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South Korea's Growing Role and Contributions to International Stability

Author: Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy
October 24, 2012


Get ready for a new South Korea. The country is well known as an export powerhouse despite the struggling global economy. Samsung, Hyundai, and most recently Psy's YouTube hit "Gangnam Style" enjoy unprecedented popularity and profits around the world. But even more impressive than its export growth is South Korea's emergence as a producer rather than a consumer of international security goods despite an ongoing threat from North Korea. These contributions to a wide range of global peacekeeping and stabilization operations are all the more impressive because they entail cost and sacrifice for global stability not directly tied to tangible returns on investment. As a newly elected member of the UN Security Council during 2013 and 2014, South Korea has the opportunity to use these investments as a "middle power" and responsible leader in the international community.

The rationale for increasing its contribution to international security is clear given South Korea's dependence on exports for economic growth. Global stability is the prerequisite for growth in global trade. But the need for this new outlook only became clear when South Korea started to look at its security needs through a broader lens than just North Korea. Previously, South Korean attention was fixed on how to preserve stability on the Korean Peninsula and every demand for help from the international community was viewed on the basis of whether it would weaken or strengthen US commitments to preserve security. But Korea's global stake in stability requires security planners to consider Korea's security needs in a broader context. The Lee Myung-Bak administration's "Global Korea" concept provided the conceptual basis for this new approach.

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