(The source of this writing is Korea Archives, available at: http://theme.archives.go.kr/next/unKorea/diplomaticTalent.do)
From 1991, when Korea joined UN, Korea has outgrown (economically) most of the world and its own expectations as well. That said, with growth comes more responsibilities and higher standard of expectations. This was the same for Korea, and more and more people looked to Korea to act as a developed country. Viewed from Korea’s activities in UN, the country proactively carried on these responsibilities and dispensed them with success.
One of the most telling illustrations is Korea’s monetary contribution to UN. Of course, UN is a non-profit quasi-governmental institution, which, unlike national governments, does not have taxation power. For this reason, the operation of UN depends on its members’ contributions. Bottom line is that money matters in UN.
When Korea first joined, its contribution accounted for 0.8% of the total annual budget of UN (http://theme.archives.go.kr/next/unKorea/diplomaticTalent.do). By 2000, it grew to 1%, but by 2011, the share more than doubled at 2.3%. As a result, Korea is the 12th largest contributor to UN, out of 192 member States. To put this number into perspective, Korea contributed more than US $53 million to UN in 2011 (http://un.mofat.go.kr/english/am/un/bilateral/korea/index.jsp).
Proactive engagement is another phrase that would describe Korea’s activities in UN since its accession. As early as in 1995, Korea was elected for and served in UN Security Council as a non-permanent member. The historic twist in this election was the fact that Korea has been the frequent topic of the Security Council agendas due to the North-South conflict. The fact that Korea captured a seat in this table, and that now it became a part of the decision makers as opposed to the patient-in-waiting, was remarkable to say the least.
The proactive engagement paid off its dividends in other levels of UN as well. Since the accession, Korea and Korean delegations were represented in numerous UN agencies, including UN Human Rights Commission and the Economic and Social Council. Also, former Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Han Seung-Soo, served as the President of the 56th UN General Assembly
In 2006, Ban Ki-Moon has become the Secretary General of UN, and still serves its role after a successful re-election in 2011 for the second term. In addition, there are currently about 350 Korean people serving at various UN and affiliated institutions.
In my view, the significance of Korea’s increased role is not only for bragging about these high-profile roles. We can do plenty bragging simply by making more monetary contributions. What matters is the consequence of the engagement – the interactions and multi-way communications with other countries, including Canada. Through the forum of UN, encompassing Human Rights, Peace Keeping, Economy, Heritage, Culture, Health, and numerous more areas, Korean ideas and experience is shared, and the recipients repay in kind.
Having said that, let’s give Korea a little bragging rights. After all, it has turned itself from the recipient to a contributor of UN in less than 50 years.