Democratization in South Korea and inter-Korean relations

Document Type

Journal article

Source Publication

Pacific Affairs

Publication Date

Spring 2-1-2003





First Page


Last Page



This essay explores a salient topic that is often overlooked in studies on South Korea's policies toward North Korea: the profound effect on inter-Korean ties brought about by the evolution of South Korea from authoritarianism to democracy in the last 16 years. It also wishes to address the thesis of whether democratization causes war, using South Korea as a case study.

Mansfield and Snyder have argued that democratizing states tend to be belligerent, because both old and new elite often resort to nationalist / ideological appeals to mobilize mass allies to defend their threatened positions and stake out new ones, and then found that the masses, once mobilized, are difficult to control. This essay submits that, whether a democratizing state wants to court conflict with another state depends very much on what these nationalist / ideological positions are. The external policies of a democratizing state will become more cooperative, if the elite promote the pacific preferences of newly empowered constituencies. In post-authoritarian South Korea, this linkage has favoured policies that reduce, rather than exacerbate, external tension.

Although there have been ups and downs in inter-Korean relations since democratization in South Korea, on the whole, relations between the two Koreas have improved. Participation by intellectual, student, labour, clerical and other "leftist. " forces in the political process of South Korea has legitimized hitherto suppressed or muted calls for better relations with the North. It has even led to a change in the security thinking of the government in Seoul, from equating state security with regime security, to identifying it with the security of all Koreans.

Print ISSN




Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2002 Council on Foreign Relations

Access to external full text or publisher's version may require subscription.

Full-text Version

Publisher’s Version



Recommended Citation

Chung, C.-p. (2003). Democratization in South Korea and inter-Korean relations. Pacific Affairs, 76(1), 9-35.