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Research Report

South Korea’s Middle East Policy

Alon Levkowitz
Copyright Date: Dec. 1, 2013
Pages: 37

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-2)
  2. (pp. 3-4)
  3. (pp. 5-6)
    Alon Levkowitz
  4. (pp. 7-8)
    Alon Levkowitz

    South Korea’s relations with the Middle East have changed throughout the years, from passive and indifferent to extensive and diverse. In the 1950s, South Korea’s top interests did not include the Middle East, but with the development of the South Korean economy, the region’s significance to Seoul increased markedly.

    This study will analyze the changes in South Korea’s foreign policy towards the Middle East, and discuss the factors and constraints that have influenced these policies throughout the years. It will also explain how South Korea copes with a Middle East that offers billions of dollars’ worth of contracts for South...

  5. (pp. 8-9)

    South Korea’s foreign policy is influenced by five internal and external constraints that have shaped the decision-making process of its Middle East policy:

    1. The North Korean threat: North Korea has long been an important factor in South Korea’s foreign and security policy. The constant threat from Pyongyang has influenced Seoul’s security and foreign policies throughout the years, including its Middle East policy, and relations with its allies.

    2. The alliance with the United States: The alliance with the United States, which defends South Korea from the North Korean threat, has been an important pillar in South Korea’s defense and foreign policy...

  6. (pp. 10-12)

    South Korea’s security relations with the Middle East were very limited until the 1990s. Seoul did not perceive military involvement in the Middle East as serving its political and economic interests, but rather as a detriment. Until the 1990s, security relations with the Middle East included only limited military and intelligence cooperation. An example of military cooperation is the military officers course that the Israeli Defense Forces held in Israel for South Korean military officers in the 1970s. Two decades later, one of these officers became the national security advisor to the South Korean President.⁹

    Korea’s first military involvement in...

  7. (pp. 13-14)

    After focusing exclusively on Asia during its first decades, South Korea became an active player in the international arena in the late 1980s.19 South Korea only became a member of the United Nations in the early 1990s and has since joined global and Asian international organizations. In the Middle East, Seoul focused on economic relations and preferred not to get involved in the political arena.

    The Middle East peace process allowed Seoul to get politically involved in the region without taking sides. Seoul decided to initiate civilian projects in the Palestinian (PA) and get more involved in the peace process...

  8. (pp. 14-21)

    In South Korea, the economy plays a vital role in its foreign relations with the Middle East. The economy influences political, and even security, relations between Seoul and Middle Eastern countries. In order to minimize potential conflict between its political and economic interests in the region, which might even lead to disputes with Middle Eastern states and even the US, South Korea has developed a two-pronged policy that allows it to maximize its economic interests with minimal political cost. The first part of the policy is to keep politics and economy separate. This allows South Korea to trade without having...

  9. (pp. 21-24)

    Relations between South Korea and Israel demonstrate the influence of Seoul’s economic interests in the Middle East. The two nations established diplomatic relations in 1962, but the lack of common political and economic interests resulted in low-profile economic and diplomatic relations between them for many years. The oil embargo in the mid-1970s and the Arab boycott on any company that traded with Israel alerted South Korea to the fact that its relations with Israel might carry a very expensive price tag, resulting in Seoul’s high sensitivity towards trade and diplomatic relations with Israel.65

    Israel closed its embassy in Seoul in...

  10. (pp. 24-25)

    South Korea’s Middle East policy, which includes political neutrality, a separation between politics and economy, and a cautious policy towards Israel, has allowed Seoul to maximize its economic interests in the region throughout the years. This has paved the way for South Korean companies to compete and win billions of dollars of projects in the Middle East since the 1970s.

    The “Arab Spring” took the South Korean government by surprise and led to a decrease trade with some Middle Eastern states. However, South Korea’s concern is that the “Arab Spring” will spill over to the Persian Gulf and jeopardize South...

  11. (pp. 26-34)
  12. (pp. 35-36)