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The Grand Goals of Korean Foreign Policy How to Achieve Them
In crafting foreign policy in general, there are several factors such as national character, nationalism, social attributes, ideology, and particular belief systems in any country. These factors greatly vary according to each country including geo-strategy as its initial national foundation. Geo-strategy is a natural and permanent factor for foreign policy of each state.
In this regard, the writer intends to briefly describe Korean foreign policy in an effort to study how to achieve or pursue its grand goals in the 21st Century.
The Korean Peninsula has long been a continental and simultaneously maritime rim. These characteristics in the Korean foreign policy will not change. With both characteristics, the peninsula has been standing as a critical strategic post connecting the north and the south.
From a historical point of view, there have been continuous invasions or attacks from neighboring countries. The Chinese Su Dynasty invaded the peninsula in 1612, the Chinese Tang Dynasty from 644 to 668, the Chinese Gyeulan four times from 993 to 1032, the Mongolians seven times from 1231 to 1259. These were followed by tributary relations for 80 years, and long tributary relations with the Chinese Ming Dynasty. Japan attacked the peninsula for seven years from 1592 to 1598, and the Chinese Ching Dynasty attacked twice from 1627 to 1636 from which tributary relations were established.
Moreover, Chinese and Japanese forces waged war from 1894 to 1895 on the peninsula due to strategic interests, and Japanese and Russian forces fought in 1905 for the same reasons. Japanese imperialism came to annex the peninsula in 1910 from which Japanese colonialism remained for 36 years. From the geo-strategic point of view, it is, first of all, quite natural that Korean policy-makers take security as the top national policy from the First Republic of Korea under the late President Syngman Rhee until today. He advanced the anticommunism policy in the divided land in which capitalism and socialism were confronting each other.
In his earlier days, he firmly practiced the Hallstein Doctrine that was aimed at opposing countries which established diplomatic ties with Communist ones. His foreign policy was thus heavily based on the Washington orbit and its control, although it was personal to a great degree.
South Korea served over a long period of time as an outpost of the U.S. Northeast Asian policy, an important part of the containment policy of the late President Harry S. Truman, while also as an outpost of the U.S. rollback policy at the time of the Korean War.
The Korea-U.S. alliance has played a vital role in security policy till today. It still plays an important role in post-Cold War on the peninsula. In a word, anticommunism came, it was true, to restrain the scope of Korean foreign policy. Second, Korean policy-makers under the Second Republic of Korea under Chang Myun stressed the United Nations unlike the First Republic. Newly liberated countries in Asia and Africa entered the U.N. The U.N. expanded its member countries. Thus the Second Republic came to change its U.N. policy with respect to the U.N. resolution.
The Republic became conscious of the importance of non-aligned countries which appeared very influential in world politics in the 1960s. However, the foreign policy carried out by the Republic became soft and multilateral, compared with the First Republic. Nevertheless, South and North Korea competed for support of their reunification policies in U.N. debates for over 30 years.
Third, reunification policy is both domestic and foreign policy. All Korean policy-makers weighed reunification policy with the support of Western democratic countries, including many nonaligned bloc countries today. This policy aims to reunify the divided land imposed on Korea by the U.S. and Soviet occupation forces and recover national homogeneity and territorial integrity.
Therefore, this policy occupies an essence of not only domestic policy but foreign policy in all Korean governments. Proclaiming the July 4th South and North Korean Joint Statement and the June 23rd Peaceful Unification Policy, Korea began to approach non-hostile communist countries. This new reunification policy means the abandonment of the Hallstein Doctrine.
Fourth, Korea adopted a north-oriented policy, or Nordpolitik at the beginning of the 1990’s. Practically, this policy dates back to the June 23 Peaceful Unification Policy. The policy was aimed to be commensurate with ever-changing international politics, expand multicooperation with as many Communist countries as possible, work out a framework for durable peace on the peninsula, increase potential for the Republic of Korea, and reject bloc politics or the theory of Cold War.
As its ultimate goal, the north-oriented policy was to pursue peaceful reunification. Starting with the Kim Dae-jung government, Korean foreign policy made efforts to materialize reunification through open and wider cooperation by launching the "Sunshine Policy." It is now advancing the peace and prosperity policy to the North under the Roh Moo-hyun government.
Fifth, an international peace policy is always considered important for geostrategic importance. The Korean Peninsula stands at a crossroad between the north and south, or continent and maritime. Situated in such geo-strategic complexities, the peninsula has been more exposed to foreign aggressions than peace and stability.
Due to these reasons, the preamble of the 1st Constitution of the First Republic of Korea carries: externally we Koreans dedicate permanent world peace and its maintenance, and decide to ensure safety, freedom, and happiness to us and our next generations.
Thereafter, all the Constitutions of succeeding governments have carried this phrase. Former President Syngman Rhee used the phrases international peace for strengthening the solidarity of the free Western camp, while former President Park Chung-hee used it for fortifying the anti-Communist posture and dispatching Korean forces to Vietnam.
Sixth, the other grand goal to be pointed out here is the constant efforts of establishing a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. The Sixth Republic of Korea held many intensive negotiations with North Korea in efforts to denuclearize the peninsula in 1991.
Both parties came to reach an agreement of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in 1992. The agreement was to make the peninsula free of nuclear weapons and ultimately to get rid of nuclear threats. The unrealistic policy of the denuclearized zone of North Korea was replaced by this agreement.
To this end, the agreement first stipulates that North Korea must sign and ratify the safeguards accord of the International Atomic and Energy Agency, through which Pyongyang would accept inspection of its nuclear sites and facilities. Second, it tells that south and north Korean joint inspections would be conducted. To put it differently, the agreement is cognition between the South and the North that denuclearization is the most serious concern to both for the settlement of peace and security of all Korean people.
Despite the denuclearization agreement, Pyongyang hoped to negotiate the nuclear issue only with Washington. The former's attitude on the issue is substantially different from the latters’. The former conducted a year-long negotiation with Washington. Both parties concluded the 1994 Geneva Framework that was aimed at freezing nuclear activities and promising to establish two light-water reactors to Pyongyang in return.
Nevertheless, Pyongyang leadership was engaged in secretly producing highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the meantime. The U.S. disclosed publicly in October 2002 that Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly confirmed from Pyongyang officials that North Korea had a covert nuclear weapons program using HEU.
Pyongyang's alleged admission of the HEU program kindled the second nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula. As a result, Pyongyang's continuing proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction, including its ballistic missile program posed a direct threat to peace and security on the peninsula.
Furthermore, exports of materials, technologies, and know-how will of course pose a grave threat to the Northeast Asian region as a whole. Washington was hoping to conduct multilateral talks, while Pyongyang was insisting on direct talks with Washington.
Such WMD already in existence are still a great threat to peace and stability to the peninsula, although the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks in Beijing reached the principle that Pyongyang would stop conducting all nuclear activities on condition that Washington ensures the Pyongyang regime has access to the rights to peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Seventh, there has been no genuine peace on the peninsula since the end of the Korean War, because there has been no formal peace treaty ending the war. The peninsula is still at war technically. This clearly tells that the peninsula is in a state of imminent hostility that can break out any time. It is this reason why the conversion of the present cease-fire system into a peace system is needed.
Pyongyang has insisted since 1974, on concluding a peace accord only with Washington, thus excluding South Korea. Pyongyang officially proposed to Washington in February 1984 to craft a peace accord to the effect that the accord alone can guarantee durable peace here, as a non-aggression pact wa already made between Seoul, Washington and Pyongyang. With this proposal, Pyongyang leadership recalled a Chinese military delegation in December 1994 and a Polish military supervisory delegation of the Neutral Supervisory Commission in January 1995. Such actions made the ceasefire a dead letter.
Pyongyang's approach to Washington lies not in establishing durable peace but in excluding South Korea, the direct partner to an eventual peace agreement to be crafted between Seoul, Washington and Pyongyang. Seoul and Washington must pay attention at all times to the tactics and the thinking by Pyongyang that will make U.S. forces stationed in South Korea pull out in an effort to build a situation favorable unilaterally to the Pyongyang regime with regard to the peace system.
Eighth, the Korea-U.S. alliance is the paramount pillar to build durable peace on the peninsula in which the only fragile peace the peace imposed by the ceasefire system has continued over half a century. The alliance is not only a military organization but a comprehensive pillar that has long helped us build a free democracy and market economy in South Korea. Thus it has played a multi-role for the Republic of Korea in all fields.
In this sense, it is regarded as the top national value in Korean foreign policy. Unfortunately, a sizable portion of the U.S. forces stationed here has been pulled out under its global posture review (GPR). The remaining American forces are currently under change to a rapid and mobile force. The U.S. and ROK driven to a new phase of security, Korean foreign policy should diplomatically support strengthening the U.S. forces left in the South with ultra-modern weapons which are capable of defeating any type of attack from the North. Korean foreign policy must also reorganize its forces into a modern elite force.
It is suffice to mention that at present the recovering of wartime operational control should go hand in hand with the Korea- U.S. alliance and the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces structure. This issue should not be dealt with in a hasty manner.
Decision-makers of the Roh Moo-hyun government must remember that the U.S. has never concluded formal alliances with its partners both in peacetime and wartime. It is essential to remember that President Syngman Rhee offered the command of the Korean armed forces to General Douglas MacArthur in efforts of letting him most successfully command all U.N Forces at the beginning of the Korean War.
It should be, however, kept in mind that the Korean Armed Forces can be reformed and strengthened with modern elite forces under the existing Korea-U.S. alliance system. It would be wise if military reform were implemented with the full support and prudent collaborations of Washington.
Even belatedly, the foreign policy of the ROK should focus on studying how to effectively carry out wartime operational control of its armed forces in tandem with the two structures at a time of emergency or war in and around the peninsula. President Roh Moo-hyun has often mentioned military operational control in connection with the task of achieving selfreliant defense potential or a cooperative self-reliant defense posture since his inauguration.
The issue of recovering wartime operational control over its military forces from the Command of U.S. Forces, concurrently the head of the U.N. Command was put on the agenda of the Future of Alliance Initiatives talks in 2003. But the results of the talks were unsatisfactory. But it did not change as his demand. It remains the same today.
Continued talks of this issue would probably sap once again the position of the present U.S. military strength in the south, probably deteriorating the bilateral alliance posture one step further.
The last but primary goal to faithfully be pursued in the entire course of the Korean foreign policy is evidently human rights. This goal constitutes unflinching value to be implemented in the endeavor of protecting basic rights such as the legal and fundamental rights of men.
These ideas are clearly reflected in the immortal passages of the American Declaration of Independence, in the Virginia Bill of Rights of 1776, and in the French Declaration of the Rights of Men and Citizen of 1789. In 1948, the United Nations came to respect human dignity and value in their Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Mindful of these fundamental values of human rights, the Roh Moo-hyun government has to look into the realities of the sufferings of North Korean people. It is well known to the world that they have so far lived under the yoke of the dictatorial regime.
It is out of common sense that the ROK absented from voting on human rights abuses presented by the U.N. Hereafter, the South Korean government is required to link humanitarian aid to the protection of North Korean brothers and sisters who are facing hunger, illegal punishments, inhuman treatments concentration camps, and disease. A successful linking of the two matters will, it seems, ameliorate the situation of human rights in North Korea.
In short, Korean foreign policy should be more flexible and multilateral to effectively challenge the very readily changing and fluid international order. This is a desirable foreign policy capable of accommodating globalization in the 21st Century. Thus the grand goals of Korean foreign policy will be successfully pursued within available national power.
Lastly, Korean foreign policy-makers must maintain a morally appealing capacity both at the national and international levels that can persuade its negotiators, partners in diplomatic negotiations, or even an enemy in any case deemed necessary.