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South Korea's Contributions to International Security

Authors: Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Balbina Y. Hwang, Visiting Professor, Georgetown University, and Terence Roehrig, Director, Asia-Pacific Studies Group, U.S. Naval War College
October 24, 2012

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SCOTT SNYDER: Good morning. This is Scott Snyder. I'm a senior fellow for Korea studies here at the Council on Foreign Relations. And I'm joined today on this conference call by Balbina Hwang from Georgetown University and Terry Roehrig from the Naval War College.

We are all contributors to a new volume that has been released this week by the Council on Foreign Relations entitled "Global Korea: South Korea's Contributions to International Security." And we're also holding this conference call on the occasion of the Security Consultative Meeting between the South Korean defense minister and the U.S. secretary of defense that are going on at the Pentagon today.

I want to make some introductory remarks about both the SCM and leading into a discussion of our book. And then I'll ask Terry -- I'll ask Balbina and then Terry to also make some comments on the SCM and on their chapters in the book.

With regard to the Security Consultative Meeting, it's very useful that the U.S. and South Korea in June of 2009 agreed to a U.S.-ROK joint vision statement, which outlines the bilateral regional and global dimensions of U.S.-South Korea security cooperation.

Of course, the new parts of this agenda are the regional and global elements of cooperation. And so we're in a period right now looking forward to the 60th anniversary of the U.S. -- of the U.N. armistice, which resulted in a cease-fire on the Korean Peninsula.

As I think about this time, it's a time where the alliance is really going global. There are issues that the U.S. and South Korea continue to focus on and that will be discussed today in the Security Consultative Meetings related to the posture of U.S. and Korean forces.

I think the first issue is really preparation for the transition in operational control that is going to occur in 2015, end of 2015. And there is a whole list of specific issues that I think will come up in the context of preparations for moving from a U.S.-led force structure on the peninsula to a Korea-led and U.S.-supported force structure on the peninsula.

A second issue is related to counterprovocations related to North Korea and how to prepare and effectively respond to North Korean provocations. And of course this is another issue that is really central and has been central on the SCM agenda for some time.

A third set of issues is related to implementation of new missile guidelines, defense reform, some new areas where the alliance is trying to strengthen its capabilities responding to cybersecurity threats, et cetera.

And then there's a fourth area, which is really also the subject of our book, and that is Korea's emerging global security role. This may -- this is a new -- a relatively new item on the agenda for the SCM. It reflects a widened definition -- a widened Korean definition of security. It shows -- I think the fact that the two defense ministers are talking about this set of issues shows how the alliance both supports and benefits from a global Korean capacity in international security. And it shows that South Korea is moving from being a consumer of security resources to being a producer of security resources.

I think there's a wide range of ways in which South Korea has been preparing for this new international role legally, showing political will. We see that South Korea's 2010 white paper has identified contributing to international security as a major priority, alongside providing security on the Korean Peninsula and preparing for unification.

We see that the South Korean government has established a law that enables smaller deployments to international peacekeeping operations without necessarily having to go through the National Assembly. And of course, last week South Korea was named as a UNSC -- U.N. Security Council member. And so this provides South Korea, over the course of the next two years, 2013 and 2014, the opportunity to not only be engaged with international security issues at the Security Council but also potentially to back up its role with concrete contributions to international security challenges around the world.

The volume actually covers Proliferation Security Initiative and South Korea's joining of that institution, counterproliferation, South Korea's involvement with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan, in addition to peacekeeping and anti-piracy initiatives.

Balbina Hwang wrote our chapter on peacekeeping. And I'd like to turn the floor over to her to say a few words about peacekeeping and the SCM.

Balbina.

BALBINA HWANG: Yes, good morning. Thank you very much, Scott. Well, first of all, let me say it was a privilege to work on this project. I learned a great deal, and I hope I was able to contribute a little bit to the dialogue about Korea's expanding global role. I think this is a very important project. And I say this because we are at very interesting times. And I believe this period will mark a -- really a turning point for the Korean Peninsula as we look back on this period.

Scott started off by mentioning the June 2009 Joint Vision Statement for the alliance. And that truly was the turning point. It marked -- it was an extraordinary statement because it did mark -- it came at the period of a very difficult period for the alliance, but it was also the launching point for a remarkable period in Korea.

And I think as much as the alliance was able to begin to move forward in a global role or exploring a global role for the alliance, much credit goes to President Lee Myung-bak who launched a national strategy for a global Korea. Now, notably, a global role for Korea is actually not new. It's not new at all. Korea had this vision as long ago as 20 years when President Kim Young-sam launched a policy called globalization or segyehwa. But oddly enough, that was much more inwardly focused. And it's taken 20 years for Korea to understand that its national interests -- and Korea has always been a very inwardly focused country -- that its national interests are intertwined with global interests.

And I think, in many ways, the national public is still struggling very much to reconcile that -- security interests on the Korean Peninsula, which have always been so narrowly focused on the North Korean threat and then possibly on more regional threats -- the traditional threat of Japan, which is far more sort of an instinctive and historically based threat for the Korean people, and even the more looming kind of insecurities that come with the rising power of China. So for the Korean people, it -- to understand that actually, international threats -- the rise of terrorism, piracy, nonproliferation -- that all of these international threats are actually intertwined with -- directly with national threats of Korea.

And so peacekeeping operations provide a unique opportunity for Korea to participate on a global scale and to actually start practicing global citizenship, if you will, and really provides a unique opportunity for Korea to practice these skills, to gain valuable experience, but also to -- for Korea to exert itself and to demonstrate that it is actually a responsible global player and demonstrate that Korea can play a leadership role and also participate as an international responsible player and to return very much what it was a recipient of 60 years ago during the Korean War, when -- of course, the Korean War was a product of a U.N. operation.

And so this was really very much an effort by President Lee, even though it is so much intertwined with the alliance. In many ways, it was pulling the South Korean effort to match -- a national effort to match its role in the international community, that can match its economic successes.

So I will turn it over, I think, to my colleague Terence.

SNYDER: Yeah, let me ask Terry to say a few words about anti-piracy, and then we'll open it up for questions.

TERENCE ROEHRIG: Sure.

First, Scott, thank you very much for putting this project together. I think this is an outstanding effort that gets at some very, very important issues.

You know, your early comment about the notion of South Korea being a producer of security more than a consumer, I think, really hits this very, very importantly because it is pointing to how South Korea is working at being a participant in addressing a much broader array of transnational security issues that are out there, and as South Korea's power and influence had grown over the years, so has its involvement in addressing a multitude of these issues. And I think this book really does an outstanding job of starting to lay out a number of those different areas where South Korea has become involved in these global or -- international efforts to promote global security.

And so before I begin, let me just say that my comments here are mine alone and do not represent those of the U.S. government, but that I think a very important piece that I wrote about was the notion of South Korea's participation in counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.

And South Korea began this participation since the spring of 2009, where it joined the Counter (sic) Task Force or CTF-151, which is a multinational task force that addresses the piracy issue in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. South Korea has been participating in this operation but also has been in command of the operation twice, which also speaks highly to South Korea's naval capabilities and the ability to operate in a multinational setting of this sort.

Known as the Cheonghae Unit, South Korea has contributed one destroyer, which rotates in and out every four to six months. This destroyer is equipped with a helicopter and also a team of approximately 30 SEALs, so that these groups have worked very closely with other multinational -- with partners in the region to be able to address the piracy issue.

Over these three years plus now that South Korea has been in the region, it has been first and foremost escorting South Korean ships through the region as they come through, but it has also been helping the ships of other countries as they come through if there are no South Korean ships to take care of, also to protect and patrol general areas as different traffic proceeds through those different locations. And then lastly, South Korea has also been a part of some -- of several important rescue operations, perhaps the most high-profile in January of 2011 when South Korea rescued the Samho Jewelry with no casualties to the crew and was able to free the ship. A fair number of the pirates were killed in the operation, but five were taken back to South Korea and were prosecuted for the crimes of piracy.

Let me also say then that I think that there are three very important benefits that South Korea receives from its participation in these operations. First and foremost, I think it is a very direct action for South Korea to protect its own commercial interests. Close to 30 percent of its shipping, which, again, ocean-borne commerce is crucial for South Korea's economic livelihood -- it is able to protect those interests directly in the region through its participation in CTF-151.

Second, and certainly one of the key focuses of our book, is that it is also an effort by South Korea to participate in international efforts to provide protection to the global maritime commons, that as South Korea becomes a rising and increasing power and influence in the global community, it is stepping up and providing the naval resources to be able to address this particular transnational issue of piracy in the region, and again, one of 25 countries that is making that commitment.

Lastly, I think South Korea also has been gaining a great deal of operational experience in its participation, not only working with multinational partners but also in its ability and the experience it gains in commanding a multinational force like this. But also, South Korea over the years has gained considerable operational experience in its own right operating in the Korean Peninsula. It is able to share that operational experience with the other international partners in this piracy operation. And so South Korea is receiving, but it is also giving a great deal in regards to the operational experience that it has.

Let me just conclude with a couple of comments about the MCM meeting, the Military Consultative Meeting that happened yesterday and as that feeds into the SCM that is coming. I thought it was interesting the reaffirmation about the OPCON transfer, the operational control transfer, that 2015 is going to be the date on target. I often receive questions about the idea, is it possible that when we get closer to 2015, will this be -- this deadline be pushed farther back in the future. And I have to say, from what I saw from the meeting yesterday and also from other statements, I have a feeling 2015, unless there is a drastic change in the security environment, is likely to be the date that this will happen.

But it is intriguing, in some of the press coverage in South Korea, there was some indication that perhaps there might be some changes to what the OPCON actually looks like, in particular, possibly -- or keeping the current command structure, which many had projected this was going to be dropped and we would have two separate parallel command structures. USFK General Thurman raised an intriguing possibility during the summer, I believe, where he suggested perhaps we could keep the same command structure, but instead of having a U.S. general being in charge, we simply have reversed roles and a South Korean is the commander in chief and the U.S. becomes the second in command, the supporting command, if you will.

I'll stop there and turn it back over to Scott.

SNYDER: OK. Thanks, Terry. I just want to ask Balbina a quick question before we go to media questions.

HWANG: Sure.

SNYDER: And that is I'm wondering if you could say a little bit more about how South Korea has prepared, on the peacekeeping front, to be a more active contributor to international peacekeeping operations and what you think the implications might be, especially going forward, for Korea's contributions in the future.

HWANG: Yes. Well, actually, as you implied, South Korea has taken measures domestically to be able to deploy its troops. It actually passed a couple of national security legislation that improves its ability to do so. In -- specifically in 2010 it passed legislation that allows it to send troops without having to go through all sorts of long and complicated processes. It also established a special unit that trains peacekeeping personnel and essentially provides combat readiness troops, so that they are always available to send on a rotating basis to any location that arises.

So it's this type of practical legislation that allows South Korea to be capable of participating in peacekeeping operations.

SNYDER: Thanks, Balbina. I just want to add one additional point to the discussion, and that is South Korea, in terms of defense expenditures, ranks 12th as of 2010 in the world. And that puts them right in front of Canada and Australia, which are established middle powers that have emphasized contributions to multilateral security operations.

HWANG: Right.

SNYDER: And in a fiscally constrained environment going forward, it's easy to imagine that South Korea's contributions in this area would be all the more valued as we face an uncertain international security environment.

Let me open it up to the media for questions and turn to the operator for instructions again.

OPERATOR: Thank you very much. (Gives queuing instructions.)

While we're holding for questions, Scott, do you have any comments you'd like to make?

SNYDER: Yes, I actually want to ask Terry another question. And that is I wonder if you could say a little bit about how South Korea is viewing the benefits of gaining experience in these kinds of operations abroad and how it might potentially be applied to South Korea's own domestic security environment.

ROEHRIG: Sure. I think that that gets at a very interesting dimension of the degree of public support and political support for this operation. And from what I can tell, it seems to be a measure that is receiving good support from the public. There does not seem to be a whole lot of opposition to South Korea continuing to do this.

As far as the cost of the operation, it's relatively modest. When you look at the entire defense budget, it's about a tenth of a percent of its defense budget.

And what I think it allows for South Korea to do -- I mean, in particular, operating with a number of different countries, international partners, is not an easy thing to do. And if anything would ever happen that would be a very serious decay of security within the Korean Peninsula area, there would likely be assistance from other states. And so its ability to work with international -- other international navies is very helpful. Again, that takes time, and that takes practice.

I think also another interesting dimension is South Korea is part of the counter task force, but there are a number of other countries -- China, Russia, India -- who contribute naval forces to this that are outside the CTF structure. The European Union and NATO also have naval contingents. And so South Korea gains a great deal by being able to work with this multitude of partners, and including some that you might be surprised that there would be a good deal of cooperation with, and -- so that again, I think its ability to practice and work with other navies -- and I think this is not just for South Korea's benefit; this is for the benefit of everyone in the region -- that that helps provide a lot of practice, if you will, for being able to address all sorts of security concerns in the future, in addition to establishing any sort of political contact with this as well.

SNYDER: Thanks, Terry.

I might just say by way of conclusion for this discussion, that our -- some of our other chapters, especially the Afghanistan chapter, I think really illustrate the way in which there are potential applications for Korea in the event of instability in North Korea in terms of gaining experience with provincial reconstruction in an unstable security environment and also our chapter on counterproliferation deals, specifically with the implications of South Korea's joining the Proliferation Security Initiative and trying to strengthen export controls in connection with potential proliferation of nuclear material by North Korea.

Just want to thank everybody for joining our call today. And if there are other questions related to the SCM or any other issues related to South Korea's increasing international security role, you can refer them to my colleague Tricia Miller. She's at tmiller@cfr.org, and she'll convey those questions to us for a response.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

HWANG: Thank you, Scott.

OPERATOR: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, at this time this conference is now concluded. You may disconnect your phone lines. And have a great rest -- (end of audio).

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