Global Korea: South Korea’s Contribution to International Security

Council of Foreign Relations, October 2012


The Korean peninsula often comes to mind as a global security flash point. The most recent reminders include North Korea’s April 2012 failed test of a multistage rocket and the November 2010 North Korean shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island. Given the seriousness of the ongoing standoff on the Korean peninsula, South Korea’s emergence as an active contributor to international security addressing challenges far from the Korean peninsula is a striking new development, marking South Korea’s emergence as a producer rather than a consumer of global security resources. This volume outlines South Korea’s progress and accomplishments toward enhancing its role and reputation as a contributor to international security.

Contents Overview Scott A. Snyder Korea and PKO: Is Korea Contributing to Global Peace? Balbina Hwang South Korea’s Counterpiracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden Terence Roehrig The ROK Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan John Hemmings Counterproliferation and South Korea: From Local to Global Scott Bruce Publisher Council on Foreign Relations Press

Release Date October 2012 Price$10.00 100 pages ISBN 978-0-87609-542-3

PacNet Number 26

Lessons Learned? Responding to North Korea’s Latest Provocations

Co-written with Dongjoon Park, this PacNet is based on the findings of a simulation that took place at a Pacific Forum CSIS conference in Seoul October 14-15, 2011, and can be found at here.

Once again, North Korea is increasing tensions in Northeast Asia. The launch on April 13 is part of a cycle of calculated North Korean provocations. However, it seems that the US, South Korea, and Japan scrambled to respond with the same strategies that have failed them in the past. China’s blocking of any meaningful response was as predictable as it was effective.

For Pyongyang, the launch served several purposes. It celebrated North Korea becoming a ‘strong and prosperous nation’ in 2012. It commemorated the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth. The launch also underscores the ‘great successor’ Kim Jong Un’s leadership in front of the party leadership, the Korean People’s Army (KPA), and the people. It is an attempt to set the terms of future negotiations with the international community. Finally, and most of all, the launch lets the North set the regional agenda, putting other countries in the region on the back foot.


Given the repetitive nature of this cycle, experts have been predicting such a North Korean provocation for nearly a year. As early as last October, a group of Pacific Forum CSIS Young Leaders convened in Seoul to conduct a simulation based on a hypothetical satellite test (which also went wrong). These young professionals were divided into groups representing the US, South and North Korea, Japan, and China to develop reactions and identify obstacles hindering a coherent and coordinated response. The key lessons from that simulation were as follows:

China cannot be relied upon: With its massive investment, aid packages, and resource trade with Pyongyang, Beijing is presumed to have the most influence on North Korea. The US has since the ‘90s sought China’s help in dealing with the North. The simulation found that China will never take the US side: it won’t destabilize a regime that it supports, and in which it has so much at stake. Anything that destabilizes North Korea could affect Chinese economic growth, and the Chinese strategy is to preserve the North and eventually lever the US out of the Korean Peninsula. China is, at best, a stumbling block; at worst, part of the problem. Therefore, China should be increasingly sidelined during crises (though not publicly, of course). When China tries to help, it can be acknowledged, but otherwise, it should not, and will not be central to any solution.

Japan and Korea do not cooperate: If China cannot be relied upon, the only solution is for the US, South Korea, and Japan to work together on North Korea. Despite their mutual interests in solving the North Korean problem, this is unlikely. There are several reasons, some historical, some geopolitical. They can and must be overcome by the part played by the US.

Seoul is torn: Seoul’s cultural ties and physical proximity to the North mean that, when it is not under direct threat, it views the North differently from its allies. In cases like the launch, South Korea is more concerned with making sure the situation doesn’t spiral out of control than with making the North pay for its provocation. The technology being tested is not, in any case, likely to be targeted at South Korea. With a range of 4,000 miles, these rockets are more likely to be aimed at Japan and the continental United States. South Korea’s desire to play a regional balancing role also means that it favors moderation when not directly threatened.

Japan must be reassured: While Japan would seem to be less directly threatened by a rogue North Korea, the Japanese have much at stake. North Korea’s rhetoric about Japan’s historical misdeeds and its past successes in separating and isolating Japan worry policy makers in Tokyo. The debate on reforming Japan’s military posture is directly linked to how Japan perceives its sense of security. The US must work to assuage this strategic insecurity to prevent Japan pursuing independent options. The US must push South Koreans to take Japanese insecurity seriously.

The US needs to lead: The simulation found that both South Korean and Japanese teams expected the US to lead in a crisis; not to coordinate, but to lead. The US must decide on a goal and lead the other two allies toward that goal. The security perceptions differ too greatly between Seoul and Tokyo, and only Washington has the muscle and the authority to decide on a policy direction. In the course of normal discussions, both Koreans and Japanese may complain about Americans being too assertive or controlling. When a crisis emerges (even a simulated one), they still look to Washington to lead. The US must push Seoul to recognize Japanese security concerns and away from its moderate stances during these occasions.

North Korea can manipulate the situation with ease: The strategic calculations of the neighboring countries foster an environment that is vulnerable to North Korean provocations. North Korea reaps maximum benefits through such actions with little or no consequences.

If it wishes to stop North Korean provocations, the US must take three clear steps: One, it should not rely on China to solve the problem. The idea that China would help the US deal with Pyongyang has been disproven in almost every crisis, with even China openly questioning its ability to exert influence. Certainly, Beijing should be consulted, but it should not be seen as a key to solving problems with North Korea. Second, the US needs to lead its allies during these crises. It is the superpower and should act like it. The US must prioritize trilateral diplomatic and military cooperation. Japan must realize South Korea’s reasons for moderation during crises are real and immediate. This may mean breaking its silence on sensitive Korean-Japanese bilateral issues. Third, working with its allies and without China, the US will have to find a way to influence North Korea directly. Previously, it has sought economic punishment as the only non-kinetic tool in its toolbox. This has failed as Chinese investment in North Korea has grown over the last two years.

Sanctions are not the only possibility however. The US has barely touched one of the possible tools in its arsenal: information. The US and its allies must take the initiative and find a non-kinetic way of making North Korea pay a price for its actions. While there are many reasons for the USSR’s final collapse, one critical cause was that it lost the war of ideas to the US. This collapse occurred because ordinary citizens could see the inequalities in living standards between themselves and party apparatchiks. This inequality is even more pronounced in North Korea. The US didn’t fight the USSR: it fought its ideals and showed them to be false. That same lesson should be applied here.

Given Pyongyang’s paranoia about opening up and its desire to control information, it is clear that this is a vulnerability. US intelligence agencies should carry out an information campaign consistently and heavily after every North Korean provocation. Videos containing South Korean television shows, and pop culture could be smuggled in, with the logic that overt political messages are less effective than lifestyle-content. After the Yeonpyong island shelling, Seoul increased such efforts, scattering not only leaflets that introduce the Arab Spring movements, but also everyday products such as medication and clothing. After the first of these campaigns, North Korean leaders would think twice about future provocations, since they would have paid a price for their actions. While sanctions may be a punitive tool in some cases, they have not deterred North Korea because they were a price the regime was willing to pay. Can Pyongyang afford to let uncontrolled information trickle through to its population? We should find out.

South Korea: A Return to the Sunshine Policy Could Prove Dangerous

East Asia Forum, 12th March, 2012

Some have speculated that South Korea’s electorate, unhappy with Lee Myung-bak’s handling of relations with North Korea, wants a return to Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun’s liberal policies — and with them, the Sunshine Policy, or greater engagement with Pyongyang.

With a new, young leader in power in North Korea, it would seem the right time to try something different — a new approach for a new era.

After all, the effectiveness of Lee’s hard-line policy toward North Korea has increasingly been called into question. Tying inter-Korean relations to progress on the nuclear issue may have pleased Washington, but it quickly destroyed South Korea’s developing relationship with the North. Since 2007, North Korea has shot a South Korean tourist, withdrawn from the Six-Party Talks, tested another nuclear device, sunk a South Korean vessel and shelled civilians on an island in South Korea. If anything, it seems that Lee’s policy has only raised inter-Korean tensions.

The Sunshine Policy would arguably bring North Korea back from teetering on the edge of financial collapse and enrich the state enough to feed its people. Instead of being backed into a corner, North Korea could follow China’s path and enact financial reforms in select areas, which would benefit both the population and the country’s neighbours. A wealthier North Korea would not feel so threatened, would not rely on threats and provocations to secure aid, and might even begin the long process of political liberalisation that so often accompanies economic reform.

All of this sounds very promising and hopeful, but it is unlikely to work. And even if it did, it could cause serious unintended consequences.

There are two reasons for this. First, the Sunshine Policy failed to produce the desired results the first time round because it never linked warmer relations with the North to progress on the nuclear issue, political liberalism or human rights conditions. It therefore did not push North Korea to shift its own strategy. North–South ties became less acrimonious, but this arguably came at great cost to South Korea’s security. While Seoul operated under Kim and Roh’s liberal policies, the North continued to build up its military, withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (2003), tested a nuclear device (2006), continued research and development on its short-range and long-range missile program, and withdrew from the Six-Party Talks (2007). The cost-benefit ratio for symbolic goods was simply too high for the South.

Second, the Sunshine Policy rests on the false assumption that political liberalisation naturally follows on from market reforms. This may not always be true. Supporters of the Sunshine Policy often point to the success the West had in opening up Chinese markets, and the changes wrought on Chinese society since Mao. This misses an important point: is the region really better off now that China is rich? Certainly, it is a real achievement that so many Chinese people have been lifted from poverty, but a rising China has also presented the region with many new security challenges. States along China’s coastline, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan, are now dealing with a bolder, more assertive China. This illustrates that there are unintended consequences to everything.

Do we really wish to enrich North Korea and give it the modern military that it thinks it deserves? Those who wish to rely on the liberal assumption are overlooking not only the unintended consequences, but also the fundamental nature of the regime. The Kim family derives its support from a uniquely Korean nationalist ideology, Juche (Self-reliance), adopted and upheld by the military. According to North Korea’s highest-ranking defector, Hwang Jang-yop, the regime derives its support from the military, with the implicit promise that the state’s ultimate purpose is to unify Korea. Would the regime jettison this belief simply because there was more money in the bank?

Finally, this assumption overlooks the nature of the Korean situation. Large segments of the population in both North and South Korea still believe in reunification. But while a wealthier China was able to develop stronger economic ties with Taiwan, for example, it was also able to continue developing its missile arsenal across the Taiwanese Strait. Similarly, a wealthier and militarily stronger Pyongyang would probably lessen any possibility of a Korean unification in the long run.

The Sunshine Policy is a good idea, based on a good principle. Unfortunately, it ignores the realities on the peninsula and the nature of the regime in the North, while also resting on a host of faulty assumptions.

Take, Hold, Build: Hope for Afghanistan?

PNXY Comment on Global Security and Politics, 11th October 2011


Flying over Afghanistan, one cannot help but be intimidated by the view from the air. Dry, brown craggy mountains reach into the horizon with few signs of human habitation or life. Below, small patches of greenery stubbornly cling to rivers basins, which meander through the bleak landscape. It is altogether too easy a metaphor for the conflict in Afghanistan – now in its 10th year, to suggest that the efforts of ISAF, the US, and UK are swallowed by such a landscape. But flying into Kabul presents one with another vision altogether, an ever-expanding cityscape, with new roads, newly-built apartment blocks, and office blocks next to traditional walled houses. And littered throughout this landscape, are parks of cargo containers, in their hundreds of thousands. Whole neighbourhoods seem to be built out of the heavy metal containers, and the sheer scale of their presence is a hint at the massive undertaking in supplying, feeding, clothing, and providing for the international effort that is Afghanistan. Flying over the airport, one sees lines of trucks bearing the cargo containers lining the highways, as traffic pushes as sluggishly as any Western city.


The population of Kabul in 2001 was around 500,000 and it is now almost 4 million. This growth shows itself in the haphazard nature of development that seems to have mushroomed along the road from Kabul Airport, with apartment complexes; marriage centres and shopping centres hugging the congested highway. While one is constantly aware of the security situation, one cannot help but be impressed by the hustle and bustle of the city. Certainly, the steely faces of Afghan National Police manning weapons at roundabouts and intersections reveal the underlying tension, but that is not the only story. As night falls, the city glows with light, an improvement in power generation from only a few years ago. Furthermore, side streets reveal busy night markets, with men sitting in doorways, fanning flames at kebab stalls. Yes, it is a city under siege, but it does not seem to be – odd as this may sound – a city at war. Certainly, the hotels, the embassies, and the government ministries are heavily fortified, but the overall sensation is one of business, commercial success and vibrancy.

Notable on the sidewalks are crowds of male and female students dawdling on their way home. In 2001, fewer than 1 million children attended some form of education. Now, according to the UK Department for International Development (DFID), more than five million attend school, and almost a third of them are girls. While Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world, its economic growth – bolstered by international aid – is impressive, with growth at 22.5% in 2009/10. Last year’s harvest also saw a growth of agriculture output of 36%. In 2006, President Karzai established the Independent Board for the Development of Kabul New City, brought together the private sector, urban specialists, and foreign donors like the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to carry out a massive redevelopment plan for the city. The project, it is estimated, will eventually end up costing some US$35 billion dollars, and push many of Afghanistan’s 35% unemployed into of the largest development projects in modern history.

While all of this is good news, there are still a lot of ‘ifs’ involved before such projects bear fruit. The main question is whether the current system is sustainable, and this is what donors in Afghanistan should be focused on. While agriculture has improved, Afghanistan’s arid landscape means that the sector is heavily dependent on rainfall and snowmelt, so while modern methods can continue to improve output, this will remain volatile.

This volatility will also be true in terms of the security situation and the commitment of international partners to the Karzai government. Around 47% of Afghanistan’s GDP is dependent on international donors, which means that Kabul will have to negotiate a continuation of funding for some years to come from countries already beginning to feel the pinch at home. One answer to this conundrum has been for Kabul to woo investment into its largely untapped mineral and mining sectors, aided by a 2006 government mining law and a 2010 US geological survey. According to a New York Times article, the US-backed survey discovered nearly US$1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits – including lithium, copper, iron ore, and cobalt – enough to fundamentally reshape the Afghan economy and make the country a world supplier. The Aynak Copper Mine in the mountainous region of Logar Pronvince is one indication of how things could go with a Chinese firm winning the bid by promising US$3 billion in direct investment and infrastructure projects.

What is clear, is that the world is doing something in Afghanistan aside from soldiering. It is building something, or trying to. The question is whether this will have a real effect, but certainly there are plenty of hopeful signs for those who would look for them. Easy metaphors aside, Afghanistan may stand as ‘a graveyard of Empires’, but this should not stop us from viewing the good being done there, however many ‘ifs’ are required to keep it going.


China binds itself in East Asia


July 19th, 2011

China has very successfully created new security ties over the last year.

The only problem is that most of these new relationships have been created because of China, rather than with China. Beijing is on the outside looking in. In the wake of Chinese naval and diplomatic assertiveness in the South China Sea during 2010, a number of states in the region have begun developing closer diplomatic and security links to the United States and with other powers in the region.

On 17 June, Vietnamese and American officials met in Washington for a political, security and defence dialogue, where the two pledged to work towards a ‘strategic partnership’, and affirmed the need to protect the freedom of the seas. In the same week, the Philippines garnered ASEAN diplomatic support for ‘a peaceful resolution’ of maritime disputes according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, while also seeking US defence guarantees as outlined in the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty. In a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Philippines Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario gained assurances that the US would defend the Philippines in any conflict with China over disputed islands. Indonesia, the region’s second largest power — and one without direct claims — has intervened diplomatically, contesting Chinese claims in a letter (covered in the Economist) to a UN Commission this summer.

And the South China Sea is not the only place where states are banding together diplomatically against China. This year has seen a remarkable phenomenon in Northeast Asia. South Korea has drifted towards a trilateral security relationship with the US and Japan. In a Trilateral Statement made this December, the three countries pledged to build ‘strong, productive, and constructive relations with China’, while also ‘maintaining peace, prosperity, and stability in the region … and promoting and protecting freedom, democracy, and human rights worldwide’. Long-considered by US alliance managers in the region, the possibility of a Trilateral ROK-US-Japan Alliance coming into shape is almost entirely Beijing’s doing. China’s unwavering support for Pyongyang over the Choenan sinking and Yeonpyeong artillery incident destroyed years of accumulated Chinese diplomatic capital in Seoul. Furthermore, the inability of Beijing to control nationalist elements in the PLA Navy pushed Tokyo away from the pan-Asian aspirations of Prime Minister Hatoyama.

While Chinese analysts are more than willing to use these developments as proof that the United States has somehow connived to contain China, the simple truth is Washington couldn’t have achieved this without Beijing’s help. What exactly has happened to the once-vaunted notion of soft power with Chinese characteristics? If this reappraisal of Chinese diplomacy is due to US efforts, it would stand as one of the most successful diplomatic campaigns in history. But it’s not quite true. In reality, China has lost a measure of control over the execution of its foreign policy to the PLA, to the Ministry of Fisheries, and to erratic individuals like helicopter pilots and fishing boat captains. China has, by its own admission, jettisoned the ‘peaceful rise’ of Deng Xiaoping but has not decided on a clear replacement. In the absence of a clearly defined policy, Beijing is being impelled by internal forces along a bellicose path previously marked by every rising authoritarian regime in history. Up until 2008, Chinese planners seemed smarter than that, and seemed determined to avoid the mistakes of history.

The year 2012, with its leadership changes across Asia, and the continued rise of tensions over maritime border disputes, will be critical. As one of the greatest success stories in human history, one hopes that China will realise how critical this year is and change course before it’s too late.

Growing Tensions in East Asia

RUSI Analysis, 6th August 2010

The US and South Korean show-of-arms against North Korea have generated accusations from China of escalating tension in the region. Is this is a legitimate security response, or a sign of China’s new-found assertiveness?


Policy-makers in the Pentagon made a calculated decision two weeks ago to deploy the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to the Yellow Sea for a joint military drill with South Korean naval and air forces. The drill – intended to leave Pyongyang in no doubt of the resolve of the US-ROK alliance – comes in the wake of the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan by a DPRK Special Forces submarine. It appears that, under Chinese pressure, the US decided to hold the drill in the East Sea rather than the Yellow Sea.

The strength of the reaction of China’s state-controlled media and of China’s Foreign Ministry to the carrier’s deployment seemingly caught Washington off-guard with a series of editorials, statements and articles. Most described the deployment as provocative, and one editorial went so far as to compare it to the Cuban Missile Crisis1. In the most extreme example, a Chinese defence analyst2 was quoted as saying that the carrier would be targeted by Chinese weapons systems.

A justified reaction?

From a Chinese perspective, the strength of this reaction is justified, stemming from a concern over the presence of one of the most powerful symbols of US military might within 500 kilometres of Beijing. Furthermore, the carrier is a stark reminder of China’s apparent weakness during the Taiwan Straits missile crisis of 1995-6. On the other hand, China’s reaction challenges international legal norms; the waters in question are international waters.

While China has not submitted a legal challenge to the US military presence, its reaction might be viewed as part of a wider trend of asserting its maritime territorial claim in the region. In early July, for example, Chinese officials told their visiting American counterparts that the South China Sea – a vital shipping lane for China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan – was now considered  a ‘core interest’3. This phrase marks an interesting shift in Asian Pacific security affairs, and brings the body of water to the same level of significance as Tibet and Taiwan for China. While international legal norms are never clear, it does appear that the US and other South China Sea claimants view China’s assertion as a form of ‘creeping sovereignty’.

Naturally, since the issue is a vital one for all states involved in maritime trade, it deserves a rigorous and thorough examination by a body such as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), based in Hamburg. However, as always, the problem is persuading the states involved to agree to arbitrate. Returning to the issue of the Cheonan sinking, China’s reaction to the Yellow Sea drill sidesteps the fact that a North Korean vessel deliberately sank a South Korean vessel, a serious casus belli, and as of yet, remains unpunished for the act. While China and Russia have publicly expressed doubt over North Korea’s culpability in the matter, a multinational investigation team comprising experts from Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, the US, and South Korea found North Korea responsible and issued these findings in a public report.

Capitalising on the atmosphere of doubt on the issue, China has managed to impede US and South Korean efforts to punish the North diplomatically in the UN Security Council, resulting in a harmless Presidential Statement condemning the attack.

US interests

There is a clear difference in how these events are perceived in the Chinese media and in the Western media. Many in Beijing see China as merely safe-guarding its own interests in areas vital to its defence. Some in the West point to the shift in Chinese policy following the US economic crisis, a sense of confidence resulting from China’s own economic bounce-back. Certainly, concern about Chinese intentions is no longer restricted to media sources. In July, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen gave a speech in South Korea, in which he reiterated concern over China’s military build-up4. His concern also reflects a US unease with the affect that China has on the regional order. By protecting Pyongyang from punishment over the sinking of the Cheonan, China also subtly undermines the US security guarantees given to its regional allies.

Asia Pacific security

While the Cheonan incident was a tragic incident for the families of the sailors killed, it is also part of a wider concern over China’s strategic intent. This relates to the growth of Chinese military power in the region, how it interprets international legal norms and reacts to the security system already in place. The current US security arrangements in the Asia Pacific have worked well for the last 60 years; indeed, to some extent the Asian miracle was built on the security guarantees that enabled states to concentrate on economic growth, and the freedom of the seas that enabled them to achieve that growth. Unlike NATO, the system is a loose patchwork of bilateral alliances between Washington and regional capitals. While this has sufficed up until now, the question is whether it will continue to be enough.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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