In this chapter, the author attempts to clarify issues related to the characteristics of civil-military relations and democratic transition in South Korea, specifically the nature of the political system after independence, the internal characteristics of the military, the reasons for the eventual demise of military rule and the future prospects for democracy in Korea, and the military’s role therein.
He examines the emergence of military rule and the changes in military rule during the Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan regimes.
He concludes with an overview of the prospects and conclusions of a nation moving towards a democratic polity with civilian control of the military.
The role of the military in South Korean politics poses some interesting questions for the study of civil-military relations in developing societies. The military has dominated Korean politics for an unusually long period of time – nearly thirty years. On the other hand, recent trends towards democracy in Korea appear to be more deeply entrenched historically than in many other recently democratised polities, especially those in Latin America. This chapter attempts to clarify some more obvious issues related to these characteristics of civil-military relations and democratic transition in South Korea (hereafter Korea). Specific issues to be addressed include: the nature of the political system after independence which provided a structural framework for the military’s political dominance; the internal characteristics of the military, reflecting and interacting with the overall political structure, which induced military officers to assume supreme power in Korean political economy; the reasons for the eventual demise of military rule and the beginning of civilian control of the military; and future prospects for democracy in Korea and the military’s role in it.
Methodologically, a distinction may be drawn between structural and motivational factors in explaining the complex phenomenon of civil-military relations. The former help explain overall trends in civil-military relations; the latter are relevant to the more specific behavior of political actors. In this chapter, we will concentrate on structural factors, especially those affecting the balance of power between the military and civilian sectors, because our interest is in overall patterns of civil-military relations rather than specific political events.