As the locus of Great Power rivalry in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the battleground for the first ‘hot’ conflict of the early Cold War, and—in the case of the contemporary challenge of a nuclear North Korea—one of the most potentially destabilizing threats to regional security, the Korean peninsula is critical in understanding the history, politics, and international relations of Asia. However, Korea’s importance is not confined to issues of security and international conflict. The dramatic growth of South Korea, propelling it from the status of an underdeveloped and war-ravaged country to the world’s eleventh largest economy in the space of some thirty years, has been the subject of intense scrutiny by economists, political scientists, and sociologists. Understanding its rapid economic growth is important not only in assessing the nature of modern capitalism, but also in realizing the lessons of development that potentially can be applied to the economic challenges and opportunities faced by the developing world.
Modernization is not merely an economic concept. South Korea’s experience of political transition from authoritarian military-led rule to a democratic system of government in the late 1980s arguably represents one of Asia’s most important twentieth-century political success stories. To political scientists, the South Korean political case raises fascinating questions about the nature of political legitimacy, as well as revealing potential contradictions. If political change has been a dominant theme in recent developments in South Korea, political stasis appears to be the norm in North Korea, where the cult of the leader and the dynastic rule of the Kim family have arguably restricted political activity to the informal and non-transparent competition for influence among those close to the leadership.
Both Koreas find themselves confronting a rapidly changing and fluid international environment. For South Korea, salient issues include how to manage its core alliance relations, most notably with the United States and how far it should move closer to China’s economic and political orbit. For North Korea, the key diplomatic challenge is managing the post-Cold War erosion of its old alliance partnerships, while finding a mechanism for engaging with the wider world.
This new collection from Routledge addresses thematically four broad sets of issues which are essential to understand the political and economic development of the two Koreas in the modern era. The collection is divided as follows: Volume I: Conflict on the Korean Peninsula (from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-first century); Volume II: Economic Development in North and South Korea; Volume III: Political Systems, Legitimacy, and the State in the Two Koreas; and Volume IV: The Foreign Relations of Contemporary Korea.