The tools for visionary foreign policy leadership
South Korea’s foreign policy machinery is well prepared. The candidates have assembled strong foreign policy teams, relying on a number of familiar faces in South Korea’s foreign policy elite.
Heading Park Geun-Hye’s, for instance, is Yun Byung-Se, who previously served as the Senior Presidential Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Security and Unification Policy under President Roh Moo-Hyun and Deputy Foreign Minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT). Yun’s background and experience is built on professionalism rather than politics, ensuring policy advice will be strong.
Moon Jai-In has similarly appointed advisors with a background of service under Roh Moo-Hyun, including Moon Chung-in. Moon is a professor of political science at Yonsei University and was the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on the Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative during the Roh administration.
Ahn Cheol-Soo’s team, like the candidate himself, appears less influenced by individuals with experience serving in previous administrations. The team has a stronger focus on the academic as opposed to the professional side of diplomacy. Those recruited to date include Paik Hak-soon, a Senior Research Fellow at the Sejong Institute; Kim Keun-Sik, a Research Professor at the Institute of East Asian Studies at Kyungnam University; and Kim Yeon-Chul, a Professor at Inje University.
The successful candidate and their team will have the tools to pursue a middle-power leadership role. Budgeting for foreign affairs, public diplomacy, aid and development, has increased over the last five years. While other states are rapidly downsizing and shuttering diplomatic posts, South Korea has opened new posts. After a long period of chronic personnel shortages, it is now on a campaign to recruit and train both diplomats and administrative staff.
The newly established Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA) has moved past its previous headline-grabbing scandals involving errant diplomats and recruitment injustices, and is now drawing attention for its new moral code for diplomatic personnel. In August, it was announced that this will be the first year that more female candidates pass the foreign-service entrance exam than their male counterparts. Its efforts to engage the public through Facebook, Ustream and Twitter are also paying dividends with polls showing an increased level of public interest in foreign policy issues.
The candidates have strong foreign policy teams ready to tackle the challenges ahead. The MOFAT is revamped, modern and ready. The only question still unanswered is also the most important – are the candidates themselves ready to provide visionary foreign policy leadership? We will not know until after the votes are cast – until then, it’s the economy, stupid.
Jeffrey Robertson is a visiting professor at the KDI School of Public Policy and Management.