The Korea Herald


Seoul regains foothold for bigger role in world security

By 양승진

Published : Oct. 19, 2012 - 07:01

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In recent years, world powers have been quick to convene emergency sessions to discuss what the U.N.'s response should be to North Korean provocations. But nowhere in the room was the most important party concerned -- South Korea.

One of the world's major economies, South Korea was also left out of the discussion of other urgent global security issues such as Iran and Syria.

But with its return to the U.N. Security Council, South Korea will once again be at the forefront of U.N. diplomacy.

"The primary goal of becoming a member of the council is to secure international status to control any emergency from North Korea's provocations," a senior South Korean government official said on the condition of anonymity.

The 15-member council, composed of five veto-wielding permanent members and 10 temporary members, is a top decision-making body responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security.

South Korea took a seat on the council from 1996 to 1997 after joining the U.N. in 1991.

The nation's election for another two years will allow it to take part in important Security Council matters when the global focus is shifting to Asia.

Of particular concern are the security conditions on the Korean Peninsula, which have become more uncertain since the recent leadership change in the North.

Territorial tensions also have sharpened involving China and Japan. South Korea has long sought direct access to U.N. discussions on dealing with the North Korea problems and other global affairs.

"It would serve as a good chance for South Korea to exercise a leadership role in global issues such as peacekeeping, environment, health, sanitation and terrorism," said Yoon Young-kwan, a Seoul National University professor who worked as Seoul's top diplomat from 2003 to 2004.

Indeed, South Korea returns to the U.N. Security Council with a bigger profile than it had 15 years ago. Seoul has been staging a "Global Korea" campaign to expand its contributions to world affairs, and the election is regarded as a result of such efforts.

And with former Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon at the helm of the U.N., some say that South Korea has entered its heyday in terms of multilateral diplomacy.

Becoming a member of the council is "prestigious and potentially consequential as an avenue of influence on management of global crises," said Scott Snyder, senior researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Many agree that South Korea is a position to play a bridging role between advanced and developing nations.

In tandem with more diplomatic influence, experts say, Seoul has the daunting task of taking a responsible stance between its alliance with the U.S. and the voices of other regional powers like China and Russia.

"South Korea needed to overcome the pressure on the Security Council to have more representation from smaller, poorer countries (such as Bhutan and Cambodia) and also the perception that Seoul is already well-represented in the UN because of Ban Ki-moon’s position," Denny Roy, senior fellow at East-West Center based in Hawaii said. (Yonhap News)