from Asia Unbound

Counterproliferation and Global Korea

November 09, 2012

Blog Post

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North Korea

South Korea


Scott Bruce is a project manager for the Partnership for Nuclear Security at CRDF Global.

Counterproliferation efforts are an important test of South Korea’s “Global Korea” policy. When it comes to combating proliferation, one way of assessing how “global” the Global Korea policy is to look at the efforts that are centered on North Korea versus those that go beyond the Korean peninsula.  As explained in CFR’s new ebook Global Korea, South Korea’s counter and nonproliferation efforts were traditionally driven by the U.S.-ROK security alliance and threat of North Korea. Although South Korea remains an indispensable part of the U.S. security alliance in East Asia, and one of the key nations in addressing the security threat posed by the DPRK’s nuclear program, the ROK is also driving nuclear security issues that go beyond the Korean peninsula through its role as a champion of export controls and the standards for nuclear security it can set as it emerges as an exporter of nuclear energy technology.

When we look at the ROK’s role in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which it joined in May 2009, we see that South Korea has moved rapidly to take a leading role in the organization, a role now focused on the planning and operational role of the initiative. In October 2010, South hosted “Exercise Eastern Endeavor,” a maritime PSI drill that practiced the interdiction of ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction, and the ROK convened a regional workshop for the PSI in Busan. But these activities have been driven by the North Korean nuclear program, which has remained the focus of the Initiative for the ROK.

In export controls, the ROK is an example of a state that has worked to prevent proliferation by developing a robust set of export controls, while not slowing its export driven economy. As recently as 2005, a poll by the Korea International Trade Association found that, while most Koreans supported the idea of export controls, two-thirds of export companies did not understand the export control system. Eleven percent had “never heard of the export control system” at all. Less than 40 percent of these firms regularly secured authorization from the government before they exported materials abroad or checked to see if their exports were prohibited. The ROK has worked to address these issues by creating training on export controls, enforcing the law more rigorously, and installing an effective online system for businesses to consult export control guidelines and apply for licenses. Having made these changes in the recent past, and having good relations with its neighbors in East Asia, South Korea can provide training programs on export controls to other states in East Asia.

As a nuclear technology exporter, Seoul has an opportunity to establish nuclear standards that can support nonproliferation efforts globally. As it works to export nuclear technology, South Korea can also provide training to ensure that there is an effective security culture at plants and facilities, and that those facilities are effectively audited. South Korea could also work with the nuclear suppliers groups to restrict the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology, and require adoption of the IAEA Additional Protocol for all states to which it supplies nuclear technology.