Time for a joint strategic research with the U.S.

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Time for a joint strategic research with the U.S.

Lee Kwang-hyung
The author is the president of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

We are witnessing a novel type of war dubbed a “hybrid war” in Ukraine. The war involves all sectors — national security, supply chain, defense strategy, economic industries, financial system, and science and technology. Nuclear weapons mostly regarded as a deterrence or peace guarantee during the Cold War are now perceived as a live weapon that can actually be used. The United States so far keeps to indirect assistance without joining the war outright. Despite courageous resistance from the Ukraine people, Russia is gradually meeting its ambition. One lesson has been sure. There is a limit to what the U.S. can do when another country falls under aggression.

Many countries who relied on the U.S. as an ally to turn to at times of crisis could think otherwise upon watching America’s response to the Ukrainian war. The U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s attack on Ukraine is one example. China’s abstaining was foreseeable, but India’s was a shock. India is a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) with the U.S., Japan and Australia. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) which is pro-West, also abstained from the vote.

The U.S. has realized it cannot handle the global order alone. It launched Quad as a way of hemming in China. America is working on a similar framework with the United Kingdom and Australia, called Aukus, a security alliance. The U.S. is supplying nuclear-powered submarines to Australia as a part of the agreement. Washington invited Japan to join Aukus. The Congress has embarked on a review to include South Korea and Japan in the Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing alliance among the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
Washington reportedly is seeking a Chip-4 alliance with Asian chipmaking countries — South Korea, Japan and Taiwan — to ensure stable production and supply of chips, which are a staple in modern industries, and at the same time to isolate China. A supply chain encompasses all processes from components for manufacturing to raw materials, equipment and finished products.

During a summit meeting last May, South Korea and the U.S. stressed cooperation in chips and batteries in a joint statement. The U.S. has come to rely on assistance from core allies like South Korea to defeat China in its tech contest. National power in the 21st century goes beyond politics and defense and security to include technology and industries and economics. The U.S. no longer can shoulder the burden alone. Technology factors have come to influence international politics as much as geopolitical factors as in the past.

South Korea had always been on the receiving end in its relationship with the U.S. But now America needs South Korea. Since South Korea is a major producer of chips and batteries necessary to U.S. industries, any troubles on the industrial front could mean trouble for U.S. industry.

Who would be the best partner for America managing global affairs through tech cooperation with allies? The first candidates are the Quad and Aukus members — primarily the UK, Australia, India and Japan.
The British, with excellent science and tech abilities, are a traditional ally to Americans. But the British lack U.S. standards in manufacturing. Japan is the next reliable ally. Japan’s superiority in materials and parts is widely accepted. But its industries are structured to compete with U.S. companies directly. For instance, Japanese automobiles fiercely compete with U.S. brands. And the country’s technology levels in chips, batteries and ICT that America needs are somewhat lacking. Australia is reliable enough to share America’s nuclear-powered submarine technology, but its science and tech abilities cannot generate desired synergy with the U.S.’s. India’s loyalty can still be questioned given its behavior at the UN General Assembly over the invasion of Ukraine.
South Korea could be the most stable and capable partner for America. The country has backed the U.S. on the global stage based on a longstanding military alliance. Korean industries do not directly compete with America’s. It is structured to be reciprocal. Korea is strong in chips, batteries, steel, ship production and ICT. Korea could be the only country with a mutually beneficial industrial structure as well as capacities in technology and manufacturing.
I propose that South Korea and the U.S. expand a chip and battery alliance to an overall strategic technology. The U.S. excels in high tech. But to commercialize the technology and put it into strategic production, it needs a partner like South Korea. Korea’s excellence in manufacturing is already proven. If America jointly develops strategic technology for global management, a greater synergy effect could be expected. Korea also can play an important role in establishing a global supply chain among free democracies.
Having commercialized 5G first in the world, South Korea has the world’s best ICT technology. It has superior steel and ship-making capacity that can be basis for defense. Korea has sufficient qualifications for joint development and production of strategic technologies. Among future technologies, quantum computing, aerospace, artificial intelligence chips are areas where Korea-U.S. cooperation can produce synergy. Korea, which used to rely on U.S. help, can become a partner to America’s global management.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff. 
Developing technologies for national security and exports
Late last year, the government announced 10 core strategic technologies for concentrated promotion. The technologies — with the goal of achieving more than 90 percent of standards of top nations — are semiconductors and displays, secondary batteries, cyber security, bioengineering, robotics, 5G and 6G, space and aircraft, quantum computing, artificial intelligence and hydrogen. The technologies affect not just industry and the economy, but also national security.
I recommend a greater priority in technologies that can strategically enhance national defense capabilities. One technology can bolster both economic and defense powers. These technologies also benefit both self-defense and exports. The defense industry is big. Korea’s defense exports reached an all-time high of $7 billion last year. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Korea was No. 9 in defense exports 2016 to 2020.
Korea’s mainstay industries of semiconductors and displays is not just key to economic security, but also make up the foundation for AI, 5G and 6G and the fourth industrial revolution. These technologies are closely related to defense capabilities. AI can be employed in various industries and could be applied broadly in the defense sector together with robotics. Aerospace also has dual defense and private functions.
Quantum computing has huge strategic value in national security while cyber security is important for a digital transition. Quantum computing can enhance cyber security and intelligence sovereignty.
Strengthening national science and technology competitiveness through convergence does not simply mean the development of weapons and equipment, but leads to stronger national defense capabilities and exports. We must concentrate on the development of dual-purpose technologies to enhance sovereign defense capacity and new growth engines for the country. — LKH
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