Academic journal article North Korean Review

Unity, Division and Ideational Security on the Korean Peninsula: Challenges to Overcoming the Korean Conflict

Academic journal article North Korean Review

Unity, Division and Ideational Security on the Korean Peninsula: Challenges to Overcoming the Korean Conflict

Article excerpt

Introduction

South Korea's agency and interests are often neglected in international discussion on Northeast Asian security vis-à-vis the Korea "problem." However, the debate taking place in the South regarding the North, as well as about how South Korean society perceives itself almost 70 years on from the division of the peninsula, demands attention. This article argues much may be learned from looking beyond traditional security- oriented approaches to inter-Korean relations, to how the national collective of the South defines its identity and how novel identity parameters are joining more established parameters to reshape how the South interacts with North Korea and beyond, with important implications for its unification policy framework. Drawing on constructivist literature from International Relations (IR) theory, this article explores the "securitization" of both positive and negative parameters in the South Korean national identity narrative, as evident in policy discourses related to Korean unification. It concentrates on the period since 1997 to the present, covering two terms of progressive government (1997-2007) and conservative government (2008-present), each of which pursued contrasting approaches to North Korea. Describing national identity and linking it to an ideational interpretation of "national security" is particularly complex in the Korean context, where there is more than one national collective with which individuals may or may not identify: the imagined, pan-Korean national collective, and the South Korean national collective distinct from the North. This article describes the parameters of the two identity frames and explores how and from what they may experience threat and insecurity, influencing certain policy moves.

This research follows the work of others who depart from traditional readings of security and instead look to domestic political discourses and/or identity as explanatory tools to apply alongside material and structural factors shaping South Korean foreign policy outcomes regarding North Korea.1 However, the conceptual framework herein moves beyond the work of those who focus primarily on statelevel socialization by focusing on the identity of the national collective as distinct from the state and examines the negotiation of identity between the nation and state and the effect this has on policy. This is because North Korea policy is arguably not limited to South Korea's "inter"-national relations agenda, but is also a matter of "intra"-national relations, given the continuation of unification of the imagined, pan-Korean nation as an area to which a substantial budget and administrative capacity is dedicated.

Analysis of the unification discourses in South Korea shows evidence of key identity parameters which influence policy planning considerations and hold relevance for South Korea's engagement in affairs beyond its borders. These parameters are constituted by those national features (both material and non- material) which give the nation a sense of community in its present form, and which are also projected by South Korean policymakers onto what a unified Korea would ideally look like in the future. Over the last two decades these parameters of collective identity have shifted to alter the narrative of shared history, tradition and social culture, and have also responded to liberalizing forces in a range of areas. Increasingly, novel parameters have become important in telling South Koreans "who they are" among the world of nations.

First, this article presents the conceptual framework in terms of the link between national identity and government policy based on the discursive "securitization" of certain identity parameters in the development of policy. Second, it describes two opposing identity frames (positive and negative) found within the discourses on inter-Korean relations in South Korea, which provide a description of the landscape in which North Korea has been perceived and legislated for in policy over the time period. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.