North and South Korea agree on sta­bi­liz­ing steps


The 38th Par­al­lel di­vid­ing North and South Korea is less tense thanks to a sen­si­ble new agree­ment. Py­ongyang has ex­pressed re­gret over land mines in­jur­ing South Korean sol­diers. The South will cur­tail loud­speaker broad­casts. The con­fronta­tion led to ar­tillery fire.

This lim­ited but sig­nif­i­cant step in­di­rectly en­dorses the pol­icy of pa­tience of South Korea Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye. Her elec­tion in De­cem­ber 2012 rep­re­sents a ma­jor step for­ward in one of the world’s most re­mark­able na­tional suc­cess sto­ries.

As re­cently as the early 1960s, South Korea was one of the poor­est economies in the world, still a peas­ant so­ci­ety, ter­ri­bly dev­as­tated by the Korean War. To­day, South Korea ranks as the thir­teenth largest econ­omy in the world, hold­ing lead­er­ship roles in the au­to­mo­bile, ad­vanced elec­tron­ics, ship­build­ing and other in­dus­tries.

Rapid in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and eco­nomic mod­ern­iza­tion has been com­ple­mented by a strik­ing tran­si­tion from dic­ta­tor­ship to democ­racy. Park Geun-hye’s fa­ther, Gen. Park Chung-hee, sti­fled in­cip­i­ent democ­racy and im­posed harsh mil­i­tary rule for nearly two decades. He was as­sas­si­nated in 1979 by the head of the KCIA, the na­tional in­tel­li­gence agency. In Korean mem­ory, he re­mains a re­spected sym­bol of strength and ef­fec­tive­ness for many.

While this fam­ily history has un­der­stand­ably been the fo­cus of con­sid­er­able cu­mu­la­tive media com­men­tary, the back­ground of now- sta­ble rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment in South Korea is a much more im­por­tant story. Gen. Park was suc­ceeded as chief ex­ec­u­tive by two more gen­er­als, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae­woo, but grow­ing pres­sure for true demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tion

proved un­stop­pable.

The Cap­stone of Tran­si­tion to


The cap­stone of the tran­si­tion to democ­racy was the elec­tion of Kim Dae-jung as pres­i­dent in 1998. He com­pleted his five-year term with­out in­ter­rup­tion, and in 2000 re­ceived the No­bel Peace Prize. A prin­ci­pal sym­bol of op­po­si­tion to the Park dic­ta­tor­ship, he was im­pris­oned for sev­eral years. On another oc­ca­sion, KCIA agents kid­napped him and planned to kill him. Only the in­ter­ven­tion of se­nior U.S. CIA of­fi­cial Don Gregg saved his life.

South Korea’s do­mes­tic ac­com­plish­ments have un­folded while the coun­try be­comes in­creas­ingly in­flu­en­tial in global are­nas. In March 2012, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion shrewdly nom­i­nated Pres­i­dent Jim Yong Kim of Dart­mouth Col­lege, who was born in Seoul Korea, as Pres­i­dent of the World Bank.

Ban Ki-moon, cur­rent sec­re­tarygen­eral of the United Na­tions, is a ca­reer South Korean diplo­mat. De­spite chal­lenges, the U.N. has ex­panded in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion since the end of the Cold War era.

The orig­i­nal vi­sion of the United Na­tions com­bined com­pet­ing goals of fa­vor­ing the most pow­er­ful na­tions and in­clu­sive global rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Ban and Kim per­son­ify South Korea’s sig­nif­i­cant ex­pand- ing role as a bridge be­tween de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing na­tions.

Mar­ket economies and rea­son­ably rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ments now char­ac­ter­ize a steadily in­creas­ing share of the world’s de­vel­op­ing na­tions. In short, South Korea is ideally po­si­tioned to lead pop­u­la­tions in poverty to­ward pros­per­ity.

The U.N. has be­come stronger since the end of the Cold War. The global vi­sion of Win­ston Churchill and Franklin D. Roo­sevelt dur­ing World War II has been con­firmed.

As democ­racy be­comes ever more widely rooted around the world, more women emerge as lead­ers. Bri­tain’s for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher is re­mem­bered for her strength as leader dur­ing the fi­nal decade of the Cold War.

Mrs. Thatcher of­ten re­ferred to Churchill’s ex­am­ple. The global frame­work of law and in­sti­tu­tions en­vi­sioned and con­structed by FDR, Churchill and as­so­ci­ates has proven re­mark­ably ef­fec­tive. These lead­ers un­der­stood that spe­cific steps im­ple­ment large vi­sions. Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distin­guished Pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege in Wis­con­sin and au­thor of “Af­ter the Cold War” (Korean ed. Oruem Pub­lish­ing; Macmil­lan and NYU Press). He can be reached at

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