S.Korea's Reluctance over Russia Sanctions Damages U.S. Alliance

      March 02, 2022 13:18

      South Korea has been pointedly left out of a list of 32 countries that are exempt from new U.S. licensing requirements for goods that use American technology, a curb aimed at punishing Russia for invading Ukraine. The U.S. Department of Commerce requires companies to obtain approval before exporting semiconductors, computers and communication, laser and sensor equipment to Russia that could be diverted for military purposes. The 27 EU member nations, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the U.K., which announced similar sanctions against Russia, are exempt from the curb because the U.S. trusts them to refrain from exporting strategic materials to Russia. But South Korea has been excluded from that waiver, which essentially means that the country has been classified as untrustworthy despite its 70-year alliance with the U.S.

      The U.S. had good reason to do that. South Korea was the only U.S. ally that dragged its heels in announcing sanctions against Russia. Shortly after Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, President Moon Jae-in pledged to "take part in efforts by the international community, including sanctions." But he hesitated to implement separate sanctions, provoking a barrage of criticism from the U.S. political establishment. Now the government here belatedly decided to ban dealings with certain Russian banks and block exports of strategic materials to Russia.

      The government was afraid of Russia's retaliation, but other U.S. allies probably had the same concerns yet were willing to take the risk in order to join the international response.

      South Korea was saved by the U.S. and 16 other UN nations when it was invaded by North Korea and was able to prosper based on that alliance, which is a promise to risk lives for mutual protection. Such a relationship must be based on absolute trust. But the very foundation of its alliance with the U.S. has been weakened to the point that Seoul is no longer included among America's trusted allies. How can South Korea reach out to the U.S. for help but hesitate to help its strongest ally?

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