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[ 71 ] roundtable • pursuing security in a dynamic northeast asia The Limits of South Korea’s Strategic Choices Chae-Jin Lee The Korean Peninsula has reached a critical crossroads between war and peace. North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong Il’s provocative decision to launch several ballistic missiles and to test a nuclear device in the second half of 2006 has forced South Korea’s President Roh Moo Hyun into an agonizing reassessment of his liberal policies of national reconciliation, constructive engagement, and peaceful cooperation with North Korea. Although Roh promised to comply with the United Nations Security Council Resolution to impose a wide range of stiff economic and diplomatic sanctions on North Korea (adopted unanimously on October 14, 2006), he is generally reluctant to antagonizeorprovokeNorthKoreairreparably.TheSouthKoreangovernment is therefore faced with a dilemma: whether or not to continue providing food, fertilizer, cement, electricity, machinery, and humanitarian assistance to North Korea and to pursue a number of ambitious joint programs, including the Kaesong Industrial District, tourist industries at Mt. Kumgang, railroad connections, and resource development. Roh can no longer contend that South Korea’s sympathetic, generous, and supportive approach will eventually induce North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions and to adopt economic reforms and an open-door policy á la the Chinese model. Additionally, the shiftingbalanceofpowerandinterestsamongthefourmajorstates(theUnited States, China, Japan, and Russia) further compounds the tortuous unfolding of inter-Korean interactions. The gathering storm in Northeast Asia severely limits the range of South Korea’s strategic choices in dealing with the reality of an altered political landscape, the complex implications of a nuclear North Korea, and the competing policies of the four major states. In many respects the two Korean nations are diametrically opposed. While North Korea has been characterized as a closed, isolated, impoverished, monolithic, repressive, and militaristic system armed with nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, South Korea is widely viewed as representing the opposite characteristics. South Korea is an open, pluralistic, competitive, and democratic system complete with impressive economic and technological capabilities, an enhanced diplomatic status, a vibrant civil society, and peaceful intentions. Yet Roh is saddled with an emotionally Chae-Jin Lee is BankAmerica Professor of Pacific Basin Studies, Professor of Government, and Director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College. His most recent publication is A Troubled Peace: U.S. Policy and the Two Koreas (2006). He is available at . [ 72 ] asia policy charged, bitterly contentious, bipolarized populace. This bipolarization pervades all levels of political and social life in South Korea—generation, class, region, ideology, policy, political parties, and mass media. It is particularly pronounced in South Korean perceptions of and attitudes toward the United States and North Korea and, to a lesser extent, China. South Koreans are profoundly divided over the choices they have to make in their changing military alliance with the United States as they confront difficult questions. How can they accommodate the realignment of the U.S. Second Division to the south of the Han River, the relocation of the Yongsan Garrison away from Seoul, and the planned reduction by one-third of U.S. troopsstationedinSouthKorea?WhenandhowcantheyrecoverfromtheU.S. wartime operational control over South Korean armed forces? What can they do about the Combined Forces Command, the United Nations Command, the Operation Plan 5027, and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)? Is it possible for South Koreans to prevent the emergence of a vicious cycle of mutual distrust or even paranoia toward the United States and to dampen the growing anti-American sentiments and movements, especially among South Korean youth? Are the six-party talks the most effective venue with which to resolve the North Korean nuclear issues once and for all? Should South Korea take part in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) against North Korea? How can South Korea cooperate with the United States in persuading or coercing North Korea to return to the nuclear nonproliferation system and to join the Missile Technology Control Regime? Can the South Koreans rely upon U.S. promises of military deterrence and a nuclear umbrella? Is it desirable and feasible for South Korea to develop nuclear weapons? The National Assembly, the central bureaucracies, and the...


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