If there is one place in the world where territory is tied to external support systems, it is South Korea. The Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Republic of South Korea has been in place since 1953. The Treaty was most recently renewed in March of 2013. The Treaty is worded so that contingency plans are “South Korean-led, US-supported.” But think about it for a moment. The United States needs allies on the periphery of China and at the eastern border of Russia. Korea, of course, needs a big league player to guarantee its autonomy in the face of tensions with North Korea. So, for providing that guarantee, the United States gets the needed ally on the periphery of China and Russia. Korea’s territorial muscle is based on alliance.
Military Territory Sharing
But the deal with Korea is not just about military alliances and the Treaties that arrange the alliance. Korea has gotten so much more from the deal than just a guarantee of support in the face of North Korean aggression, Korea has open access to the U.S. market place. In the 60 plus years that the Mutual Defense Treaty has been in place, Korea has learned to exploit the commercial opportunity that accompanies the military alliance. Cars and digital electronics are the magic formula for Asian countries entering the U.S. market place. Korea has not been overly creative in this, they have taken pages out of the Japanese play book – of cars and electronics. The biggest difference is Korea is doing mostly digital electronics, while Japan has been very slow to embrace digital electronics.
South Korea’s territorial cycle is tied to local territorial forces, global geopolitics and global trade patterns. Korea’s location has always made it a concern for Japan. The Korean peninsula points south and east directly at Japan, which is only a hundred miles across the Korea Strait to Kitakyushu and the other cities on Japan’s southern most island and only 300 miles to Tokyo. Japan has a long history of invading Korea in order to expand its territory and thereby control any need to defend against Korea by taking the first offense. In South Korea there are lingering resentments over the 50 year Japanese colonial occupation of Korea from 1895 until the defeat of Japan by the Allies in 1945.
There also is a remaining dispute between Japan and South Korea over jurisdiction of Liancourt Rocks which are located in the Korea Strait and have been occupied by South Korea since 1954. So with linger resentments/annimosity and a long-standing dispute, it was a bit surprising to find the two countries signing a military treaty in June of 2012. The Japan-South Korea treaty is designed to increase sharing of classified military data about North Korea’s nuclear threat and about Chin’s growing military strength. In facing the crazy strategies of North Korea it benefits both Japan and South Korea to support each other, at least to some extent. A similar rationale justifies interactions between Japan and South Korea’s militaries vis-a-vis China’s expanding military might.
These two major common concerns have caused South Korea and Japan to take a significant step towards overcoming their historical distrust of one another. The accord is officially called the General Security of Military Information Agreement and is also to the benefit of the United States who is a mutual military support to both South Korea and Japan. The treaty solidifies an already thriving economic and cultural exchange between South Korea and Japan. As South Korea’s economy grew stronger and stronger over the last forty years, and because the two countries both pursue global markets for automobiles and electronics, it’s not surprising they interact, but military cooperation is a big step. For South Korea’s territorial cycle, the Japan link is a positive resolution to what was previously an ongoing threat. With cultural, commercial and now military ties between the two countries South Korea has expanded its regional territory simply by no longer having to be so vigilant against its former enemy.
Trade Treaties And Territory
Starting in February 2006 the United States and South Korea began negotiating a Free Trade Agreement known as KORUS FTA. The agreement was ratified by both countries and entered into effect in March of 2012. This trade treaty eliminates 95% of the tariffs between the two countries within five years. For South Korea it is the second largest free trade agreement it has entered into after the largest free trade treaty it signed with the European Union. Both of these huge free trade agreements dwarf the other free trade agreements South Korea has signed with Chile, Singapore, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the European Free Trade Area.
South Korea’s commercial trading territory is now global and tightly tied to the world’s two wealthiest markets in the United States and Western Europe. But free trade treaties don’t always work without hitch. South Korea also has a Free Trade agreement with Canada, the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement (CKFTA), Canada, like the United States, runs a trade deficit with South Korea. The products Canada sells to South Korea are all carbon-intensive resources – coal, copper, pulp and aluminum – all sold in bulk and all low value added, which is to say few jobs are added to Canada’s economy with these sales. The conflict comes into play over automotive imports sent from South Korea to Canada. The free trade treaty drops Canada’s 6.1% automotive tariff on South Korean cars with in three years and since Ontario has a large automotive economy the imports are likely to cost Canadian jobs.
Korea’s territorial cycle has expanded hugely in the last five years as western countries look for friendly access to Asian markets. The expansion is based on a combination of geopolitical and economic trade-offs. The western countries gain a geopolitical partner by opening wealthy markets. South Korea gains allies in the west who are now tied to South Korean politics among Asian countries and South Korea gets access to huge wealthy markets. It’s an expensive treaty for the western countries, but as long as South Korea remains a strategically valuable ally in Asia it is worthwhile in both directions.