Conservative US think tank argues S. Korea should shoulder more of its defense burden

Posted on : 2023-09-19 16:45 KST Modified on : 2023-09-19 16:45 KST
A report put out by Project 2025 aimed at providing policy recommendations to a possible incoming conservative White House argued South Korea should be made to take the lead in its conventional defense against North Korea
Cover of the “Mandate for Leadership” report.
Cover of the “Mandate for Leadership” report.

In a policy playbook for the next US administration, conservative former officials and academics argued that South Korea and other American allies should play a key role in the conventional forces needed for their defense and should increase their defense contribution from their current levels.

The latest installment of “Mandate for Leadership” was published by Project 2025, which is spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and involves a range of other conservative groups and figures. In the area of national defense, the report stresses the threat of China, which it notes “is undertaking a historic military buildup.”

“The most severe immediate threat that Beijing’s military poses, however, is to Taiwan and other US allies along the first island chain in the Western Pacific. If China could subordinate Taiwan or allies like the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan, it could break apart any balancing coalition that is designed to prevent Beijing's hegemony over Asia,” the playbook said.

The policy prescriptions in the national defense section were composed by Christopher Miller, who briefly served as acting secretary of defense during the final days of the Trump administration.

“US allies must play their part not only in dealing with China, but also in dealing with threats from Russia, Iran, and North Korea,” the policy playbook said, adding that burden-sharing must become “a central part of US defense strategy with the United States not just helping allies to step up, but strongly encouraging them to do so.”

The authors of this year’s “Mandate for Leadership” also asserted that both American allies in the Middle East and NATO member states need to upgrade their conventional forces. The playbook’s policy prescription for South Korea was to enable it “to take the lead in its conventional defense against North Korea.”

The general argument that the playbook advanced in regard to national defense is that since the US already provides a nuclear umbrella, it’s currently spending too much on conventional arms assistance and that US allies need to assume a greater share of that cost.

The playbook was drafted with the goal of shaping policy in case the Republican Party wins next year’s presidential election. The Heritage Foundation, which took the lead in drafting this playbook, is a think tank that has made policy recommendations to various Republican administrations, including that of Donald Trump.

If the Republican Party does manage to regain power and adopts the policies outlined in the playbook, the US is likely to push even harder for Korea to shoulder a larger share of its defense burden. Korea might also be expected to play a greater role in its defense as US Forces Korea plays a smaller role.

Under Trump, the US government had tried to convince Korea to agree to a massive increase in its burden-sharing contribution.

By Lee Bon-young, Washington Correspondent

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