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Treating Allies with Respect: The Importance of Status in the Politics of Asymmetric Alliances


Over the past three decades, the North Korean nuclear weapons program has rapidly evolved into a major international conundrum. In this context, the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) should have been able to display a high level of alliance cohesion, primarily because of: 1) the presence of a shared security threat; and 2) the asymmetric structure of the alliance. Curiously, however, Seoul and Washington have frequently clashed over the North Korean nuclear problem throughout the post-Cold War period, and this deeply puzzling state of relations lies at the heart of the dissertation. The goals of this project are twofold.

The first goal is to explain why the US and the ROK have failed to cooperate effectively over the management of the shared nuclear threat, and this I do so by focusing on the South Korean side of the story. The central argument that I advance is that for the South Koreans, having an opportunity to significantly influence the management of foreign policy issues critical to their national interest has been an important privilege that they believed they were entitled to per their claimed middle power status. This prerogative in turn had to be respected by the United States for their aspired status to be recognized and thereby legitimized. Otherwise, the South Koreans would experience status inconsistency and consequently become more prone to defying cooperation with the Americans. I conduct in-depth case studies of the First Korean Nuclear Crisis of 1993-94 and the Second Korean Nuclear Crisis of 2002-06 to demonstrate the validity of my claims.

The second goal of the project is to show that the above line of argument can be generalized to explain instances of low levels of cohesion observable in other cases of asymmetrical alliances as well. For this purpose, I conduct an in-depth case study of the US-France alliance relations during the presidency of Charles de Gaulle (1958-1969), up to France’s withdrawal from NATO in 1966. Overall, in both empirical and theoretical terms, this dissertation contributes to our understanding of the nature of conflicts that can develop within asymmetrical alliances more generally.

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