Tonight, Hillary Clinton became the first female to ever accept the nomination of a major political party for the office of President of the United States of America. Her policies support unity in the face of danger, equality for all, and a more sensible hawkish approach to international relations. Regardless of politics, this night represents a major stepping stone in the history of the United States. And now, because I honestly can’t live a day without discussing politics, let’s get into Hillary on the issue of Korea.
As Secretary of State, Hillary presided over the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, which brought more troops and investment to the region. She also assisted in securing support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, along with a variety of other major policies geared toward Asia. But if Clinton is elected president, what would her administration do for South Korea?
First, she has advocated against the TPP, saying it takes jobs away from America. Now, she has not, to my knowledge, said anything against the Korea-US FTA, but I feel the entire gambit of FTAs with Washington will be examined under her administration. Whether review leads to change and renegotiation, we will have to wait and see.
Her most prominent claim to fame, according to her, is the creation of the trilateral defense system in Asia. This claim focuses on the intelligence sharing with South Korea, but may bode bigger issues now with THAAD deployment in South Korea. Clinton could work to strengthen the security bond between Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul by incorporating the Korean THAAD battery into a larger regional defense shield. China would oppose this stance, and may even undertake actions to protest the inclusion of Korea into such a defense system since it will see the action as hostile to its intentions in the region. However, this is a strategy which could come with a bright side. Clinton’s commitment to the defense of Asia, if it does not result in a more robust defense system including South Korea, may strengthen the military bonds between South Korea and the United States, without deploying more troops or seriously damaging ties with China. In fact, Clinton could work to secure Chinese involvement in the North Korea by not including South Korea in the missile defense system. This policy could hinder relations with the Saenuri party in South Korea since they see the United States as a key to their defense.
Clinton’s South Korea policy is walking a fine line which incorporates the relations of many nations in the region. She does promise to never give up allies in the region, a policy which South Koreans, no matter of political leaning, will find promising. However, her policy is mere speculation, as she has yet to really address the topic of South Korea beyond promising to never abandon it and other international allies.
North Korea is an issue which derails any good aspect of Clinton’s past. She was a key agent in Strategic Patience, a policy which worsened relations with North Korea since it saw itself as being left out of the world conversation.
Hillary in 2016, however, has a more promising solution. She has advocated to increase sanctions on the regime if it does not forgo any future nuclear testing and development. This is not the most promising strategy, as sanctions have thus far failed to constrict resources going to the nuclear program, but it does leave the door open to engagement, which has been proven to relieve tensions on the peninsula, even for a short time. She has not released a detailed outline of what she would sanction, and currently, several hurdles exist for her policy to be effective. The first is Kaesong’s closure. This hurdle limits the positive relationship with South Korea, which in a roundabout way, also hinders relations with Washington; now there is no mutually beneficial ground for the two Koreas on the entire peninsula. Another hurdle for her North Korea policy is closing loopholes in current North Korean sanctions. This will include an exhaustive policy review, as well as lengthy discussions with United Nations to ensure that future sanctions work to not only increase the amount of sanctions on North Korea, but also work to increase the effectiveness of sanctions already in place.
There is one really promising figure who will be with her if she takes office, Bill Clinton. He presided over the Agreed Framework of 1994 with North Korea, orchestrating possibly the best method for denuclearization – had the deal been upheld – in North Korea. One can hope that he would be involved in crafting a diplomatic solution, similar yet more stringent than the 1994 Framework, which could place the world on the path to denuclearization.
Now, to close I will say that Clinton does not have a perfect Korea policy. Including Korea on the missile defense system in Asia will hinder relations with China and Russia, and sanctions alone have proven to be unsuccessful in the quest for denuclearization. However, Hillary has been on the ground, and the sidelines, for many of the most important moments in American relations with the Korean peninsula and thus has a policy which comes from her experience. I would like to see a more dynamic path to denuclearization, as well as a more robust defense system which would not work to alienate China, but at least her policy is founded in reality and may, even though this is a long shot, work to bring more stability to the peninsula.