Potential impact of a second Trump presidency on the South Korea-U.S. alliance

Three points of friction could emerge over policy toward North Korea, host-nation support, and China policy.

As the 2024 U.S. presidential election draws closer, U.S. allies and adversaries alike are preparing for the potential return of former president Donald Trump to the White House. Trump, having clinched the Republican presidential nomination, seems to have a significant chance of regaining the presidency given current President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have fallen below 40 percent. 

With an often unorthodox approach to foreign policy, a second Trump term could result in considerable geopolitical changes around the world. One relationship in particular that could be affected is the United States’ alliance with South Korea. Trump’s return to the Oval Office in 2025 would likely create friction in the South Korea-U.S. relationship in at least three distinct ways. 

First, Trump might break with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on policy toward North Korea’s nuclear program. Yoon has so far pursued containment toward North Korea. He has sought to strengthen deterrence against North Korean aggression by deepening South Korea’s alliance with the United States. Similarly, Yoon has worked to bolster South Korea’s three-axis system, including missile defenses and retaliatory strike capabilities. 

At the same time, Yoon has tried to pressure North Korea into making concessions on its nuclear program by isolating the Kim regime economically and diplomatically. Yoon has emphasized that direct diplomacy with North Korea itself would only be worthwhile if it resulted in concrete progress toward denuclearization. Similarly, he has clarified that he will only support sanctions relief or economic aid to North Korea in exchange for verifiable steps toward denuclearization.

A second-term Trump might pursue alternatives to Yoon’s approach. In particular, Trump might be more open to engagement and accommodation toward Pyongyang than Yoon is. During his time in office, Trump favored personal diplomatic engagement with North Korean leader Kim Jon Un rather than seeking to isolate him. Trump met repeatedly with Kim for summits in Singapore, Vietnam, and along the Korean DMZ during his first term and claims to have remained in contact with Kim even after the end of his term in office. 

Leave a Reply


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *