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© 2019 Jeffrey Robertson

The cost of North Korea on South Korean foreign policy

Sunday, February 21, 2016

An area of research interest for me is the cost of North Korea on South Korean foreign policy. Now when I say cost on South Korean foreign policy, it's normal to think in terms of financial cost. There are studies at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, the National Assembly Budget Officeand other institutions which touch on this. One can go ever further with such an approach and say that North Korea impacts EVERY area of government, including entire departments that would not exist if it were not for North Korea, such as the Ministry of Unification. Thus, if it were not for North Korea, there would be a much larger budget share for the foreign ministry. But with such speculative budget costing it inevitably gets messy.

I think a more interesting approach is the cost of North Korea on South Korean foreign policy in terms of specific policy initiatives. Every South Korean presidential administration has a timeframe of five years to canvas, prepare, implement, and build sustainability for foreign policy initiatives - this is an incredibly short timeframe when compared to a two-term presidential system or a stable Westminster parliamentary system. When the regularity of North Korea's 'misbehavior' is added, the ability to implement foreign policy initiatives is substantially cut down to a very narrow and arguably, impossible timeframe.

The Park Geun-Hye administration will perhaps serve as yet another example of this challenge. It started with a range of ambitious initiatives, including the Eurasia Initiative, Trustpolitik, the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI), the Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey, Australia (MIKTA) initiative, and several other others. These policy initiatives are now effectively defunct or attracting substantially less attention than they deserve.

Being an innovative, globally relevant middle-power means building sustainable initiatives that serve the nation's medium and long-term interests - think the Cairns Group securing Australia a voice in WTO multilateral trade liberalisation talks or APEC securing Australia a place in 'open regionalism' as 'closed regionalism' was growing in popularity. Can South Korea do this with the need to drop everything and focus on North Korea every few years? 

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