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Pence’s Hard-Line Posturing Weakens the Alliance with Seoul

Pushing for a harder line from Seoul is likely to give North Korea an opening to drive a wedge between the U.S. and our ally.

Pence’s misguided Asia trip continues:

Vice President Mike Pence is pushing South Korea to adopt a more hawkish stance toward the North, as he arrived in the country Thursday ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Pence met with President Moon Jae-in to advocate a clear-eyed approach toward his bellicose, nuclear-armed neighbor, warning against North Korean “propaganda” around the games.

There is something very wrong with the relationship with Seoul when our government presses them to become more confrontational in their dealings with their neighbor. If the U.S. alliance with South Korea serves any constructive purpose, it does so because it contributes to regional security and stability. When our government uses that alliance to pressure South Korea to take a harder line against the DPRK than they want to take and risks ratcheting up tensions as a result, it contributes to regional instability and uncertainty. There is always a danger that our alliances can pull us into conflicts that the U.S. could otherwise easily avoid, but there is also a real danger that our government might use its alliances as cover for pursuing reckless and aggressive policies that our allies don’t support. Pushing for a harder line from Seoul isn’t going to succeed and it won’t change North Korean behavior, but it is likely to give North Korea an opening to drive a wedge between the U.S. and our ally.

The language in this news report is also quite misleading, and it betrays a common bias in giving hawkish positions far more credit than they deserve just because they are more aggressive. There is nothing “clear-eyed” in using discredited pressure tactics to pursue an impossible goal. The Trump administration’s North Korea policy is myopic and divorced from reality. If South Korea’s government isn’t doing what the administration wants, that is because they have a better grasp of the situation and have far more at stake than our government does.



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