Trump and the U.S.-ROK Alliance

Korea Chair Snapshot

There have been efforts to offer comforting words about the continuity of cooperation in the U.S.-ROK alliance with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.  The South Korean foreign minister said as much to reporters yesterday.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that we have no idea what the impact will be on the alliance. The president-elect’s guiding principle has been to treat allies fairly but not allow them to unfairly take advantage of the United States.  Based on these and other soundbites we have heard during the campaign, we can hazard some guesses. 
  • Special Measures Agreement (SMA) - This is the first substantive alliance issue that is likely to come up in the Trump presidency.  The cost-sharing agreement will require renegotiation in 2017. Trump has said clearly during the campaign that allies need to pay their share.  Expect the United States to drive a hard bargain on renegotiation.

  • Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) - South Korea’s desire to join TPP is now a moot issue.  Trump has stated clearly his opposition to the 12-nation agreement; moreover, there is a chance that his administration could re-evaluate KORUS, given the prevailing view during the campaign that these trade deals have hurt the American worker.

  • Operational Control Transfer (OPCON) -Trump’s guiding principle has been to put American interests first.  In this regard, it is entirely plausible that a Trump presidency may seek to complete OPCON transfer and put these responsibilities in the hands of Koreans.

  • General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) - Given Trump’s desires to see allies carry a larger burden, it is possible that his administration would support a general intelligence-sharing agreement between its allies, Japan and Korea.

  • North Korea - This is perhaps the biggest question mark.  During the campaign, the president-elect has offered everything from a willingness to sit down with Kim Jong-un to putting the problem entirely in China’s hands. It is plausible that he could try to cut a grand bargain.
This is all guesswork at the moment, but until we hear more from the president-elect, we should be under no assumption that continuity will prevail.

Korea Chair Snapshot is a product by the CSIS Korea Chair providing key takeaways from breaking events of the day and is published by the Office of the Korea Chair ( program/korea-chair) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues.
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Victor Cha
Senior Vice President for Asia and Korea Chair