A view from Russia. Excerpts:
Summing up, despite a remarkable growth in its economic, political and military standing over the past several decades, South Korea falls short of a great power. This becomes clear if one compares the Republic of Korea with some second-tier great power, such as France. South Korea loses out to France on all key measures. Population-wise, there are 49 million South Koreans versus 66 million French. South Korea’s GDP of 1.6 trillion USD is overshadowed by France’s 2.2 trillion. In military-strategic terms, the crucial difference between Seoul and Paris is France’s ability to independently provide for its security, which is underpinned by the French nuclear arsenal.…
The reunification of the North and the South, both possessing formidable armed forces, will certainly increase Korea’s military-strategic weight. The most intriguing question is whether the new Korea keeps the DPRK’s nuclear legacy.
Russia and Korea have never experienced bitter conflicts and disputes. The only thing Russia should be worried after the unification is the risk of losing up to 200,000 ethnic Koreans who now live in the country. Most of them are hard-working and entrepreneurial people. Their massive migration to their historical homeland would be a great loss to Russia.
For a long time, Korea was a pawn, often a victim, caught in great powers’ rivalry. Now it has a chance to acquire a great power rank for itself. Whether this chance is realized depends partly on the other major powers, but largely on the Koreans themselves.
Korea: a new great power?
20 November 2012
Artyom Lukin, Associate Professor, Deputy Director for Research, School of Regional and International Studies, Far Eastern Federal University
Recently, I attended a banquet at the conclusion of a Russian-South Korean symposium. As usual, there were toasts, and I dared to propose my own: “Let Korea soon become a great power as Russia is”. My colleague, a Korea expert, whispered to me: “You have just offended the Koreans, because they already see themselves as a great power”. The Koreans’ unhappy faces left no doubt that my colleague was right.
This moment of embarrassment led me to ponder whether the Republic of Korea can actually claim a great power status. In order to answer this question, one needs to identify the essential qualities of a great power.
First, a state has to be able to defend its basic security and sovereignty without relying on other powers and/or international institutions. Sufficient military capability, perhaps including nuclear deterrent, is the key. By some estimates, South Korea has the best army in Asia1. However, in the realm of national defense, Seoul still critically depends on the US. This is manifested in the US-Korea alliance, in which Seoul is obviously a junior partner.
Second, an aspiring great power must have a lot of hard power (basically, material and demographic resources) and soft power (an attractive image) in order to be able to project global influence. South Korea boasts the 13th biggest economy, with the rate of growth overshadowing that of the Western world. Korea’s soft power is yet to become a global force, although it is already quite noticeable internationally, as, for example, represented by the K-Pop phenomenon.
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