Volodymyr Zhar

Russia’s unprovoked armed aggression against Ukraine has been going on for nine years. The full-scale invasion of the aggressor country has been underway for more than a year and a half, accompanied by the destruction of infrastructure, economic deterioration and a negative impact on the country’s demography. The conflict with the Russian Federation calls for Ukraine’s efforts to transform the security environment, which will allow the country to preserve its sovereignty, territorial integrity, increase the security of its borders and citizens, and ensure sustainable development.

In order to find the optimal security model for Ukraine, the author analyzed international experience, with consideration of the particularities of each model: South Korea’s economic recovery and the role of defense support from the United States, as well as security models of the United States’ cooperation with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Israel.

The experience of South Korea

In 1950—1953, a devastating war took place in Korea, which resulted in the formation of two states: The Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In 1953, after the signing of the armistice, the Republic of Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world, with a destroyed infrastructure, a weak, predominantly agrarian economy, and a high level of corruption. According to the Korean government, the war damage to industrial facilities, equipment, public institutions, private residences, and vehicles (excluding military installations) in South Korea amounted to approximately $3 billion. This amount was almost equal to the country’s GNP for 1952 and 1953 combined.[1]

Further security of the state was under serious threat. The Republic of Korea was lagging behind the communist DPRK in both economic and military dimensions. Therefore, ensuring the preservation of the truce signed with North Korea depended on both the country’s ability to create appropriate security conditions by maintaining the support of other countries as well as strengthening its own defense capabilities, and on its ability to ensure economic development.

After the Korean War, South Korea’s real GNP grew rapidly from 1953 to 1957, averaging about 5% per year, but as the population grew by about 2.9% per year, per capita income remained almost unchanged. [2] South Korea remained a poor state despite being one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid per capita.[3] American aid accounted for nearly 80% of all government revenue.[4] Most of South Korea’s imports from 1953 to 1960 were financed by foreign aid grants from two sources: The United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA), which provided aid through the United Nations Civilian Aid Corps in Korea (UNCACK) during the war, and the United States’ bilateral aid program.

Korea’s rapid economic development began in the 1960s after a military coup. During this period, U.S. financial assistance began to decline. The military government and the subsequent Third Republic developed a comprehensive economic policy that included two five-year plans and covered the period from 1962 to 1971. The first five-year plan was designed to prepare for rapid industrial development.

The goal was an annual economic growth rate of 7.1% from 1962 to 1966.[5] In the first two years of the plan, the military government introduced a number of economic reforms, including budgetary and tax reforms, exchange control reforms, and in June 1962, currency reform. A new budget and accounting law was adopted, and tax laws were revised to increase domestic tax revenues and, at the same time, promote domestic business savings.

The new economic course led to robust economic growth. From 1964 to 1966, the average GNP growth rate was 9%.[6]

The second 5-year plan was a continuation of the first one, but more attention was paid to capital-intensive investments in the chemical, machine-building, and metallurgical industries, as well as in export and import-substituting industries. The economic policy of the South Korean government has resulted in industrial growth, especially in the manufacturing industry, as well as an increase in exports. The country has developed its energy infrastructure. In addition, due to the boost in economic activity, employment and income levels have increased.[7]

South Korea’s economic development was made possible by a successful economic policy. An equally important factor was the security umbrella provided by the United States.

In 1950, the United States became the leader of the UN coalition in support of South Korea. According to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 84, member states were encouraged to place armed forces and other types of assistance at the disposal of the unified command appointed by the United States to assist the Republic of Korea.

Following the end of the Korean War, the United States maintained a presence on the peninsula. In 1953, the United States and the Republic of Korea signed the Mutual Defense Treaty. Under the provisions of the document, the Republic of Korea was granted the right to use U.S. ground, air, and naval forces on its territory and in the vicinity of it. The Parties to the treaty also recognized that an armed attack in the Pacific region against either Party in their administratively controlled territories or in territories to be placed under the administrative control of the other Party would be considered dangerous to its own peace and security. This wording gave the United States room to respond in case of a DPRK attack on the Republic of Korea.

Furthermore, the South Korean army was fully subordinated to the American command. Such conditions protected the U.S. army from possible involvement by an ally in an undesirable conflict. Thus, the Republic of Korea gave up part of its sovereignty to the United States in exchange for its own security. Currently, South Korea retains operational control over its army under the armistice, but in the event of war, the United States would take control of the South Korean forces.

Time has shown that the security agreement, together with the deployment of the U.S. military contingent, has protected the Asian country from a repeat invasion by the DPRK and other states.

Currently, about 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.[8] In 2022, according to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, South Korea’s defense budget was $46.4 billion, which was 2.7% of the country’s GDP.[9] Given the growing competition of global players in the Asia-Pacific region and the threat from the de facto nuclear-armed DPRK, South Korea’s military spending is likely to increase. The security of the Republic of Korea is largely the responsibility of the state itself. At the same time, the alliance with the United States and the presence of the American military contingent remains an equally important factor in deterring the DPRK.

Strengths of the South Korean model:
  • The alliance with the United States is formalized by a bilateral agreement;
  • The security of the state is ensured by the direct deployment of the U.S. military contingent;
  • High defense spending is an additional factor in deterring a potential aggressor.
Weaknesses of the South Korean model:
  • The control of the South Korean army in wartime is transferred to the United States, which reduces the independence of the Republic of Korea in military and political matters.
  • Crises in relations between the United States and the DPRK pose a direct threat to the Republic of Korea.

The experience of the Republic of China

Since its transfer to Taiwan in 1949, the Republic of China has faced a direct threat from the People’s Republic of China. Successful domestic and foreign policy and security cooperation with the United States of America allowed Taiwan to preserve its sovereignty and achieve significant economic development.

One of the main factors that influenced the security situation around Taiwan was the interaction between the United States and China, crises in relations between the two countries, and their ability to negotiate with each other.

In 1950, the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet was sent to the Taiwan Strait amid the Korean War to prevent the Korean conflict from spreading further south, and in 1954, the United States and the Republic of China signed a Mutual Defense Treaty. The text of the agreement did not oblige the United States to defend Taiwan, but provided for assistance in the event of Chinese aggression.

The security agreement between the United States and Taiwan was terminated in 1979 when diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China were established. Currently, the U.S. relations with Taiwan are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, Three Joint Communiqués between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China, and Ronald Reagan’s Six Assurances.

The Taiwan Relations Act states that any attempt to determine the future of Taiwan by any means other than peaceful methods, including boycotts or embargoes, shall be considered a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific and a grave concern of the United States. The President of the United States shall immediately inform Congress of any threat to the security or social or economic system of the people of Taiwan and any danger to the interests of the United States arising therefrom. The law stipulates that Taiwan shall be provided with such types of weapons and in such quantities as are necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain an adequate self-defense capability.

Along with this, in Six Assurances of Ronald Reagan, which were made after Three U.S.-China Communiqués, the U.S. side informed Taiwan that the United States did not agree to set a date for the cessation of arms sales to Taiwan; did not agree to consult with China on arms sales to Taiwan; will not play any mediating role between Taipei and Beijing; has not agreed to revise the Taiwan Relations Act; has not agreed to take any position on sovereignty over Taiwan; and will not pressure Taiwan to negotiate with China.

Although the United States has no legal obligations to Taiwan, there is a bipartisan consensus in the United States on the importance of the island’s security, which is located in the “first island chain,” and a willingness to adhere to previously declared principles.

In addition to relying on external assistance, the Republic of China is increasing investments in the defense sector. In 2022, Taiwan’s military budget was increased by 15% to $19 billion.[10] An initiative is being discussed to expand the mandatory military conscription program for adult men from the current four months of compulsory service to a year. It is planned to increase the number of reserve personnel, which currently numbers 1 million 660 thousand people. Taiwan’s population takes the threat of a possible Chinese invasion seriously and supports such steps by the government.[11]

In recent years, the asymmetry in military capabilities between the PRC and Taiwan has continued to grow. In the event of aggression, the preservation of Taiwan’s sovereignty will depend on the intervention of the United States. Yet, the ability of the Republic of China to withstand the first phase of a potential attack by China before the U.S. forces approach remains important.

Strengths of the Taiwan model:
  • The recognition of the importance of Taiwan’s security in U.S. law;
  • The fact of bipartisan consensus and the political will of the United States to defend Taiwan. The security of the island is in the national interest of the United States, which is the best security guarantee in the short term;
  • Guarantees of arms supplies from the United States.
Weaknesses of the Taiwan model:
  • Lack of formalized bilateral security guarantees;
  • Lack of permanent presence of the U.S. military contingent.

Experience of the State of Israel

Israel is in a state of constant armed conflict. The security environment forces the state to defend its right to exist, which leads to the involvement of almost the entire society in its defense. According to a 1949 law, military service is mandatory for all Israelis who are 18 years of age or older. Two groups are exempted from compulsory military service: ultra-Orthodox Israelis and Israelis of Arab descent.[12] The country possesses nuclear weapons, and cooperation with the United States since the mid-20th century has provided Israel with additional opportunities for economic development, as well as the ability to maintain a qualitative advantage in the military sphere over its opponents.

The first security and defense agreement between the United States of America and the State of Israel was the 1952 Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement. The document stipulated that the United States would provide Israel with economic assistance and weapons for defense purposes. Providing Israel with such assistance to ensure the security of the Jewish state, as well as U.S. interests in the region, has become the main approach of the United States to building security cooperation with a partner country.

However, the states do not have a separate bilateral agreement that would contain security commitments to help each other in the event of a conflict. In the 20th century, there were attempts by Israel to sign such a treaty, but the United States did not consider this model of security cooperation to be optimal. In response to a request from Israel, U.S. President John F. Kennedy verbally assured the United States of its readiness to defend its partner. It is worth noting that legally binding security guarantees would have reduced Israel’s freedom of action. This fact was the reason for the lack of unanimous consensus within the State of Israel on the advisability of signing such an agreement.

Instead, the United States and Israel continued to deepen their security cooperation by signing new agreements in the context of the evolution of bilateral relations and the external security environment. After the Yom Kippur War, the countries developed and signed a Memorandum of Understanding on September 1, 1975, which states that the United States government is committed to fully responding to Israel’s defense, energy, and economic needs. The Memorandum stipulates that regular consultations will be held between representatives of U.S. and Israeli defense agencies to ensure that Israel’s long-term military supply needs are met. It is also stated that the United States has a positive attitude towards Israel’s requests for modern and technological weapons. At the same time, the U.S. government will seriously address threats to Israel’s security and sovereignty from world powers, consulting with the Israeli government and providing the necessary support in accordance with its constitutional practice.

The text of the above-mentioned agreement does not contain any obligations on the part of the United States to defend the partner country and gives freedom of action for further support. This is a well-established practice in American diplomacy, and similar wording is found in other U.S. security treaties with other states. Even the treaty with South Korea and Article 5 of the NATO Charter do not contain language that would oblige the American side to enter the conflict in the event of an attack on an ally.

The state of Israel has the status of a major non-NATO ally of the United States, which it received in 1987. Currently, the U.S. assistance to Israel is provided in accordance with 10-year agreements (memorandums). In the latest of them, Washington pledges to provide $38 billion in military aid between 2019 and 2028.

The 2012 U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act defines Israel as a major U.S. ally in the Middle East. This role of the country within the scope of realization of the strategic interests of the United States of America allows Israel to take advantage of the enhanced U.S. defense cooperation.

The country has access to high-tech American equipment. For example, the Israeli Air Force has the latest generation of F-35 fighters in service. Another important track of U.S.-Israeli cooperation is strengthening the Middle Eastern country’s air defense system. The United States and Israel are jointly strengthening the Israeli air defense system, and the United States recognizes the role of such cooperation in creating additional employment opportunities for Americans.

The Israeli security model is characterized by the country’s high readiness for self-defense. Military conscription in the country applies to every adult citizen, except for two groups. Security cooperation with the United States remains an essential factor, although the United States does not provide Israel with security guarantees. The security guarantee of the Jewish state is the presence of nuclear weapons.


The analysis of the above three security models demonstrates that there is no universal concept that can ensure the security of the state. The wars of the last century were often influenced by the geopolitical confrontation between two systems: capitalist and communist. In all three security models, the United States played an instrumental role in ensuring the sovereignty of international actors. In the case of South Korea, the United States was directly involved in protecting the state from an armed attack by the DPRK and maintained a military presence after the armistice was signed. Simultaneously, the Republic of Korea gave up part of its sovereignty, as its army was subordinated to the U.S. military command. In the case of Taiwan, the United States redeployed the Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait because of the war in Korea, and later signed a security agreement in which it pledged to assist the Republic of China in the event of an armed attack. The state of Israel receives military assistance from the United States, which strengthens the country’s defense capabilities. In these three cases, the United States provides assistance to partner countries to improve their defense capabilities and at the same time tries to reduce their dependence on the United States.

Nevertheless, there is little ground to argue that the strengthening of the conventional capabilities of South Korea, Taiwan, and Israel averted an armed threat from the opponents of these actors in international relations. The hot phases of the Arab-Israeli wars ended only after the country acquired nuclear status. Given the reluctance of the USSR and China to enter into a war with the United States over South Korea, the DPRK did not dare to attack the neighboring state. The presence of the U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula provided the Republic of Korea with a security umbrella that allowed the country to develop through economic transformation.

Taiwan is currently at the center of the U.S.-China geopolitical confrontation. According to CIA Director William Burns, Xi Jinping has instructed his country’s army to be “ready” to invade Taiwan by 2027, and an armed confrontation is quite likely. According to RAND Corporation experts, Taiwan could resist an external attack for a long time, but without decisive U.S. military intervention, China’s huge advantage in military resources would probably allow it to eventually conquer the island.[13] That is, even with quite significant defense spending, Taiwan’s sovereignty ultimately depends on the willingness and ability of the United States to defend the island in the event of an attack.

The analysis of the three security models shows that the following elements are key to ensuring a country’s survival in a conflict with a more powerful state:

  • the presence of the armed forces of an allied great power on the territory of the country, or their permanent presence in the theater of potential combat operations;
  • the presence of nuclear weapons in the state under threat of attack;
  • legally formalized bilateral or multilateral security commitments with a major power;
  • readiness of an ally to enter into an armed conflict in case of an attack;
  • competitiveness of the chosen economic development model and effective internal reforms.

When it comes to finding the optimal security model for Ukraine, it is worth noting that the security environment in which different countries operate is unique. It is impossible to find a single model that is fully applicable to Ukraine. The difference between the threat faced by Ukraine and the threats faced by Israel is primarily determined by the presence of nuclear weapons in the hands of Ukraine’s enemy. It also raises questions about the readiness of Ukrainian society to live in a state of constant conflict and the obligation of all adult citizens to perform military service. In addition, such a scenario would require Ukraine to spend considerable funds on the permanent maintenance of a large army. Israel has a strong economy, yet the country needs a smaller army than Ukraine. An important aspect is that Russia’s economic potential is much greater than that of the Jewish state’s enemies, and, accordingly, Ukraine’s need for economic and military assistance from its partners is much greater than that of Israel. In addition, Israel does not face the threat of a complete naval blockade, which would have devastating consequences for the Ukrainian economy.

Such a threat is faced by Taiwan. In the event of aggression by China and a complete naval blockade, the island’s sovereignty will depend on the United States’ readiness to enter the war, defend the Republic of China, and ensure freedom of navigation. Unlike the situation with Ukraine, there is a bipartisan consensus in the United States on the need to defend Taiwan with the use of American armed forces.

In the case of South Korea, the United States secured the actual presence of its armed forces on the territory of its ally. The two countries also signed a bilateral defense agreement similar in content to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Yet, the Republic of Korea gave up part of its sovereignty when it transferred control of its army in wartime to the United States.

Given the dissimilarities in the security conditions of Ukraine and the above-mentioned states, as well as objective limitations in Ukraine’s relations with the United States, the optimal components of the security model for Ukraine at the current stage may include the following:

  • signing a bilateral agreement on security and economic assistance with the United States of America, as well as with other partner states (implementation of the Kyiv Security Agreement);
  • enshrining in the security agreement the readiness of partner countries to provide Ukraine with high-tech weapons in the amount necessary to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity;
  • enhanced cooperation with the United States and other partner countries in the military-industrial complex, Ukraine’s participation in joint projects to develop modern technological weapons;
  • fixing the importance of supporting Ukraine in the legislation of the United States of America, following the example of the Taiwan Relations Act;
  • ensuring the permanent presence of NATO warships in the Black Sea.


  1. Charles R. Frank Jr., Kwang Suk Kim, Larry E. Westphal, Economic Growth in South Korea since World War II, 1975, p. 11, URL:
  2. Charles R. Frank Jr., Kwang Suk Kim, Larry E. Westphal, Economic Growth in South Korea since World War II, 1975, p. 12, URL:
  3. Michael J. Seth, South Korea’s Economic Development, 1948–1996, URL:;jsessionid=571F05D8CAF2D798676CAD2D16D0AFB0
  4. Charles R. Frank Jr., Kwang Suk Kim, Larry E. Westphal, Economic Growth in South Korea since World War II, 1975, p. 12, URL:
  5. Charles R. Frank Jr., Kwang Suk Kim, Larry E. Westphal, Economic Growth in South Korea since World War II, 1975, p. 18, URL:
  6. Charles R. Frank Jr., Kwang Suk Kim, Larry E. Westphal, Economic Growth in South Korea since World War II, 1975, p. 18, URL:
  7. Kae H. Chung, Industrial Progress in South Korea, 1974, URL:
  8. U.S. Security Cooperation With ROK, 05.09.2023, URL:
  9. The top 15 military spenders, 2022, URL:
  10. Chad De Guzman, Taiwan Is Extending Conscription. Here’s How Its Military Compares to Other Countries, 06.01.2023, URL:
  11. Timothy S. Rich and Serena White, 24.06.2023, URL:
  12. Avi Jager, ”The myth of compulsory military service in Israel”, 18.10.2018, URL:
  13. Timothy R. Heath, Sale Lilly, Eugeniu Han, ”Can Taiwan Resist a Large-Scale Military Attack by China?”, 2023, URL:

© Centre for International Security


Volodymyr Zhar

The information and views set out in this study are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect

the official opinion of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V. or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of


Centre for International Security

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