The Effect of US Foreign Policy on the Relationship between South and North Korea: Time Series Analysis of the Post-Cold War Era

By Yoon, Jong-Han | Journal of East Asian Studies, May-August 2011 | Go to article overview

The Effect of US Foreign Policy on the Relationship between South and North Korea: Time Series Analysis of the Post-Cold War Era


Yoon, Jong-Han, Journal of East Asian Studies


In this study, I examine the effect of US foreign policy on the relationship between South Korea and North Korea. In particular, I analyze whether two different foreign policy approaches--the hard-line approach and the soft-line approach--have played a role in advancing or slowing steps toward peace in the Korean peninsula. I use the Integrated Data for Events Analysis dataset for the period 1990-2004. By employing a Vector Autoregression model, which analyzes the behavioral patterns of South and North Korea and the United States, I find that US foreign policy affects the relationship between the two Koreas by affecting North Korea!~ behavior toward South Korea. The triangular relationship among the United States, North Korea, and South Korea shows a reciprocal behavior pattern. This finding suggests that a soft-line and reciprocal US foreign policy toward North Korea is critical to maintaining peace in the Korean peninsula. KEYWORDS: hard-line, reciprocity, triangular relationship, South Korea, North Korea, China, US foreign policy, peace, Korean peninsula, behavioral patterns

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AS A DIVIDED NATION THE KOREAN PENINSULA IS ONE OF THE MOST HEAVILY militarized regions in the world. During the Cold War era, the border separating North and South Korea represented the fault line between two ideological camps. Since the end of the Cold War, the relationship between the two Koreas has improved somewhat as a result of two inter-Korean summits reuniting separated families, tours for South Koreans to Keumkang mountain in North Korea, and the creation of a joint industrial complex in the North Korean city of Kaesung. However, in spite of these improved relations between South and North Korea, military tension between the two Koreas remains. The recent North Korean artillery attack, which killed two marines and two civilians on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in November 2010, and the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, in March 2010 demonstrate the volatility of the military situation. Although both South and North Koreans aspire to attain a peaceful relationship and, ultimately, the unification of Korea, military confrontation between the two Koreas exacerbates the humanitarian issues of separated families and excessive military spending.

For maintaining and promoting a peaceful relationship between South and North Korea, the role of US foreign policy has been critical. Since the armistice agreement between North Korea and the United States in 1953, the US policy of military deterrence against North Korea has been a main buttress for the security of the Korean peninsula and the northeast Asian region. During the Cold War, the focus of US policy in the Korean peninsula was on maintaining the balance of power, manifested by the presence of US military bases. Although there have been occasional diplomatic efforts toward a peace settlement in the Korean peninsula, such as the South-North joint declaration in 1972, those were considered secondary to the policy of deterrence. Indeed, those diplomatic efforts were considered by many to be little more than political rhetoric.

Since the end of the Cold War, the aspiration of attaining a sustainable peace settlement in the Korean peninsula has grown among Koreans, as the main US foreign policy objective of deterring the spread of communism has dissipated and the military capacity and economic power of South Korea has surpassed that of North Korea. Starting with the Northern Policy of the Rob Tae-woo administration, South Korea has attempted to open discourse on Korean reunification and normalization of relations with socialist states. Subsequent South Korean administrations have pursued the relaxation of military tensions and the formation of a peace regime (1) in the peninsula.

In seeking a sustainable peace settlement and a peace regime in the Korean peninsula, the role of US foreign policy toward the peninsula is very important not only because of US military deployments and exercises in South Korea but also because of the broader US foreign policy stance toward North Korea. …

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