Paul Lachine

South Korea’s Changing Security Paradigm

For more than 60 years, South Korea has maintained a consistent, defensive security strategy, which relies excessively on US forces, in order to prevent another war on the Peninsula. But the unpredictability of the North Korean security threat demands a new strategic paradigm that allows for greater flexibility and adaptability.

SINGAPORE – Since the Korean War ended, the divided Korean Peninsula has stood at the center of complex power constellations in Northeast Asia involving the United States, Russia, China, and Japan. But, while South Korea’s geostrategic location and historical legacy – together with the enduring nationalist sentiments, alliance politics, territorial disputes, and superpower rivalries at play throughout the region – have generated a persistent security dilemmas, the country’s closest neighbor poses its defining security challenge.

The bitter political, strategic, and territorial rivalry between North and South Korea has generated what is essentially a zero-sum conflict on the Peninsula. Given the need to prevent another war, South Korea’s national-security strategy – based on the mutually reinforcing pillars of defensive deterrence, alliance with the US, and forward active defense – has remained relatively constant for more than six decades.

But, in the last decade, South Korea’s security environment has become increasingly complex, as traditional threats, scenarios, and contingencies linked to conventional, high-intensity warfare have converged with asymmetric and unconventional threats. In fact, two major threats, stemming from North Korea’s divergent potential development trajectories, are, by their nature, polar opposites.

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