National Security Concerns Triumph over Security Cooperation: Lessons from European Defense Collaborations for the U.S.–ROK Nuclear Assurance Debate

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Abstract

NATO has become a reference point for the U.S.–ROK nuclear assurance debate, as many in South Korea want the United States to implement nuclear assurance mechanisms in Korea similar to those in NATO. However, European defense collaborations in general—not only issues related to NATO nuclear assurance—can provide relevant insights into how the dynamics between the United States and ROK regarding nuclear deterrence might evolve. One of the lessons from Europe is that countries side-step cooperative frameworks and find alternative solutions if the existing cooperative frameworks no longer meet their national security needs. This can happen when progress is slow or insufficient on issues critical for the national security of a participating country or when the geostrategic environment changes rapidly, and the cooperation is not adequate to address the core security concerns of a nation anymore. The article discusses two illustrative examples: the British–French Lancaster House Treaties of 2010 and Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership applications of 2022. Using insights from these European defense collaborations, this article builds on the scholarship of assurance that highlights that assurance happens in an environment where partners pursue alternative options if they are dissatisfied with existing arrangements. Thus, this paper suggests that South Korea will likely look for alternative options if Seoul concludes that it will not get those nuclear assurances from the United States that would make Seoul feel secure. For South Korea, these alternatives can manifest either in finding new security partners or—as a more likely scenario—developing indigenous nuclear capabilities while intending to stay in the U.S.–ROK alliance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalKOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
Volume36
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Feb 2024

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