Toward a Multistakeholder Model of Foreign Policy Making in Korea? Big Business and Korea-US Relations

By Kim, Chi-Wook | Asian Perspective, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Toward a Multistakeholder Model of Foreign Policy Making in Korea? Big Business and Korea-US Relations


Kim, Chi-Wook, Asian Perspective


Taking the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) as a case study, I examine the influence of Korean big business in shaping Korea-US relations. For more than a half century, the ROK-US alliance has played a safety-pin role in preserving peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. However, the KORUS FTA has been a catalyst for building a new version of the alliance. While many studies on Korean foreign policy have centered solely on the roles of state actors, the democratization and pluralization of the foreign policy making process has made a multistakeholder model more relevant in explaining Korea's decisions. From that perspective, the article investigates the influence of big business in Korea on promoting the KORUS FTA and transforming the bilateral alliance. Based upon various internal and external policy networks, the major Korean business associations played advocacy and educational roles in advancing the new economic and security alliance with the United States. KEYWORDS: Korea-US relations, free trade agreement (FTA), ROK-US alliance, foreign policy making, multistakeholder model, business networks.

THIS ARTICLE EXAMINES THE INFLUENCE AND ROLE OF KOREAN BUSINESSES in shaping Korea-US relations, using the Korea-US Free TradeAgreement (KORUS FTA) as a case study. For over sixty years, the Republic of Korea (ROK)-US alliance has played a safety-pin role in preserving peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in the Northeast Asian region. Based on common ideology and values, it also has functioned as an important institutional foundation for a strong bilateral economic and commercial relationship that underpinned mutual security and prosperity. Despite fluctuations in global security and economic conditions, the bilateral partnership has widened and deepened in all dimensions of interstate relations through the two countries' security, economic, and cultural ties.

The alliance has, however, been tested severely over the last decade. The United States has reassessed Korea's strategic value in the new century and has sought structural adjustments to the alliance. Similarly, responding to both domestic and external changes, Korea has sought a more equal relationship with its alliance partner. In particular, differences between the two countries over policy toward North Korea have highlighted their conflicting views.

A new version of the ROK-US alliance is currently in the making. The alleged main catalyst of its realignment to a higher level is the KORUS FTA. In one respect, the proposed FTAcould be an agent of momentum to transform the alliance from a solely military one into a more comprehensive alliance that has security and economic purposes. The high expectation of this strengthened military and economic cooperation is that it will serve as a much stronger basis for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia in the future.1

With both countries making adjustments to the military alliance and their economic ties, one must inquire into the domestic roots of such a transformation of the bilateral relationship. More specifically, what roles did Korean big business play in the evolution of themilitaryeconomic alliance? The changing characteristics of the alliance are no doubt attributable to both international and domestic factors, on the one hand, and political and economic forces, on the other.2 However, singling out the key variables in explaining the emerging Korea- US relations is difficult.

Many studies on Korea's foreign policy in general and the Korea- US relationship in particular have become trapped in a so-called analytical double divide-between high and low politics, and between state and society as the key variables. Korea-US relations have been considered, for the most part, as high politics in which security and strategic concerns dominate the discourse, with the decisionmaking powers residing in state actors, primarily the top executives. Under the so-called imperial presidency thesis, presidents in general have had overwhelming authority in making foreign policy, leaving little room for low politics and societal actors to play an independent role.

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