chapter  8
18 Pages

South Korea’s role conception and strategies for multilateralism

A ‘balance of role’ analysis
WithJaechun Kim, William Kang

Since the end of the Korean War, the bilateral security alliance with the US has occupied a central place in South Korea’s strategic outlook, but South Korea has been actively taking part in the region’s discussion on institutionalizing multilateral cooperation. Political ideology of the government, diplomatic profiles of the nation, perceived North Korean threats, and order transition from the US to China are identified as factors shaping the ‘role conception’ of South Korea, which has in turn led to the different ‘inter-institutional balancing strategies’ of South Korean governments. Conservative governments have tended to adopt South Korea’s role conception as a ‘junior security partner’ of the US, whereas progressive governments have envisioned a role of ‘balancer’ for the country in the region’s security affairs. Accordingly, conservative governments have supported an inclusive inter-institutional balancing strategy to reinforce the role of the US as ‘order defender,’ while the strategy of progressive governments has been more exclusive. Recent South Korean governments have become more proactive in utilizing inter-institutional balancing strategies to cope with volatilities of escalating geopolitical rivalry in the region in this era of order transition.