South Korea’s foreign policy has long been defined in terms of the US-ROK alliance and the apparently intractable North Korea problem. One enduring legacy of the LMB administration is to break out of this box and to think in broader terms about Korea’s global role. The hosting of the G20, Korea’s assumption of the chairmanship of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (see our post on Korean aid here), and Seoul’s contribution to peace-keeping operations (PKOs) are examples of this trend. Precursors can certainly be found, for example, in Kim Young Sam’s concept of segyehwa or globalization and the strange bedfellows arrangement of Korean deployments to Iraq during the Roh-Bush era. But these efforts still fell quite squarely within the ambit of fine-tuning the country’s export-oriented growth strategy and alliance politics.
Scott Snyder has once again pulled together a good group of people through the Council on Foreign Relations; their report, Global Korea: South Korea’s Contributions to International Security, summarizes the current state of play with four short, punchy pieces:
- Balbina Hwang, “Korea and PKO: Is Korea Contributing to Global Peace?” Although Korea has contributed to US efforts in the past—dating to the large-scale involvement of South Korean forces in Vietnam under Park Chung Hee–legal changes in 2009 have multilateralized Korea’s PKO stance and forces.
- Terence Roehrig, “South Korea’s Counterpiracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden” Roehrig looks at the South Korea’s decision to participate in the the US-led, but densely multilateral, Combined Task Force 151. This participation rested on an earlier decision by Kim Dae Jung to develop a more robust blue-water navy, including the development of several classes of destroyers. In 2010, South Korea even assumed the rotating command of CTF-151. Roehrig tells the tale of the Samho Jewelry incident, in which a ROK SEAL operation freed a pirated Korean ship.
- John Hemmings, “The ROK Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan” South Korea had deployed limited forces to Afghanistan from 2001, but the ROK presence got more attention with the death of a soldier in 2007 and the Taliban’s taking of 21 Christian missionaries as hostages in the same year, though promising to withdraw, South Korea is back in Afghanistan with its own Provincial Reconstruction Team.
- Scott Bruce, “Counterproliferation and South Korea: From Local to Global” Bruce details how Seoul initially stayed away from the Proliferation Security Initiative, but was provided an opportunity to join with the 2009 North Korean missile test. Bruce also summarizes South Korea’s contribution to the export control regimes and the issue surrounding its substantial nuclear export industry.
Snyder’s short book is a quick but highly informative read. Some other sources on the Global Korea concept:
MOFAT has a Global Korea webpage.
Sarah Yun at KEI provides a brief overview of the concept of Global Korea.
Kim Sung-han at CSIS provides a more extended overview.
Sook-Jong Lee, president of the East Asia Institute, reflects on the concept of Korea as a “middle power” with a particular interest in leveraging multilateral initiatives.