Korea and United Nations 1 – the struggle

Economic strength of Korea (Republic of Korea, or commonly known as South Korea) is a reality, a matter of fact that cannot be ignored as a practical concern. Korean economy posted one of the most remarkable and consistent growths during the post World War II (“WWII”) era, evidenced by 6.86% annual GDP growth from 1961 to 2011 (World Bank, Data Bank, online at: http://databank.worldbank.org/data/home.aspx). During the earlier part of the same time period, double digit GDP growth was not uncommon (12.7% in 1966, 11.7% in 1968, 14.1% in 1969, 12% in 1973, 10.76% in 1976, 10% in 1977, 10.8% in 1983, 10.6% in 1986, 11.1% in 1987, and 10.6% in 1988).

International business community could not have ignored the relevance of Korean economy. By the same token, international organizations dealing with economy recognized and embraced Korea early on. In my previous blog on Korea’s role in the World Trade Organization (“WTO”), I emphasized Korea’s participation as early as in the late 1960s. As I will elaborate in my future blogs, the same has been also true for other international organizations dealing with economy, such as International Monetary Fund, which Korea joined in 1955, a mere decade and a year after the Bretton Woods Conference.

However, politics is a beast on its own, which is, although intertwined, fundamentally distinct from economics. As such, the economic emergence of Korea did not parallel with its political power in the international stage, where the cold-war mathematics prevailed most of the post WWII period. Prime example of this is Korea’s rather late accession to the United Nations (“UN”) in 1991.

UN was created in 1945 with its Charter mandate to keep peace. (http://www.un.org/en/aboutun/index.shtml). As a post-WWII institution conceived and created by the Allies, Canada was one of the founding nations of the UN naturally, since the drafting of the UN Charter itself (http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/prmny-mponu/canada_un-canada_onu/overview-survol/un-onu.aspx?lang=eng&menu_id=25&view=d).

As the Charter itself implies, UN was meant to be, and had to be inclusive in order to meaningfully carry out its mandate. UN began with 51 member nations (http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/unms/founders.shtml), but soon joined by floods of accessions. By 1960, there were almost 100 member nations, and the membership increased to 150 in 1980 (https://www.un.org/en/members/). Today, with the accession of South Sudan in 2011, UN membership stands at 193.

From after the Korean War until the fall of the Soviet Union, politics in the UN was dominated by cold-war concerns (to those who were born after 1990, and who never had much interest in history, it may come as a shock, but the world was once divided into two factions – the capitalists and communists. This era is known as the cold-war era). No one country was free from the cold-war political divide, but its impact on Korea was remarkably profound. In fact, this political divide created the division of Korea by the end of Korean War in 1953, to what are now known as South and North Korea.

One of the many features of the cold-war in the UN was the deadlock among once-Allies in the WWII, now seating in the Security Council chairs, each wielding veto power (China, France, Soviet Union (USSR), UK and the USA to be exact). Taken as hostage to the deadlock, attempts by Korean government to join UN was shut down on numerous occasions (http://contents.archives.go.kr/next/content/listSubjectDescription.do?id=002878). Despite its ascend into the global economy as a major player, Korea settled with observer status.

Only when the cold-war conflict was relatively resolved in 1991, Korea was allowed formal entry into the UN as its 160th member. Tremendous diplomatic capital has been expended in achieving the entry – South Korea had numerous bilateral discussions with both USSR and China in order to earn their supports (http://contents.archives.go.kr/next/content/listSubjectDescription.do?id=002878). For the USSR and China, the end of the cold-war necessarily brought about change in their positions vis-à-vis their relationship with outside countries. They sought to become open-markets and embrace global economy, and approval of Korea’s accession into the UN was a showcase for their new attitude.

The story of Korean accession into UN is a story of struggle. It was hard-fought award that could not have been earned without smart-diplomacy and end of cold-war, coincided with Korean economic growth and certain countries’ individual self-interests.

In my next blog, I will deal with Korean involvement in the UN during the 1990s and into the 21st century.

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