Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Peacekeeping and Counterpiracy: A Comparative Analysis of South Korea's Contributions to International Peace and Stability

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Peacekeeping and Counterpiracy: A Comparative Analysis of South Korea's Contributions to International Peace and Stability

Article excerpt

States face an increasingly complex international security environment, with more and more transnational challenges that require multilateral efforts to manage and hopefully solve. Moreover, many of the challenges can no longer be ignored and cordoned off as issues that only affect particular regions. Globalization means these types of problems can spill over borders to affect others in the immediate region or have second- and third-order effects that create serious global implications. As a result, through various regional and international organizations, states are working together to bring greater peace and stability to the international security environment.

Two such efforts are UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKOs), which have been around for decades, and the Combined Maritime Forces, a more recent effort designed to furnish maritime security. Over the years, many states have contributed police, observers, military personnel, ships, and other assets to support these multinational operations. The primary function of a national military is to provide security for the nation-state, its people, and its leaders. Yet increasingly, states are using their militaries as tools to contribute to broader efforts to maintain a more stable international security environment. In many instances, states do so because these operations contribute directly to their own narrow national interests, but increasingly they see the importance of supporting international efforts that provide these public goods of peace and security that support a more expansive conception of the national interest. Indeed, it has become more difficult for one or even a few states to successfully address many of these issues without a broader, multilateral effort.

Since the 1990s, South Korea (the Republic of Korea, ROK) has made a determined effort to contribute to these multilateral operations in ways that are commensurate with its rising economic status (Heo and Roehrig 2014). Seoul has been a regular participant in UN PKOs, sending thousands of troops to numerous missions. Since 2009, the ROK has sent a destroyer and a team of Navy UDT/SEALs to the counterpiracy operation in the Gulf of Aden. Its contributions are directly tied to its economic development story: phenomenal economic growth has created a more far-reaching set of national interests in the international community while providing more and improved tools to protect those interests.

How do South Korea's increasing contributions compare with other major contributors in East Asia? Should it be doing more to be consistent with its rising economic and political status? My study compares South Korea's support to that of Australia, China, and Japan in the areas of UN PKO both in personnel and financial contributions along with support for maritime security off the Horn of Africa. All four countries have provided significant assistance, but measures vary based on population, gross domestic product (GDP), and military strength. Participation in international efforts to promote a more stable and peaceful world can always be increased, and South Korea has expressed an interest in doing more. Yet, Seoul's contributions are significant and rate well when compared to Australia, China, and Japan.

Economic Development and Foreign Policy Change

South Korea's willingness and ability to contribute to these international efforts is closely connected to its phenomenal record of economic growth. As a state's economy develops, it acquires a broader set of national interests, particularly the need for a stable and secure international economic system that ensures the free flow of commerce, business environments that operate according to standard practices, and the rule of law with minimal corruption. States and investors need assurance that investments are protected and that the security environment will be safe and secure (Heo and Tan 2001; Quinn and Woolley 2001; Rigobon and Rodrik 2005). In short, economic development increases the stakes for rising powers in maintaining international peace and stability. …

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