While useful, channels like the U.S.-ROK Energy Security Dialogue could contribute considerably more to the U.S.-South Korea relationship and to energy technology collaboration than they appear to do today—especially if they complemented the administration’s attention to natural gas exports with a commitment to advancing energy innovation through research, development, demonstration and deployment of new and emerging technologies. American and Korean government agencies, universities and businesses are already engaged in a variety of cooperative projects, such as nuclear fuel cycle research involving the Idaho National Laboratory and the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, exploration of future hydrogen power systems by the Department of Energy and Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (a topic that came up during the Energy Security Dialogue), and a partnership between Bloom Energy and South Korea’s SK Engineering & Construction to supply Bloom’s fuel cell power system to Korean utilities and others in Korea. And after personally interviewing many officials, researchers, and engineers in Korea, I can testify to the unmet demand for additional energy technology cooperation with the United States.
As the U.S.-China competition expands and intensifies, it is increasingly apparent that one of the greatest challenges for Americans—officials, politicians, and citizens alike—is adjusting to a world in which the United States is not the simultaneous unquestioned leader in military power, diplomatic influence, trade and investment, technological innovation, and other areas. China is certainly further from enjoying that status, but it is a serious challenger in multiple respects and it poses threats that the United States cannot adequately address alone. Working with allies like South Korea to develop, expand and sustain technology leadership, in energy and other areas, is a critical task.
Paul J. Saunders is president of the Energy Innovation Reform Project. He was previously Executive Director of the Center for the National Interest (CFTNI). He remains a member of the center’s Board of Directors and remains a senior fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy at CFTNI.