Is South Korea Blowing Its ‘Pivotal State’ Status?
South Korea used to be pivotal to Asian stability. Is it still?
South Korea likes to think of itself as a “pivotal state” in global politics, and in certain ways it is. But what makes it pivotal?
The question came to mind when I read the latest from the good folks at “Polycrisis,” associated with Phenomenal World—which is the single best resource out there on political economy. They have a new piece out on South Korea as a bellwether for regional instability. It’s worth a read. And its perspective hinges on understanding what makes South Korea pivotal to Asia.
South Korea of course occupies a physical position between China and Japan—a blessing and a curse in geopolitics. South Korea has also positioned itself as a major source of manufacturing, investment, and eventually arms sales to greater East Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific.
But what has really made South Korea pivotal is that, despite being a staunch treaty ally of the United States, its foreign policy strategy in relation to the “great powers” has long been one of hedging. That may sound strange—how can you be at once an ally of a great power and a hedger among great powers?
Well, for more than a generation, the US-South Korea alliance has been narrowly scoped to North Korea in practice, even in spite of recurring attempts to brand it rhetorically as a “global alliance.” What it most definitely is not—at least historically—is an anti-China or anti-Russia alliance.
Let me explain.