In December 2018, a South Korean destroyer allegedly locked its targeting radar on a Japanese surveillance aircraft. Although details of that incident remain bitterly contested, the controversy captures well the suspicions and ill-will that have engulfed Japanese-South Korean relations. The tarring of that military-to-military relationship — one that has historically served as a shock absorber for difficulties between the two governments — is particularly troubling for the United States. The challenge of deterring a nuclear-armed North Korea is more severe if its two closest allies in Northeast Asia are more concerned about each other than their common adversary.
The extent of that challenge has long occupied U.S. strategists and planners. Days after the 2016 election, President Barack Obama warned his successor Donald Trump that North Korea would be the most urgent threat he would face. Much has changed since then, but North Korea remains one of the most pressing security challenges as President Joe Biden returns to the White House.
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