Seoul Defense Dialogue: New Horizons for Korea’s Diplomacy

During President Park Geun-hye’s recent visit to Southeast Asia, an agreement was made to install an ASEAN-Korea security dialogue. Now with the Seoul Defense Dialogue in Northeast Asia, a vice minister level dialogue platform is on track.

The SDD has become the two wings of Korea’s multilateral security diplomacy. If we add a Korea-Eurasia security dialogue based on the Eurasia Initiative that President Park Geun-hye has proposed, we will be able to create an axis of multilateral security dialogue to the current important bilateral relationships that are the U.S.-ROK alliance and the ROK-China partnership.

The SDD is the region’s highest ranking multilateral security dialogue platform hosted by the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of National Defense. Under the slogan of “security and peace for cooperation” the dialogue aims to improve the security environment and establish military trust for the Asia Pacific region that includes the Korean Peninsula. SDD was first launched in November of 2012 with the attendance of seven vice defense ministers, but this year the number increased to 24 countries.

In 2012, the theme of the SDD was global non-proliferation, cyber security and national defense management. This year, these same themes were taken and intensified.

First, despite economic interdependence there is a lack of security cooperation in the reality of the Asian Paradox. Therefore, taking this as a basis we began to think of a new multilateral cooperation for the progress of the security in the region.

Second, with North Korea’s nuclear experiments and missile launch and the Syrian government’s chemical weapons we live in danger of weapons of mass destruction. We emphasized that living in this reality there is a responsibility and role of Asia-Pacific for global nonproliferation.

Third, within the dangerous situation of cyber security in the 21st century we verified the possibility of cooperation between civil and military institutions and the role of the military within the cyber security governance.

Fourth, we discussed effective resolutions and ways to counter cases of cyber attacks on the level of international law and covenants.

Fifth, with the U.S. defense budget cut we gathered cases that addressed changes in defense management from other countries and shared effective experiences in national defense management.

We can explain the outcomes of this year’s SDD in five points.

First, we formulated a platform to call our own. Thus far, Korea has participated in many security dialogues such as the Shangri-la Dialogue. However, from the stance as a participant among many countries there were limitations in explaining our perspective. Through the SDD, we were able to put forth to the international community the Korean government’s stance on North Korea and foreign policy.

Second, we were able to expand the prospects of Korean diplomacy. Until now Korea’s foreign policy was focused on bilateral exchange with major powers. However, through this year’s dialogue we were able to exchange with a variety of countries like Europe, Southeast Asia and Oceania.

Third, in a situation where it is difficult for a country’s foreign affairs to be in the front lines we were able to play a complementary role. Even amongst the difficult situation of the Korean and Japan relationship due to the problem of history and militarization, there was a need for a dialogue channel. In this state, we were able to smoothly create a space for dialogue between the two countries.

Fourth, there is already a multilateral defense mechanism like the ARF in Southeast Asia, but currently Northeast Asia does not have one. The Six Party Talks is the most amiable, but currently not in commission. The SDD is a new approach to multilateral dialogue space for Northeast Asia beyond the Six Party Talks.

Fifth, we were able to feel the dynamics of Korean military diplomacy. Security is devised of a hardware like military deterrent and a software like military diplomacy. Normally, military diplomacy plays an important role in peacetime. We were able to open new prospects for military diplomacy.

There is a regret that we have for this year’s SDD that China was not able to participate. The Korea-China relationship is currently stable, but in multilateral exchanges, China is still passive. China’s participation is very important in terms of peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, there is a need to establish a trigger factor that will make China believe they will lose out if they do not participate in the dialogue.

The SDD strives to contribute to bringing peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula and the Asia Pacific region. With the military trust establishment amongst countries and the progress of security cooperation Korea will take the lead so that the level of national prestige will rise. In reality, within two years we have already institutionalized and secured competitiveness. As a respectable dialogue we look forward to contribute with vitality.