Ideas Matter in Inter-Korean Relations: Shifts in South Korea’s Foreign Policy Interests and Behavior vis-à-vis North Korea

international relations
foreign policy
KF grant

Kadir Jun Ayhan* and Yuree Kim (2021), “Ideas Matter in Inter-Korean Relations: Shifts in South Korea’s Foreign Policy Interests and Behavior vis-à-vis North Korea,” in Mason Richey, Jagannath P. Panda and David A. Tizzard (eds.) The Future of the Korean Peninsula: Korea 2032 and Beyond (pp. 32-58), Routledge, doi: 10.4324/9781003148890-2.


Ewha Womans University Graduate School of International Studies

Vietnam National University


July 2021



Government change across opposite ends of the political spectrum can lead to dramatic foreign policy changes despite the absence of structural changes in the security environment. We analyze the extent to which shifts between conservative and progressive administrations in South Korea have changed the country’s foreign policy interests and behaviors vis-à-vis North Korea. We first explore whether South Korea’s North Korea policy changes can be accounted for by structural changes on the Korean Peninsula, by stimuli coming from North Korea or by external pressure from the United States. We then analyze how the ideas of progressive and conservative governments have shaped South Korea’s interests and behavior vis-à-vis North Korea. We use primary archival sources, including Unification White Papers, policy papers and presidential speeches. The timeframe is from 1998 to 2018, representing two changes across opposite ends of the established political spectrum in South Korea, along with rather minimal structural changes. Our findings suggest that ideas have played a significant role in the radical changes South Korea has made to its North Korea policies, and these ideas correspond perfectly with its democratic regime changes.

Keywords: foreign policy analysis, ideas, interests, inter-Korean relations, North Korea, South Korea

BibTeX citation

    location = {Singapore},
    title = {Ideas Matter in Inter-{K}orean Relations: Shifts in {South Korea}’s Foreign Policy Interests and Behavior Vis-à-Vis {North Korea}},
    url = {},
    pages = {32--58},
    booktitle = {The Future of the {Korean Peninsula}: {K}orea 2032 and Beyond},
    publisher = {Routledge},
    author = {Ayhan, Kadir Jun and Kim, Yuree},
    editor = {Richey, Mason and Panda, Jagannath P. and Tizzard, David A.},
    date = {2021},
    note = {Type: Book Section},