South Korean Strategic Thought toward Asia

South Korean Strategic Thought toward Asia

Author(s): Gilbert Rozman, In-Taek Hyun and Shin-wha Lee (eds.)

ISBN:          978-1403975553

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Year:          2008

Price:         £45.00

Reviewed by Jörg Skorpil

South Korean Strategic Thought toward Asia is a book edited by Gilbert Rozman, In-Taek Hyun and Shin-wha Lee as compilation of papers written by the editors and academic experts from all over the world. The main purpose of the book is introduced in the first chapter as the three editors try to give a briefly overview over the difficult situation of South Korea and its international orientation. Furthermore they start to analyse the changing of alliances after the cold war ends and its consequences for the Seoul government. Moreover they discuss the turning points of strategic thinking in South Korea.

There are two major parts in the book. Part I gives general understanding of the different doctrines in the different era’s in chronological order. Chapter 2 introduces the South Korean strategic thoughts towards Asia in the 1980’s. The author explains that this period in South Korea, with its three presidents, Park, Chun and Roh, and their different strategic thoughts towards Asia, was highly important not only because of Roh’s “Nordpolitik” became a great success.

Chapter 3 gives an introductory explanation of the Kim Young-sam era from 1993 to 1998. The author pointed out that this Era began with high prospects for building a “New Korea” but ended with deep despair. He underlines that the Kim government did not successfully handled changing domestic political and international environment.

Chapter 4 is another informative part, which gives to the point analysis and comprehensible explanation of the drastically changes of the era of Kim Dae-jung. Scott Snyder presents his results on this era in a detailed 20-page review. He shows the changing within this era of radical refashioning strategic thinking regarding how to approach relations with the North as well as building up a vision for East Asian regionalism and stronger partnership with Japan. Snyder points out that in the second half of Kim’s presidency his visions deteriorated and furthermore the relation with the United States of America was damaged because of the different worldview of Kim and Bush. Moreover the progress of North Korean nuclear program brings Kim into trouble because his “Sunshine Policy” seems to be failed, Snyder says.

In Chapter 5 Seong-Ho Sheen deals with the era of Roh Moo-hyun from 2003 to 2008. The author analyses Roh’s new thoughts towards East Asia. He figures out, that Roh’s innovative character seems to be driven by its traditional nationalist sentiment. He stresses in particular the unrealistic assessment of the security environment surrounding the Korean peninsula leading to a failure of Roh’s approach towards the North.

Part II elaborates various issues of the geographic situation of South Korea by pointing out the main challenges towards reunification (chapter 6), potentials and risks of relations to China (chapter 7), situation and chances of the partnership to Japan (chapter 8), the South Korean strategic thoughts towards Russia (chapter9) and the benefits of East Asian regionalism (Chapter 10).

Chapter 6 explores the different strategic thoughts towards reunification of the Korean peninsula by the different presidents. Gilbert Rozman and Jong-Yun Bae point out that under Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan reunification appears mostly as a symbol of unfulfilled dreams and wasn’t realistic because of their plan to contain the North in a tense cold war. The authors explain the shift in the inner-Korean doctrine from competition to cooperation within the eras of Roh Tae-woo and Kim Young-sam. Furthermore Rozman and Bae discuss the policies under Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-Hyun. The Chapter ends with a briefly look-out on the politics of Lee Myung-Bak.

Chapter 7 discusses strategic thought towards China. Jae Ho Chung figures out the progress of the relationship with China. He starts with President Park Chung-hee who established first contacts to Beijing in the early 1970s. During the three decades until the presence the thinking about this relationship had ups and downs but overall the relationship has been fostered. The authors explain the ambition of South Korea to reduce dependency of the United States and give this as a reason for the process to build up China as strategic alternative or counterweight. Today China is, as Jae Ho Chung explains, an important player within the six-party-talks and essential for their success.

Chapter 8 focuses on the Korean strategic thought towards Japan. Gilbert Rozman analyses this long and strong partnership and says that no country had tested the strategic thinking of South Korean leaders as much as Japan. In the beginning of the partnership it was focused on security reasons, but soon it was widened to strategic political partnership and economic partnership. Rozman illustrates the bad and the good times of this alliance, e.g. the time when George Bush became President of the United States and the partnership between Japan and Korea became loose.

In Chapter 9 Gilbert Rozman points out the different eras of dealing with Russia. In this Chapter he tries to explain the importance or unimportance of Russia in East-Asia. After the Cold War the influence of Russia felt immediately and has not became as powerful as it was in the soviet times. The author describes how Russia fits into the overall South Korean strategic thought as a power for multilateralism and balance. Furthermore he underlines the Korean role as part of the centre of the worldwide movement of the global balance of power.

Chapter 10 discusses the risk and chances of South Korean efforts towards regionalism. Shin-wha Lee focuses on the period of the last days of the cold war and the time after, because within the cold war regionalism was restrained by the situation the world was. Until today the ideological, political and economic rivalry with North Korea in the international and regional community was also a factor for limited success within regionalism. In the post-cold war period, Shin-wha Lee says, the record of regionalism was mixed, with some economic regionalization, but little security or political efforts.

The analysis in each chapter are to the point and easy to understand even for non-experts. The organization of the book is easy to follow, but the connection between the chapters is sometimes not as good. The literature references at the end of each chapter are very detailed and help to get deeper into the topic. Overall  the book “South Korean Strategic Thought toward Asia” is a good introduction for working within the field of East Asian studies.