President Donald Trump made history by becoming the first US leader to enter North Korea last year, during talks to encourage nuclear disarmament. His efforts were widely criticised for not forcing the state’s leader Kim Jong-un to sign any agreement that would see them reduce their arsenal, and in-turn angered South Korea. Mr Trump raised concerns in the Southern state with his plan to withdraw troops and strengthen their ties to North Korea. In response to his actions, there was a growing demand for President Moon Jae-in to develop a nuclear missile programme to reduce fears over the North’s hostility and threats.
Mr Trump worsened the US’ relationship with South Korea when he stated that he was “suspicious” of “allies freeriding off military spending”, Korea expert Sue Me Terry claimed.
The nation was said to have felt threatened by “North Korea’s tremendous progress” with their own nuclear missile programme – with estimates claiming they have up to 40 nuclear weapons.
The pressure threatening the US-South Korean alliance, led for some within the country to demand greater military independence through nuclear weapons.
Toby Dalton, an expert of nuclear nonproliferation, added that Kim Jong-un’s provocations had led to increased tension within the southern state.
Most notably the hermit state leader blowing-up the inter-Korean communications liaison office in August – around five miles from the demilitarised zone (DMZ), the border between the two states.
Mr Dalton claimed that the US was “not seen to have followed through on its alliance commitments”, which should have seen them support South Korea amid those rising tensions.
This led to demands for “independence and sovereignty – particularly nuclear sovereignty” to be developed as a deterrent against feared threats by North Korea and China.
In January, Joe Biden will inherit a difficult playing field after President Trump’s “America first” policies and the overall reduction of US involvement in overseas peacekeeping.
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Mr Dalton added that there would be a “real danger” if the “nuclear idea became the barometer for success of their alliance” and would leave the US in “big trouble”.
The President-elect’s article in October showed he “cared about South Korea” at a time when there were “literally a gazillion issues to worry about”, according to Ms Terry.
She continued: “He focussed on South Korea by saying that the US would stand with South Korea, should not extort Seoul and will not withdraw troops.
“He talked about standing at the DMZ with his granddaughter and so on and talked about the pain of the separation of families – I think this is the right approach.
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“The number one thing that has to be done in terms of policy is this – alliance management, showing our ally that we care and that the alliance is important.
“Our whole conversation was how growing insecurity towards the alliance could lead South Korea to this [nuclear] path in the future.”
Ms Terry added that Mr Biden’s decision to reinforce the “alliance relationship” was a priority and should be dealt with “before we can even talk about North Korea”.
The Impossible State podcast was produced by the Centre for Strategic International Studies and released on November 3. It is available here.