12: Curing National Insecurity through Developmental Authoritarianism in South Korea’s Civil–Military Relations

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South Korea is not completely distinct in its practice of civil–military relations from the rest of Asia. As we argue in this chapter, the tussle over democracy in civil–military relations is more a symptom than a primary explanatory framework for South Korea. This is in view of the heavy social, psychological and ideological burdens imposed by the legacies of Japanese colonialism, as well as the panicked improvisation of the South Korean economic growth strategies that started under General Park Chung-hee’s direction between 1961 and 1979. Today, the failure to fully civilianize, or better yet, to fully liberalize, remains endemic to the South Korean political system. The threat from North Korea serves as a political prop for authoritarian elites. In short, South Korea’s current political stability was attained at a cost and its economic powerhouse status achieved through compromises arbitered by military rule and justified against a geopolitical environment of exaggerated insecurity.

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