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The Challenges of Republic of Korea’s Foreign Policy on Multilateral Governance Reform and its Leverage on East Asian Regionalism and the Middle East


(Photo credit: Asia Report site)

Executive Summary

The study of South Korea’s foreign policy here fundamentally relies upon the national roles by largely looking into the challenges on Multilateral Governance Reform, UNSC reform to be specific. However, it argues that East Asia Regionalism and the Middle East issues are the leverages for South Korea’s foreign policy objectives with regard to the trend of UNSC reform.

The use of national roles as the tool to make analysis does not mean it is the only medium and other instruments are not relevant. The national roles are used in this sense because (1) South Korea has to continuously depend upon United States for national interests in terms of security protection. (2) North Korea gradually further develops its nuclear capacity meanwhile there is no progress has been made with regard to the Six-Party Talks. (3) From 2013 to 2014, South Korea has been one among other non-permanent member in the United Nations Security Council. In this light, the national roles for South Korea here are referred to the roles as US’s alliance, a party to Six-Party Talks and Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Non-permanent member of UNSC.

Before proceeding to the analysis, it is essentially important to address the key challenges in this study since it ignores the cognitive bias and socio-cultural bias. On the other hand, to minimize the challenges to analysis here, the study would examine the history of decision-making, the previous core statements on related issues, and the set of “status,” “duties and obligations,” “performance,” and “context” [1].

Challenges to Multilateral Governance Reform

With regard to the United Nations Security Council reform at a very beginning in 1996, Ambassador Park Soo-Gil had indicated South Korea’s position based on the basic “principle of representativity,” “effectiveness,” “efficiency,” “legitimacy,” “credibility,” “transparency,” and “democracy.” [2] Obviously, there are numerous debates between P5, newly emerging regional powers, and other middle powers by touching on these basic principles for their discussions. However, the major controversy for those states is not truly all about these basic principles whether which certain formulation should be used, but it is fundamentally based on two simple questions: what will they obtain from this reform? And what will be compromised after revamp?

The same questions also applied to South Korea’s foreign policy decision-makers for their consideration on national interests with regard to the security, peace, and stability. In this sense, the challenges of South Korea are laid down on very complicated and interconnected issues. Given the national roles as US’s alliance, South Korea has to challenge with balancing of its national security with the US’s positions and interests. Diplomatically, the US’s position is also in line with the supporting of expansion of the Security Council provided that it “will not diminish its effectiveness or its efficiency.” [3] However, common sense to dictate that the support of expansion given by US would be based on the roles of the new players whether they will play the same rules of game as US does or not, in the sense of ensuring US’s national interests [4] after revamp. In this regard, the expansion of UNSC members shall be given to the responsible regional powers and US’s alliance. Among the newly emerging regional powers and US’s alliance, Japan has been long supported by US for a permanent seat in the UNSC [5].

Why not Republic of Korea?

There are at least number of reasons that possibly explain the logic behind the supports of United States with regard to the new expansion of United Nations Security Council. First, South Korea keeps on the state of war. Second, although Republic of Korea and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are internationally recognized as two sovereign states, but they still remain as one nation two states in public and both nation leaders’ eyes in which they need to reunify. Thirdly, Japan has better condition and feasibly generates a huge financial supports on security and peace operation on the wider world. The newly domestic political development of Japan with regard to the revising of Article 9 of Japanese Pacifist Constitution [6] would provide another source for US’s supporting Japanese roles on international affairs and UNSC.

Japan’s Accession and South Korea’s Challenges 

To South Korea, the Japan’s accession to permanent member of UNSC is unacceptable and the most challenges given on three important issues. First, it is because the historical experiences between Korea and Japan over past years, Korea was under Japanese colony [7] and a continuous provoked anger by current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007 with regard to “the women who worked in Japanese military brothels during the World War II.” [8] Second issue is all about the territorial dispute between the South Korea and Japan over sovereignty of Dokdo Island.[9] Last but not least, the challenges of South Korea with regard to Japan’s accession to the permanent member of UNSC would be intense the geo-political sphere of interest for South Korea as there would be two big giants surrounding both East and West.

South Korea’s Leverage

The foreseeable foreign policy orders for South Korea’s decision-makers are: (1) to prolong the status quo of current permanent member of UNSC as long as possible, in case the situation is mature, then (2) to find the minimizing formulation to limit capacity or veto power for newly permanent members by working with some countries such as Pakistan, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Italy, and China to oppose the G4 group [10] of countries.

However, given the current situation which is in between the above said orders, Republic of Korea has to achieve two fundamental issues in order to reverse the situation, but it seems to be a very rare and most unlikely to happen. Those two tasks are (1) to early reunify Koreas to be a real regional power and (2) to replace Japanese roles. Regarding to the reunification, South Korea has leverage on working with Russia and China to push North Korea to open its border for new “Silk Road” [11] project because they are the only two main strategic sources of North Korea. In this connection, it will be a good situation for reopening the Six-Party Talks on this particular issue. The second South Korea’s leverage to interchange the Japanese roles is to play greater constructive acts on the East Asia regional issues and the Middle East Issues, both financial supports and security matters. Given the current status as the non-permanent member of UNSC from 2013 to 2014 [12] and its own security matters with North Korea Nuclear Proliferation plus with member’s obligation under the NPT [13], South Korea anyway has to address on the Middle East issues, Syria and Iran issues for instance. However, between these two main issues, rather than Middle East Issues, South Korea shall draw deeper attention on East Asia issues as Trans-Pacific Partnership[14], Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and US’s Pivot to Asia because the efforts of South Korea in these issues would return direct fruitful outcomes to South Korea. Since both ASEAN leaders and Korea are going to hold summit to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of ASEAN-Korea Dialogue Partnership on 11-12 Dec 2014, in Busan, it would be opportunities to boost for trade liberalizing and playing greater roles on promoting ASEAN connectivity and narrowing down the development among ASEAN Member States because ASEAN is the driving force of this regional framework for Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership[15].

In case that Japan become a permanent member, it would be maintaining and promoting the friendly diplomatic channel with Japan by ensuring non-provocative action with the past experience of women abuse, by addressing on fully sovereignty of Korea over the Dokdo Island, and by boosting for more bilateral trading as trade dependency would help to promote peace, security, and stability.


Seoul, Dec 05, 2014

By Khov Ea Hai

All rights are reserved


[1] Robertson Jeffrey Scott, “The National Roles,” in lecture notes of Foreign Policy Analysis, KDI School, week 9, Nov 11, 2014, pp-3

[2] “Speech on Security Council Reform by Amb. Park Soo Gil, Representative Permanent at the Open-ended Working Group on SC Reform,” May 22, 1996, New York, Global Policy Forum, accessed on Dec 04, 2014, available at (https://www.globalpolicy.org/security-council/security-council-reform/32906.html?itemid=915)

[3] “Statement by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, US Permanent Representative to the UN, at an Informal Meeting of the GA on SC Reform,” Feb 19, 2009, New York, Global Policy Forum, accessed on Dec 04, 2014, available at (https://www.globalpolicy.org/security-council/security-council-reform/50009-statement-by-ambassador-susan-e-rice-us-permanent-representative-to-the-united-nations-at-an-informal-meeting-of-the-general-assembly-on-security-council-reform.html?itemid=915)

[4] Robert J. Art, “A Grand Strategy for America,” Cornell University Press, USA, 2003, pp 7

[5] “Statement Representative of the US to the United Nations: on Security Council Reform, in the General Assembly,” by Ambassador John R. Bolton, Nov 10, 2005, Global Policy Forum, accessed on Dec 04, 2014, available at (https://www.globalpolicy.org/security-council/security-council-reform/41378.html?itemid=915)

[6] Jonathan D. Pollack, “Japan’s Defense Policy Revision-Where is Japan Headed?” Brookings, Aug 17, 2014, accessed on Nov 04, 2014, available at (http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2014/08/17-japan-defense-policy-revision-pollack)

[7] Ki-baik, Lee, “A New History of Korea,” translated by Edward W. Wagner with Edward J. Shultz, Seoul, Korea, 1984, pp 313

[8] “Leaders, Japan Profile, Asia,” BBC News, last updated Nov 28, 2014, accessed on Dec 04, 2014, available at (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-15215135)

[9] “Dokdo: Basic Position of the Government of Republic of Korea on Dokdo,” The Republic of Korea Cheong Wa Dae, Office of the President, accessed on Dec 04, 2014, available at (http://english1.president.go.kr/korea/dokdo.php)

[10] “Ministerial Meeting of the G4 countries (Brazil, Germany, India and Japan) in the margins of the 68th Seesion of the UNGA,” Joint Press Statement, New York, Sep 26, 2014, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, accessed on Dec 04, 2014, available at (http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/page3e_000090.html)

[11] “Putin in Seoul to push new ‘Silk Road’ via North Korea,” South China Morning Post, Published: Nov 13, 2013, accessed on Nov 04, 2014, available at (http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1355114/putin-seoul-push-new-silk-road-north-korea)

[12] Ajin, Choi, “South Korea as a Non-Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council 2013/2014,” Perspective, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Jan 2013, accessed on Dec 04, 2014, available at (http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/iez/09684.pdf)

[13] “Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” U.S. Department of State, accessed on Dec 05, 2014, available at (http://www.state.gov/t/isn/npt/)

[14] Jaffrey J. Schoott and Cathleen Cimino, “Policy Brief: Should Korea Join the Trans-Pacific Partnership?” Peterson Institute for international Economics, number PB14-22, Sep 2014

[15] “ASEAN Framework for Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,” ASEAN Secretariat, accessed on Dec 05, 2014, available at (http://www.asean.org/news/item/asean-framework-for-regional-comprehensive-economic-partnership)


One comment on “The Challenges of Republic of Korea’s Foreign Policy on Multilateral Governance Reform and its Leverage on East Asian Regionalism and the Middle East

  1. Carlton
    May 22, 2015

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This entry was posted on December 6, 2014 by in ASEAN Basis, Learning, World and tagged , , , , .
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