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The direction of South Korea's foreign policy Chae-Jin Lee UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS IT is ironic and unfortunate that in the celebrated new era of global detente the Korean peninsula continues to be one of the most unstable and explosive spots around the world. While the possibilities of international compromises and guarantees for Korea's peace are still conceivable , conflicts between the two intensely hostile and excessively armed halves of the peninsula remain fundamental and pervasive. The brief opening of North-South dialogue is overwhelmed by saber-rattling rhetoric, and another fratricidal confrontation cannot be entirely ruled out. The combined effects of detente euphoria and North-South conflicts present both a challenge and an opportunity to South Korea—a challenge to its capabilities for promoting its professed goals, such as security and prosperity, and an opportunity for translating its external and internal conditions into a sensible and viable policy. As a highly penetrated and internationalized polity, South Korea is extremely sensitive to its rapidly changing foreign environments. Conversely, any significant shift in its domestic situation tends to induce external responses. Hence the linkages between South Korea's domestic and foreign conditions are intimate and complex. This article will discuss the nature and direction of South Korea's foreign policy, especially in the context of its domestic politics, and examine some salient aspects of its changing relations with the United States, Japan, and North Korea. I. Goals and Means NATIONAL SECURITY A variety of objective and subjective factors must determine the nature of South Korea's foreign policy, but there is little doubt that the 96LEE two principal factors are Korea's geopolitical setting and territorial division . The fact that the peninsula is encircled by its three immediate and powerful neighbors has made Korea a strategically crucial focus in East Asian regional politics, as symbolically epitomized in such diverse notions as dagger, bridgehead, powder keg, bulwark, and buffer. In fact, the 660-mile arc from Seoul embraces Tokyo, Peking, Shenyang, and Vladivostok, and Korea's long history is replete with records of international victimization. Geopolitical and historical considerations point to the desirability of Korea's international neutralization as a theoretically attractive alternative to its division in part because a unified, neutral Korea, unlike Germany or Vietnam, will hardly constitute a direct threat to the region. Yet both South Korea and North Korea denounce this alternative as unacceptable and impracticable. Added to the peninsula's geopolitical and strategic complexity is the parallel of security treaties which South Korea and North Korea maintain with their respective allies. The two sides are well integrated into the structure of global power alignments. Moreover, South Korea's small size, accessible terrain, exposure to oceans, and densely populated Urban centers render it particularly vulnerable to modern military technology and subversive activities. Seoul, with 20 percent of South Korea's total population, is only thirty miles away from P'anmunjöm, and North Korea's fighter aircraft can attack the capital three minutes after crossing the Military Demarcation Line. It is therefore understandable that South Korea attaches the highest priority to national security both in the conduct of foreign policy and in the allocation of limited resources. Table 1. Comparison of North and South Korea: 1975 South KoreaNorth Korea Population (in millions)36.216.5 Gross National Product (in billions of dollars)19.67.0 GNP per capita (in constant dollars)495388 Defense budget (in millions of dollars)991729 Percent of GNP for defense5.110.4 Defense cost per capita (in dollars)25.040.4 Total exports (in billions of dollars)_______________________________5J_______________0.7 Source: WorldMilitaryExpenditures andArms Transfers, 1966-1975, 1976. SOUTH KOREA'S FOREIGN POLICY97 Especially since the Korean War, South Korea, like North Korea, has spent a large proportion of its governmental budget and foreign aid to build strong armed forces. Under the Rhee administration, about 33 percent of South Korea's national budget was earmarked for national defense during the 1957-1960 period, and the Park administration's defense expenditures fluctuated between 32 percent in 1965 and 20 percent in 1970. As Table 1 shows, South Korea's military cost during 1975 amounted to 5. 1 percent of its Gross National Product or $25 per...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 95-137
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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