Tradition and modernity in South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

"Tradition and modernity in South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs", Diplomacy and Statecraft, 30(4), 2020.

South Korea’s diplomatic practice was traditionally marked by a distinct lack of transparency. The early struggle for political legitimacy as one-half of a divided nation and ongoing security threats placed a high premium on secrecy. Even today, diplomatic studies remains an undeveloped field. Despite the establishment of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA) and the opening of a Centre for Diplomatic History, the amount of scholarship on the foreign ministry itself and its diplomats remains remarkably low. However, South Korea is a society undergoing momentous societal transformation. What commenced with economic development in the 1980s, and continued with political development in the 1990s evolved into societal development in the 2000s. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has not been immune to these changes. MOFA is undergoing democratization and becoming more representative of broader South Korean society. It is being called on more often to serve the Korean public and to be more accountable for its actions. Finally, there is growing public recognition of the important role that the foreign ministry plays in securing South Korea’s political, economic, and security interests. This article looks at the underlying conditions which suggest the time is ripe for a practice turn in South Korean international relations, and a turn to diplomatic studies. The article highlights important research questions on the foreign ministry, which could contribute to the broader field of diplomatic studies, and justify South Korea as an ideal case study to highlight the benefits of studying states’ foreign services.