Authoritarian Continuity or Democratic Change? Assessing the Democratic Quality of South Korea’s North Korea Policy-Making Process
The Republic of Korea’s (ROK or South Korea) relationship to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) has long been, and continues to be, hotly debated in both political and academic discourse in South Korea and beyond. However, most studies dealing with the subject primarily focus on the general alignment of the North Korea policies of the various South Korean administrations, assess the relative success of these policies in view of the underlying strategy (engagement vs. containment), or analyze particular issues within the ROK’s relationship to North Korea. While these issues are without doubt important, several aspects of South Korea’s relations with the North have thus far been largely excluded from analysis. This chapter addresses one of those aspects, namely the continuities and changes in South Korea’s policy-making structure vis-à-vis the DPRK. Specifically, the study addresses the question of how democratic these policy-making processes have been since South Korea’s formal democratization in 1987. To answer this, the chapter first touches upon the nexus between national division and democratization. The following section then provides a snapshot of the continuities and changes in South Korea’s (North Korea) policy-making structure during the Sixth Republic. Building on these elaborations, the subsequent section then identifies the main actors and institutions involved in this policy-making process, discussing the role of the president and his personal aides, the advisory organs such as the National Security Council, the Ministry of Unification, and the National Intelligence Service. This debate provides a prerequisite for a more comprehensive discussion of the main shortcomings that are to be observed in the ROK’s decision-making process on North Korea. The main argument of the chapter is fairly simple: while South Korea has certainly entered the stage of mature democracy, the ROK’s policy-making on North Korea still does not abide by a democratic process. While different actors and institutions have been centrally involved in this process, the policy-making structure has remained highly closed, personalized, and informal, thus constituting a serious deficit in democratic quality.
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