To read this content please select one of the options below:

Demilitarizing politics in South Korea: Toward a positive consolidation of civilian supremacy

Advances in Military Sociology: Essays in Honor of Charles C. Moskos

ISBN: 978-1-84855-892-2, eISBN: 978-1-84855-893-9

Publication date: 16 December 2009


After the Korean War, South Korean politics was dominated by national security concerns. Reversing Carl von Clausewitz's well-known dictum, in South Korea, “politics is the continuation of war by other means.” Until the late 1980s, politics in South Korea was far from democratic. South Korea had five direct presidential elections (1987, 1992, 1997, 2002, and 2007) and six national assembly elections (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008) after the democratic transition of 1987. In 1992, a civilian candidate, Young Sam Kim, was elected president. Young Sam Kim (1993–1998) prosecuted and punished former generals turned presidents Doo Hwan Chun (1980–1988) and Tae Woo Roh (1988–1993) for corruption, mutiny and treason in 1995. Dae Jung Kim (1998–2003) was elected president in 1997. For the first time in South Korean political history, regime change occurred between a ruling party and an opposition party.

In this chapter, the change and continuity of civil–military relations through the fluctuating dynamics of the democratic transition and consolidation in South Korea is examined. A positive consolidation of democratic reform is one that, while securing indisputable civilian supremacy, grants the military enough institutional autonomy for the efficient pursuit of its mission. Civilian supremacy should be institutionalized not only by preventing military intervention in civilian politics but also by ensuring civilian control over the formation and implementation of national defense policy.

In sum, despite three terms of civilian presidency, civilian supremacy has not yet fully institutionalized. Although significant changes in civil-military relations did occur after the democratic transition, they were not initiated by elected leaders with the intention of establishing a firm institutional footing for civilian supremacy. South Korea's political leaders have not crafted durable regulations and institutions that will sustain civilian control over the military.

More than six decades, Korea is still divided. The most highly militarized zone in the world lies along the demilitarized zone. How to draw the line prudently between seeking national security and promoting democracy shall be the most delicate task facing all the civilian regimes to come in South Korea. That mission will remain challenging not only for civilian politicians but also for military leaders.


Joon Chung, I. (2009), "Demilitarizing politics in South Korea: Toward a positive consolidation of civilian supremacy", Caforio, G. (Ed.) Advances in Military Sociology: Essays in Honor of Charles C. Moskos (Contributions to Conflict Management, Peace Economics and Development, Vol. 12 Part 2), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 527-555.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited