Security and Diplomacy Strategies after the Cold War (1988 to 2007)
Changing Policy Environment
Previously overwhelmed by the Cold War order worldwide, Korean security and diplomacy policies came to undergo profound transformation after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc. Signs of the impending collapse began to emerge in the mid-1980s. General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev launched the policies of perestroika
, which prompted the states in the Eastern Bloc to seek greater autonomy in their foreign and economic policies. Detecting signs of loosening and transformation in the Soviet empire, Seoul came to release the Declaration of July 7, 1988, in which President Roh Taewoo announced Seoul’s new determination to achieve co-existence and partnership with Pyongyang and pursue a “northward policy” modeled after the West’s “push eastward.” The South Korean government came to advocate resumption and augmentation of trade with North Korea and articulated a new policy vision for building peace on the Korean peninsula. The northward policy served as the main impetus for the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement of 1991, which ushered in a new, post-Cold War era of security and diplomacy policymaking. As the Berlin Wall was brought down in 1989 and Germany achieved national reunification in 1990, the July 7 Declaration gained increasing support and momentum worldwide. South Korea thus resumed diplomatic relations with Hungary in February 1989, and also with the Soviet Union in September 1990. The implosion of the Soviet Union that reached completion in 1991 permanently altered some key concepts in international politics. Amid these changes, Seoul’s northward policy paved the way for the birth of a new, post-Cold War foreign strategy under which greater efforts were made to bring North Korea out of its self-isolation and into the international community.
The changes that began to occur in Korean security policies under the Roh Taewoo administration reflected the changes afoot in the larger global environment. Having resumed diplomatic relations with Moscow and Beijing, Seoul went on to normalize its relations with the rest of the Eastern Bloc states. The Bush administration, in the meantime, began its work toward introducing a new world order, actively inviting Russia and other former member-states of the Soviet Union into it. The Clinton administration pursued the so-called “engagement and enlargement” strategy, intent upon consolidating democracy and market economy in the former Communist states (Lake, 1996). These strategic changes in the global arena led by the United States consequently gave Korean policymakers greater room (between 1988 and 1992) to formulate new security and diplomacy policies for the post-Cold War era.
The end of the Cold War also coincided with the sweeping march of democratization in Korea and elsewhere. The democratization movement that gained momentous victories in the late 1980s ultimately culminated in the restoration of the direct presidential election system and the flourishing of civil society in Korea. The ideological warfare and national division of the Cold War era were no longer sufficient by themselves to rein in the growing desire for democratization, which began to gain increasing support around the world. As such, social factors began to play a more decisive role in Korean foreign and security policies than international and structural factors. Korean civil society, as a result, came to wield an unprecedented level of influence on policymaking during the two decades starting with the first Roh (Taewoo) administration and ending with the second Roh (Moohyun) administration.
Democratization on the domestic front, however, was far from being the sole factor in policymaking in Korea during this period. The overwhelming tides of globalization and informatization played crucial roles as well, beginning in the late 1980s. The world economic order underpinned by the Bretton Woods system began to show signs of collapse in the early 1970s, and came to be perceived as especially problematic in the late 1980s when globalization of financial and other sectors of the economy accelerated worldwide. The new trend of globalization facilitated Korea’s entry into the global market and boosted sociocultural and human exchange at various levels. As Korea’s economic, social, and cultural horizons began to broaden, so too did the range of new conditions and choices faced by the nation’s policymakers. The Kim Youngsam administration therefore sought to expand the Korean economy against the backdrop of globalization worldwide, efforts which led to South Korea’s admission into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1996. The sudden influx of global input into and influence on the Korean economy, however, also invited the Foreign Exchange Crisis in 1997. The Kim administration’s economic policy thus exposed Korean security and diplomacy strategies to a much wider range of international factors that were increasingly beyond Korea’s control.
Informatization arose as a natural result of technological advances made in society at large, and fundamentally transformed all sectors and aspects of society and living in significant ways. Civil society, first boosted by its successful democratization efforts, found renewed strength and inspiration in informatization. The government could no longer claim a monopoly on information relating to national security and foreign affairs. As openness and disclosure became new norms, the government found itself under increasing pressure to submit its policies to public scrutiny, and public diplomacy began to emerge as the new dominant mode of foreign relations worldwide. As national identity arose as a key indicator of national strength, nations began to tout and pursue “soft power” and “soft diplomacy,” and Korea embraced this new trend as well.
Another historic event that marks a watershed moment in the evolution of Korean security and diplomacy policies is the terrorist attacks on the United States, waged by al Qaeda, on September 11, 2001. The September 11 attacks exerted groundbreaking changes on the international security environment, aligning nations anew against asymmetric threats from terrorist states and groups. Counter-terrorism and the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction became the overarching norms of many states’ foreign policies. Against this backdrop of anti-terrorist campaigns and warfare, a new unipolar world order helmed by the United States began to emerge dominant. Washington began to reorganize the security environment on a planetary scale by pursuing two transformations: military transformation and transformational diplomacy. Military transformation entailed the reorganization of alliances, which came to condition and shape the new security policy of the Roh Moohyun administration in Korea.
Facing the dawn of the post-Cold War era and the rapidly changing security environment abroad, the Korean government made it a mission to formulate and articulate a whole new security policy of its own. The greater autonomy of Korean policymakers, the growing stature and profile of Korea on the world stage, democratization, and the new role of informatization required Korea’s presidents and policymakers to devise new diplomacy and security strategies befitting the changing collective identity of Koreans and the arrival of the new millennium.
Korea Institute of Public Administration. 2008. Korean Public Administration, 1948-2008, Edited by Korea Institute of Public Administration. Pajubookcity: Bobmunsa.