong Republic of Korea–U.S. alliance into one befitting the spirit of the new age.[7]

Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2010

Origins of the South Korea–United States alliance

Following the end of World War II, the United States established a bilateral alliance with South Korea instead of establishing a multilateral alliance with South Korea and other East Asian countries.

Moreover, the "U.S. alliance with South Korea would consequently have three functions. First, it would serve as part of a network of alliances and military installations designed to ring the Soviet threat in the Pacific. Second, it would deter a second North Korean attack, with U.S. ground troops serving as the "tripwire" guaranteeing U.S. involvement. Third, it would restrain the South from engaging in adventurism."[8]

Military alliance

American Soldiers and Korean War veterans honor fallen comrades

The Republic of Korea and the United States agreed to a military alliance in 1953.[9] They called it "the relationship forged in blood".[10] In addition, roughly 29,000 United States Forces Korea troops are stationed in South Korea. In 2009, South Korea and the United States pledged to develop the alliance’s vision for future defense cooperation.[11] Currently South Korean forces would fall under United States control should the war resume. This war time control is planned to revert to South Korea in 2020.[12]

At the request of the United States, President Park Chung-hee sent troops to Vietnam to assist American troops during the Vietnam War, maintaining the second largest contingent of foreign troops after the United States. In exchange, the United States increased military and economic assistance to South Korea. President Roh Moo-hyun, despite having been elected on a liberal platform, also authorized dispatching a small contingent of troops to Iraq in 2004 at the request of President George Bush.

Joint vision for the Alliance of the Republic of Korea and the United States of America

The Alliance is adapting to changes in the 21st Century security environment. We will maintain a robust defense posture, backed by allied capabilities which support both nations' security interests.... We will continue to deepen our strong bilateral economic, trade and investment relations.... In the Asia-Pacific region we will work jointly with regional institutions and partners to foster prosperity, keep the peace, and improve the daily lives of the people of the region.... The United States of America and the Republic of Korea will work to achieve our common Alliance goals through strategic cooperation at every level.[13]

The U.S. Government (June 16, 2009)


Since the end of the Korean War, South Korea and the United States have maintained strong ties.

Opinion polling

According to American think tank Pew Research Center, South Koreans have one of the most favorable views in the world towards the United States and Americans (ranked within top 4 among the countries in the world).[14][15] Also, according to a Korean Gallup poll, South Korea views the U.S. as the most favorable country in the world.[16] In the political side, the United States supported South Korea after 1945 as a "staunch bastion against communism", even when it was ruled by a dictatorship.[17] In a March 2011 Gallop Poll, 74% of South Koreans said that they believe that the U.S. influence in the world is favorable,[18] and in a November 2011 Gallup Poll, 57% of South Koreans approved of U.S. leadership, with 22% disapproving; by contrast, only 30% of South Koreans approved of China's leadership.[19]

Americans are steadily viewing South Korea more positively as well, with the 2011 Gallop poll – a 65% favorability rating – being the highest rating to date.[18] Thus, the relationship between the two countries, as indicated by polling results, is steadily improving.

According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 58% of South Koreans view U.S. influence positively, the highest rating for any surveyed Asian country.[20]

Environmental degradation

On February 9, 2000, the Eighth U.S. Army ordered twenty boxes of formaldehyde, a toxic fluid, dumped into the Han River. South Korean environmentalist groups protested that it could be harmful to aquatic life forms, but the U.S. military insisted that it was diluted with water. This incident was satirized in the 2006 South Korean monster film The Host, where a horrible mutated monster from the river menaces the inhabitants of Seoul.[21]

Beef controversy

The Government of South Korea banned imports of U.S. beef in 2003 in response to a case of mad cow disease in Washington state. In 2008, the protests against U.S. beef recalled the student "pro-democracy" movements of the 1980s. Nevertheless, South Korea became the world's third largest U.S. beef importer in 2010. With its strong import growth, South Korea surpassed Japan for the first time to become the largest market for U.S. beef in Asia.[22]

Economic relations

South Korea and the United States are important economic partners to each other. Nearly 60 billion dollars of trade volume between the two countries display the significant economic interdependence between the two states. However, according to the CRS report, South Korea is much more economically reliant on the United States than the United States is on South Korea. This is supported with the fact that the United States ranks first as a trading partner for South Korea.[23] However, a recent policy brief introduces the fact that the ratio of exports to the United States has declined significantly from around 40 percent to less than 20 percent in 2002 while the share of exports to China has increased drastically which led China to become the number one export destination for South Korea.[24] Although the economy of South Korea and the United States is becoming more integrated with the recent ratification of the KORUS Free Trade Agreement, there remains some major trade disputes between the two nations in the areas including telecommunications, automotive industry, intellectual property rights issues, pharmaceutical industry, and agricultural industry especially in terms of rice and beef.[23]

See also


  1. President Obama Vows Strengthened U.S.-South Korea Ties 2 Apr 2009. Embassy of the United States, Seoul
  2. Farberov, Snejana (6 July 2012). "Hillary Clinton flies into Kabul as U.S. declares Afghanistan major non-NATO ally". Daily Mail. Retrieved May 28, 2015. Afghanistan becomes the 15th such country the U.S. has declared a major non-NATO ally. The list includes Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand.
  3. "Remarks by President Obama and President Park of South Korea in a Joint Press Conference". White House. Retrieved 7 May 2013. And of course, around the world, people are being swept up by Korean culture—the Korean Wave. And as I mentioned to President Park, my daughters have taught me a pretty good Gangnam Style.
  4. Jayu Park
  5. Devine, Robert A.; Breen, T. H.; Frederickson, George M.; Williams, R. Hal; Gross, Adriela J.; Brands, H.W. (2007). America Past and Present 8th Ed. Volume II: Since 1865. Pearson Longman. pp. 819–821. ISBN 0-321-44661-5.
  6. Hermes, Jr., Walter (1992) [1966]. Truce Tent and Fighting Front. United States Army Center of Military History. pp. 2, 6–9. CMH Pub 20-3-1.
  7. From South Korea, a note of thanks June 25, 2010. Los Angeles Times
  8. Cha, Victor (Winter 2009/10). Powerplay: Origins of U.S. Alliances in Asia. p. 174. Check date values in: |date= (help);
  9. The ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the United States
  10. Speeches of U.S. Ambassador, March 20, 2009
    … One of the first phrases I learned in Korean, I heard in Korean, when people talked about the US-Korea relationship, was 혈맹관계, "the relationship forged in blood." I remember how moved I was by that, by the passion which people used in talking about it. Our relationship, as you all well know, goes further back even than that …
    (March 20, 2009, U.S. Ambassador in the Republic of Korea)
  11. Joint Statement of ROK-US Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting 07-21-2010. The Korea Times
  12. "US, South Korea agree to again delay handover of wartime operational control to Seoul."
  13. Joint vision for the Alliance of the Republic of Korea and the United States of America June 16, 2009. The White House
  14. Opinion of the United States Pew Research Center
  15. South Koreans remain strongly pro-American Pew Research Center
  16. "한국에 긍정적 영향을 미친 국가는 미국 " 80.7% (80.7% Korean think US gave most positive influence to Korea)(Korean)
  17. Stockwell, Eugene (1976-05-01). "South Korea's leader Communism's best ally?". The Gadsden Times. Retrieved 2010-04-10.
  18. 1 2
  19. U.S. Leadership Approval Ratings Top China's in Asia Gallup (company)
  20. 2014 World Service Poll BBC
  21. Jon Herskovitz (2006-09-07). "South Korean movie monster gobbles up box office". Reuters. Retrieved 2006-11-02.
  22. S. Korea becomes world's third largest U.S. beef importer July 16, 2010. People's Daily
  23. 1 2 Manyin, M. (2004). South Korea-U.S. Economic Relations: Cooperation, Friction, and Future Prospects. CRS Report for Congress. Retrieved from
  24. Noland, M. (2003). The Strategic Importance of US-Korea Economic Relations. International Economics Policy Briefs. Retrieved from

Further reading

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