GUEST COMMENTARY: North Korea tantrums underscore South Korea’s success

2013-04-13T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: North Korea tantrums underscore South Korea’s successBy Arthur I. Cyr nwitimes.com
April 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

North Korea’s propaganda reference to the "venomous swish" of the skirt of South Korea President Park Geun-hye is loaded with symbolism, mostly unintended.

She is the first woman to be elected chief executive of the Republic of Korea. This achievement has inspired even the predictable propagandists of Pyongyang to add some color, albeit inappropriate, to their otherwise monotonous nonstop abuse.

Park’s election last December is the latest 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 among the top 20 economies in the world, holding leadership roles in the automobile, advanced electronics, shipbuilding and other industries.

Rapid industrialization and economic modernization has been complemented by 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 current 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 Roe Tae Woo, but growing pressure for true democratic representation proved unstoppable.

The capstone of 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 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 Secretary-General of the United Nations, is a career South Korean diplomat. Despite challenges, the UN 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 expanding 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 UN has become stronger since the end of the Cold War. The remarkable 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, women emerge as leaders of more and more nations. Britain’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died on April 8 at age 87, is remembered for her strength as leader during the final decade of the Cold War.

She often referred to Churchill’s example. President Park needs comparable strength in trying to coexist with North Korea.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin and author of "After the Cold War." He can be reached at acyr@carthage.edu. The opinions are the writer's.

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