With the election of business mogul Donald Trump as US president casting a pall of uncertainty across the globe, a prominent UK scholar has predicted that America’s allies may attempt to reduce their reliance on the country.
Michael Yahuda, professor emeritus of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said that the incoming US leader’s unpredictability has uprooted the stability of the existing world order based on American influence.
“Even if he doesn’t change anything (about US policy), his election and the way he addressed things suggest we can’t take this for granted anymore. So I think American allies will begin to reduce their reliance on America. Because today it’s Trump, but tomorrow it will be someone else.”
Among the numerous questions raised by Trump’s election, one of the biggest concerns in South Korea has been the uncertainty surrounding national security. Trump’s talks of possibly pulling US troops out of the peninsula has sparked South Koreans to talk about arming themselves with nuclear-powered submarines or even nuclear weapons.
“I think what most people are expecting to see is the beginnings of debates on how much -- let’s say -- Koreans need to rely on themselves. What do they need?” posed Yahuda.
As it is realistically impossible to substitute the entire defense capacity of the US troops, Yahuda said there has to be a debate about choosing which aspects South Koreans will need to focus on for self-reliance.
“All of this has deepened whatever uncertainty there is ... (South Korea) not only needs conventional weapons, but also a high-tech military system, (for which it currently) relies on America,” he said.
South Korea has two Aegis-equipped destroyers and recently agreed with the US to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system on the peninsula next year, which has an advanced AN/TPY-2 radar with a potential range of up to 2,000 kilometers.
But many of the country’s detection and counterattack abilities rely on US assets. The country’s homegrown missile defense system is expected to be completed in the early-2020s in the best-case scenario.
The prospect of less US military presence on the peninsula also raises concerns about China and Russia, who have opposed stationing the US THAAD system within a relative stone’s throw of their borders.
“Because the pressing issue is whether South Korea is going to go in for the THAAD system, especially with (the) Chinese and Russians ... now, if there is a feeling that the Americans are not reliable, then why antagonize the Chinese? It’s very difficult,” Yahuda said.
On the issue of THAAD, he highlighted the challenges presented for smaller powers like South Korea when dealing with greater powers like the US and China.
“When the bigger power senses some sort of conflict that is not in the interest of (the) smaller power, they nevertheless drag the smaller power into it. That’s the kind of trouble you get in alliance,” Yahuda said.
He also predicts that Trump, who said he is open to a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, may take what he will see as a more pragmatic approach toward Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.
“One idea is putting a cap on it (nuclear weapons). ... Because Trump is not ideological, he is not going to ‘make a fuss’ about human rights. That’s another kind of change,” Yahuda said.
Yahuda, who taught Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi in the 1970s, said China appears to believe the current situation is giving them an advantage in terms of regional influence.
In terms of international trade, he said that China’s recent actions suggest they are trying to establish an economic group with Asian neighbors, as the future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal seems uncertain.
Trump has openly expressed his disapproval of the TPP, though Yahuda suspects that Republicans in the US Congress might come up with some “face-saving” device.
But the danger lurking for China amid all the uncertainty is that they may “overplay their hand,” Yahuda said.
“If he (Trump) wants to make America great again, he can’t start by suddenly withdrawing from this part of the world (Asia). Nor can he start by making it look as if (the) Chinese are benefitting. That’s why I think (the) Chinese may have overreached,” he said.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)