Politics of South Korea
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0110
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0110
The Republic of Korea (ROK) or South Korea today is a vibrant democracy, a republic with powers shared between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. South Korea’s transition to democracy in 1987 has been described as a long journey through periods of authoritarian rule. To understand the politics of South Korea, it is helpful to keep in mind the following four themes: (1) the question of unification with North Korea, (2) rapid economic development, (3) democratization, and (4) the alliance with the United States. Since the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, how South Koreans view North Korea has been a big factor in South Korean politics. During the Cold War, the authoritarian leaders often used the rivalry with communist North Korea as a means to weaken the opposition against their rule. In the post–Cold War era, Korean nationalism expanded to include the embracing of North Koreans as “brothers” particularly during the presidencies of Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-Hyun. South Korea’s developmental experience between 1962 and 1979 under the Park Chung-Hee government left important legacies that are controversial to this day. On the one hand, South Korea joined the ranks of the “Asian tigers” and became a member state of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) due to the success of Park’s government-led, strong-state industrialization strategy. On the other hand, Park’s nineteen-year dictatorship meant South Korea’s “political backwardness” despite rapid economic development. The Park regime’s maintenance of the cozy tripartite relationships among government, banks, and big businesses has been seen as partly responsible for the 1997 South Korean currency crisis. The breakdown of the military’s authoritarian rule under Chun Doo-Hwan and South Korea’s subsequent transition to democracy in 1987 opened the room for direct presidential elections, civilian control over the military, and the growth of civil society. The mass movement of university students, intellectuals, an emerging consumer middle class, and other civil society groups was the driving force behind South Korean democratization. Finally, the United States has played an extensive role especially during the early years of South Korean political developments ranging from national security, institution building, economic development, to democratization. America’s prominence in Korea’s phenomenal successes became intertwined with resistance among progressive elements of Korea to Washington’s dominance in its internal and external policies. The open and almost completely unregulated expression of views in South Korea can be seen as a proof of active civil society in a democratized South Korea.
The best works that provide general overviews of South Korean politics can be found in books that address the modern history of the two Koreas. Oberdorfer 2001, Cumings 2005, and Robinson 2007 approach South Korean politics in view of the intertwined relationship between South and North Korean politics and foreign relations. They address some of the most important shared historical experiences such as the Japanese colonialism, the occupation, the division, the Korean War, and the Cold War in general to highlight the origins of South Korean politics. Oberdorfer 2001 in particular does a great job of recounting South Korean domestic politics in conjunction with inter-Korean relations and its relations with the United States. Of the books published on the topic of South Korean politics, Diamond and Kim 2000, and Oh 1999 make the best introductory textbooks for undergraduate courses. Khil 1984 helps understand the basics for the political systems of the two Koreas. Yang 1999 is a comprehensive study of the politics and foreign policy of South Korea, written by a scholar and former ROK ambassador to the United States. Kil and Moon 2001 is a good introduction to South Korean politics that covers major themes including culture, history, institutions, actors, democratization, political economy, and foreign policy.
Cumings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History. New York: Norton, 2005.
A historical overview of Korean politics intended for a general readership. But Cumings’s use of extensive English and Korean archives make the read useful to scholars as well.
Diamond, Larry, and Byung-Kook Kim. Consolidating Democracy in South Korea. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000.
Provides a social science overview of various aspects of the South Korean political system on the theme of democratic consolidation. The chapters include discussions on party politics, civil society, labor issues, economic development, and electoral politics provided by leading Korea scholars.
Khil, Young Whan. Politics and Policies in Divided Korea: Regimes in Conflict. Boulder, CO, and London: Westview, 1984.
Offers a general overview of the South Korean political system until the early 1980s juxtaposed with the North Korean system in a comparative manner. Useful for grasping a basic background of how the two countries have developed distinctively different political systems.
Kil, Soong-hoom, and Chung-in Moon. Understanding Korean Politics: An Introduction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.
An edited volume that offers a comprehensive overview of South Korean politics. A total of nine chapters discuss political culture and history, institutions, leadership, democratization, political economy, and foreign and unification policies. Can be used as a textbook for undergraduate and graduate courses on Korean politics.
Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
A detailed journalistic account on Korean politics. Drawn from some of Oberdorfer’s own reporting in the region (a former Washington Post correspondent in Asia) and with numerous interviews with high-level officials who were directly involved in important critical junctures. Entertaining for the general reader, but also with interesting empirical evidence for the scholar.
Oh, John Kie-chiang. Korean Politics: The Quest for Democratization and Economic Development. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.
Provides a good overview of the evolution of South Korean politics chronologically. Uses the lens of the interplay between democratization and economic development. The chapters are a little dense but can be useful for the undergraduate classroom as they pinpoint major themes. Informative and well-organized.
Robinson, Michael. Korea’s Twentieth-Century Odyssey: A Short History. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007.
A comprehensive overview of Korea’s modern political history. Offers a very balanced historical interpretation of events and therefore can be used as a college textbook.
Yang, Sung-chul. The North and South Korean Political Systems: A Comparative Analysis. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym, 1999.
Written by a Kyunghee University professor and former South Korean ambassador to the United States during the Kim Dae-jung presidency, this voluminous work provides a detailed political history of the two systems. Its scope is encyclopedic.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions and individuals. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email email@example.com to express your interest.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Brazilian Political Development
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Development of Survey Research
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- East Africa, Politics of
- Economic Voting
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hume’s Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Plato's Political Thought
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Public Opinion in Advanced Industrial Democracies
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau's Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Korea, Politics of
- Spectacle, The
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- Transitional Justice
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Presidency, The
- Voter Turnout
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- Worker Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics