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Asymmetry of Power and Attention in Alliance Relations: The US-ROK Case

Ausrtralian Journal of International Affairs

While power asymmetry typically defines security relationships between allies, there exist other forms of asymmetry that influence alliance politics. In order to illustrate how they can shape policy outcomes that cannot be explained solely through the lens of power capabilities, the authors examine the role of relative attention that each side pays to the alliance. It is their central argument that since the client state has a greater vested interest in the alliance and given that attention depends on interest/need, the client state can leverage attention to get its way. By analysing two specific cases, the 2002 South Korean schoolgirls tragedy and the 2008 beef protests—instances where the South Koreans succeeded in compelling US concessions—the authors show that because the alliance was more central to the client state's agendas, there existed an asymmetry of attention that offered leveraging opportunities for the weaker ally. In this study, the authors emphasize the role of media attention as a key variable, and seek to contribute to debates on weaker party leverage in asymmetrical alliances.