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Cooperative security relationship between Seoul and Tokyo

Is the post-war resentment an obstacle to move past divisive historical issues and build a more cooperative security relationship between Seoul and Tokyo?

In this particular essay, focus has been mainly on explaining the various factors which hinder the development of a healthy diplomatic relationship between Japan and Korea. The study will also seek to understand the role and implication of the lack of healthy relationship between the two countries in terms of North-East Asian Security. This question is especially relevant at this point in history since in the year 2015 it was announced that a milestone in Korean-Japanese bilateral relationship has been achieved on the basis of the efforts of the respective government. This year further mark the 50th anniversary of a normalized diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea, which was further recorded as a historical decision from the end of concerned authorities. In November 2015, the 50 years’ summit have started bilateral talks between the two countries since 2012-2013. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, had a meeting in Seoul a day after holding talks with the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang. This particular meeting was aimed at relieving regional tensions over historical and territorial rows in the nations involved towards developing better and long term relationship amid the nations mentioned above. In this regard, it can be noted that this was only the first time when Abe and Park had met since they took office, in late 2012 and early 2013 respectively. This was often regarded as a significant step towards strengthening the bonding the two nations in concern (Padden, 2015). Correspondingly, the relationship between these two wealthy democracies remains hamstrung by historical resentment and territorial disputes, which has impacted their respective societies and people living in it over the last few years. Though the United States needs to foster cooperation among its Asian partners in the face of growing Chinese aggression, Seoul and Tokyo are incapable of working together on basic issues that is in prevalence between the two nations. In this context, the prime question that would be explored in this particular study has been presented hereunder.

What political factors have contributed to current tensions, and what does the future hold for Japan–South Korea relations?


Notably, since the year South Korea has achieved progress and success with regard to its democracy during the period of late 1990s followed by a considerable economic success specially between the period of 1970s and 1980s. The leaders of them nations were primarily focused towards developing its relation with the leaders of Japan with a bold initiative taken during the year or the time of late 1990s. In this regard, towards achieving the new initiative of the respective government, better relationship has been seeking to be built by President Kim Dae Jung’s during his visit to Tokyo during the year 1998. Correspondingly, by releasing a joint statement the president and the Prime Minister, Keijo Obuchi has apparently made the announcement that there would be new agreement between the two nations which would be known as New Japan-ROK Partnership which was to be executed till the end of the 21st Century. Correspondingly, towards a surprising gesture in order to depict the differences between the two nations, Kim Dae Jung’s does not ask for any apology for the approach of colonization of Japan in Korea. In this regard, the president rather focused on praising the Japanese government with regard to their effort of supporting utmost peace as well as prosperity with regard to the Peace Constitution and overseas development assistance (Sheen, 2003).

This particular approach of Kim was mainly with regard to appreciate his Japanese counterpart who was trying to bring in close with regard to the long-standing burden of history associated between the two nations. The summit that has been arranged in this regard amid Japan and South Korea were mainly with the intention to make sure that the dark past between the two in terms of building better relationship is eradicated and likewise laying a foundation for a new and better bond between further moving towards a liberal democracy and market economy that can be beneficial for both the nations (Sheen, 2003).

Though the president is less known for his sunshine policy with North Korea, the reconciliation effort that has been made with the Japanese government further get the attention of all the important and crucial diplomatic achievement of the president. It has been noted that most of the people of Korea is still known to be holding a strong grudge against the Japanese government. This has been largely defined within the Korean nationalism as an anti-Japanese stance from the end of the government. Though post-war Japan has been largely promoting a promote a bilateral cooperation towards the major resentment of Japan, there has been certain major disputes over the historical issues prevailing between the two nations. This has often been regarded to be among the major block that has been affecting the relationship between the two nations. The rapprochement approach of Kim initiative needs to be accompanied with strong determination along with pragmatism which is further determined to be against the anti-Japanese nationalism that exists within the Korean society. Kim further made an argument that the cooperation between the two nation mainly includes the approach of sharing the democracy amid the two most advanced economies and democracies of the world and the same should not be hindered from the emotional past that exist between the two nations at large (Sheen, 2003).

The South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun who has been newly elected recently has focused mostly towards continuing the effort of the previous president. In this context, the visit of the president to Japan during the year 2003, after only being the first South Korean leader to be associated with a Japanese occupation. He further makes sure that the harsh memory that exist between the two unit has largely been overshadowed through the recent policies which include the Japanese apology or the revision of the literature with regard to the recent colonial past of the two countries. He further discussed the more recent recriminations in terms of the relations amid the two nations. This is depicted to be slowly and steadily lifting the burden of history amid the two countries in terms of the close and ruthless historical past between the two nations commendably. The fact that both the nations are closely linked in terms of the geographical attributes can also contribute towards the development of better relationship amid the two nations indeed. In this context, it has been noted that Japan has majorly expressed the past behavior of the other nations in terms of the demanding apology of the former (Sheen, 2003). Post more than half-century there has been a considerable reconciliation amid the two nations which is yet to be attained significantly.

In the recent years, though both the nations along with their leaders has been making significant efforts in order to make a constructive association amid the nations in East Asia and key U.S. allies in the region. The association between Japan and South Korea has also been in terms of the security between the two nations. This particular corporation mainly comprise the critical consideration between the U.S. handling of the issues of North Korea’s nuclear power and Washington’s future alliance strategy developed specifically for this region. Inspite of the continuous progress in this particular region, there has been diplomatic concerns which is further resulting into the leaders of both the countries i.e. Japan-South Korea to remain in a fragile relationship. In this context, both the nations have been dealing with tough challenges in terms of the historical problems associated with past, present, and future. The disputes over history includes North Korea, Japan’s military role, and negotiation in terms of free trade agreement (FTA) (Porter, 1990). Although U.S. military restructuring calls for closer Japan-South Korea cooperation in defense, there is also a significant change in South Korea’s negative viewpoint of the manner in which Japan has a robust with the U.S.-Japan-Korea alliance that has been developed in course of time.

Correspondingly, in context to the above question, this particular study will focus on determining the state behavior with regard to the light of international relations theories further emphasizing on realism and liberalism theories in particular. As for the complex issue of alliance building, the framework of regional cooperation and integration theories will be an important tool with regard to get proper understanding that will further help in the process of evaluating the key findings of the study. In this essay, the various factors which have been putting these advances in difficulties for both countries in the post-war period will be discussed in an extensive manner altogether. The study will also further seek to establish the motivations amid the two countries to deepen their bonds for further cooperation along with understanding the implications of good relations between the two countries in concern. It will be argued that the recent world-wide shift of power, also demands for a wider or more powerful regional integration in order to assure protection and stability in the global environment.

Iinternational theories have clearly proved to be quite a useful tool to analyse the state’s behaviours specially in terms of global political ties. The two-prevalent theory in the past century has been realism and its counter-part liberalism. When analysed being the factor that can be locked into one single paradigm/framework/perspective can makes no sense when the same prevents analyst from getting the problems solved. This impatience has led to the rise of analytical eclecticism, whose supporters argues that “the complex links between power, interest, and norms tend to defy analytical capture by any one of the paradigm mentioned. This aspect further make them more intelligible by drawing selectively on different paradigms—that is, by analytical eclecticism, not parsimony.”6

Most of the strategic thinking process starts with realist assessments of power and relative gains. In this regard, it will also be important to evaluate how do alternative courses of action advance or impinge on national interests in an anarchic world. It should not be surprising to note that straightforward calculations of material power dominate foreign policy and national security thinking between the diverse nations of the world. The state has been including some of the key feature of the international order since that phrase existed in the global scene. For all the diversity among nations, realists assume all states are and act alike in the best interest of the people or the nation. The pre- eminent interest of the nations and democracy is mainly survival to the maximum extent altogether. In other words, relations between states are determined by their comparative levels of power, usually derived from military and economic capabilities.

The realist approach mainly seeks to understand or analyse the world of politics as a particular struggle of gaining power amid the authorities. The main actor in the international sphere is the State and its priority towards ensuring survival for the wider and longest extent altogether. Earlier trend of realism, represented by Morgenthau focus on the human aspect of international politics as being the projection of human greed on a larger scale along with the prevailing difference between people or authorities in diverse nations of the world. While it might have reflected some degree of truth in the troubled times mostly in the beginning of the 20th century, modern thinking has switched largely towards a less belligerent understanding of the international realm.

Indeed, the neo-realist school has advance a theory, whereas State concerns themselves with threat rather than merely to be more powerful in nature. Waltz’s provides a detailed analysis of the treat perceptions as being one of the most decisive factor motivating the formations of alliances amid different nations and their respective authorities. While his theory provides us with a solid framework which further enable researcher to analyse and understand the potential motivation and perceptions which has influenced the decisions of Japan and Korea towards treating a facing potential treat as it fails to apply to every outcome of this situation.

Thus, it can be largely demonstrated and accepted in modern research paper that limiting itself to one stance only would be to miss some decisive aspect of the decision-making process. The raison-d’etre of theories being to bring an explanation of some of the real-life event. Liberalism, as a response to Realism, often tends to argues that states preferences are mostly considered rather than capabilities form the state behaviour. The theory focuses on the importance of common interest in shaping the preferences of the state to form any kind of alliances for development or peace related purposes. The catalyst effect of trade and economic integration between countries in establishing more stable alliance is also a salient feature of this particular paradigm discussed in alignment with global integration. The third theory of constructivism is far less popular in the studies of alliance related to alignment countries. However, it can be noted that this particular paradigm often tends to provide us with an interesting insight into the questions, as it seems to be among the most prominent theories failed to fully explain the relationship or lack of relationship between Korea and Japan.

The historical aspect of the question has been often left out of studies as being of a lesser importance to be taken into consideration at large. However, in this case study, the importance of relationship amid the two countries in the past fifty years can also be attributed to historical grievances and clashes perceptions that has been existing from the past few decades or so. This has been one of the key reasons that has hindered a strong and secure relationship between Seoul and Tokyo.

International cooperation between states can take vastly different forms or mannerism that can further create a stronger relationship between states and nations. The whole range starts from mutually independent actions to cooperation. In this context, within this particular corporation there lies an ad hoc cooperation to be on the regularized forums, to international regimes, to international organizations and finally towards the formation of a sovereign state. The process of integration primarily includes different forms or level of cooperation which ranges from from short-term cooperation to long-term cooperation within the international cooperation regime with a clear rules and norms along with determining a supranational structure among others. Another key manner through which cooperation can be happen amid the states including the formation of cooperation on a non-formal level, in the sphere of culture or economic integrations among others. As example in this regard would be the economic integration amid the nations that can be promoted without formal institutions such as FTAs and customs unions. This is also one of the key attributes of societal integrations which usually happen or include an independent state of actions, through different channels, whereas the values and norms of domestic institutions are spread around the region. The mechanism that raise or lower cooperation are the main point of discussion within cooperation theories. If there are higher benefits to be reaped from a high-level cooperation then the chances are higher that it will be put into actions but if there is no clear drive towards greater cooperation the status quo will be maintained, if there are more drawbacks than benefits with regard to the cooperation that can lead to significant collapse in terms of the overall outcome.

In the case of North-East Asia, the main drive that has motivated the respective authorities for the alliance that can resides in the greater economic integrations and potential benefits to be reaped by each of the nations involved. On the other hand, the individual level of defense capacities of most countries deems to have enough strong in order not to be a motivated towards greater regional integrations between the national authorities. Regional governance can be able to take many forms, which can further influence the form of alliance. There can be very little interaction between countries sharing the same geographical location or a regional society. In similar context, some of the countries are deemed to be highly interdependent but at the same time cooperate in various sectors within the nation along with certain key rules and norms are put in place in order to govern the relationship between these countries and form effective alliance. The motivations which should have bought Japan and Korea as closer allies are many. First of all, the two countries have numerous common interests. Being the only two liberal democracies in the region, which similar values and a similar growth pattern it would seem reasonable that the two-country regard themselves as ideal partners to form an alliance and create a more stable and safe environment for their way of life.

Moreover, both side entered bilateral agreements with the United States. The involvement of the US in region dates to the Korean war and has remained a centre of gravity for the region. The alliances created by the United State has succeeded to maintain peace in the region as well as establishing channels for discussions, joint military drills and economic cooperation between the two countries. The effect of these alliances has undoubtedly benefited the region at the time of unrest following the War.

An allied Japan-Korea would benefit from co-operation because of their similar position facing regional potential threats. The rise of an increasingly assertive China also provides a common treat for both countries. With China’s exponential growth and the assurance, they gain in the process ought to be regarded as an important issue for both governments. With speculations of China becoming the new world leader in terms of capacities, the prudent stance in international relations would be to balance against the rising treat in order to create balance in the region. While both country’s relations to China are different, both would benefit from the formation of this alliance. Another example of common apprehension arises from the ambiguous position and intentions of their neighbouring state North-Korea.

South-Korea’s relations to China has reached its lowest point during the Korean War, whereas they confronted themselves in a frontal war. Every since, the diplomatic relations between the two countries has gradually improved, and today some scholar speculate to South-Korea’s potential interest to rally with China in an effort to put pressure on their North-Korean front. Japan, on the other hand has kept its relationship cordial but with a clear emphasis on the no potential for further diplomatic advances. With the support of the USA, Japan seem to have found a power-enough alliance not to have to re-arrange its policies toward China so far. According to Waltz, adopting the right position in accordance to treat evaluation is vital for establishing the most profitable alliances. Thus, if Korea decides to Bandwagon on China’s side, it is positioning itself in a weaker position as it will be at the mercy of China who has much larger capabilities and a potential to become the most dangerous treat if belligerent. On the other hand, Japan has to be careful not to seem to be a treat and provoke the reaction of China which could interpret the formation of new alliances in the region as a mean to encircle and restrict its development and rise of power in the region. There is a delicate balance which needs to be established between defending its interests while pleasing the strongest power of the region. Maybe an approach to balancing which would be focused upon bilateral relationship between these two countries independently of any US interference would appear to be the least worrying for Chinese interests. On the contrary, it might be able to provide an acceptable gravity of power in the region which, while providing Japan and Korea with greater security will also curve a potential over-expansion of Chinese interests in the region.

Another issue faced by both Japan and Korea is the treat residing in their immediate proximity to North Korea. Both country security is made equally uneasy by the presence of a nuclear isolated state in between both territories. North Korea’s behaviour in the recent decade points towards survival procedures. North Korea’s follow a realist, fear-driven pattern with the design to preserve at all costs its national boundaries. During Bush’s “Axe’s of Evil” administration North-Korea was directly targeted. As a result, North-Korea has been pushed into isolationism, and blacklisted from any potential alliances with surrounding states. Nevertheless, the Korean peninsulas remains a broken country, which somehow pursues reunification. South-Korea’s foreign policy’s also aims to find a path to reunification. However, the gaps between the country are deepen as the year of their divisions extends. The democratic republic of South Korea has been successfully implemented while North Korea has remained entirely closed to the world. The South-Korean economic boom of the sixties, promoted the country to one of the worlds leading economic power further extending the gap with North Korea’s shivering economy. South Korea has made many efforts in the recent year to create a rapprochement with it’s another half. The most notable one, is the the Northeast Asian Cooperation Initiative for Peace and Prosperity by Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2008) whereas it can be said is the culmination of South Korea’s efforts to promote regional cooperation and facilitate Korean unification since the end of the Cold War. The relative success of this endeavours has proven to be a positive indicator of the potential for greater integration.

However, long-term implementation of pressure releasing policies seems to have had limited success. North Korea’s repeated nuclear threat and provocation, through various missiles tests maintained the tension high in the area. Two North Korean nuclear crises, The Taiwan Strait crisis, the Taepodong missile that flew over Japan in 1998 and many other similar incidents participate to reinforce the Japanese sense of insecurity in Northeast Asia.

North Korean calculations fit the strategic tenets under which a provocation with high retaliation risk can become the most profitable decision when the status quo becomes the less desirable one. In order words, considering the current situation together with the immense costs retaliation would trigger, North Korea decision’s is within a frame of realist thinking. It may not be surprising that under the current terms of international relationship dominated by US hegemony, which has successfully assessed its offensive abilities and willingness in Iraq, might influence North Koreas policies to the highest form of insecurity and state of distrust. Therefore, the liberalist literature has suggested that this stratification in the region is a direct consequence of the paranoiac and potentially dangerous because ripe in escalation hawk approach promotes in the US foreign policies. In an environment, which would be perceived as less treating, the tensions would be relaxed and might result in opportunities for dialogues. Moreover, if the Korea is to be reunited with greater integration, these differences both in culture, history and economy ought to be addressed and the burden to rehabilitate the North would put a huge constraint on the south capabilities and could potentially make it weak.

It is therefore in its interest that a stable North-East Security architecture is established as soon as possible. In effect, the stabilisation of the region and the management of treats would allow countries to focus their potential on other aspect of the region. However, in the current state of affair, it seems very unlikely that such a resolution could become reality and within the current shift of power the first step to achieve in order to start thinking about the peace-building in the region would be to correctly limits the offensive potential of North-Korea without increasing their perceived threat. An alliance between Japan and Korea has the potential to foster a greater sense of security within the region for all the concerned actors.

Considering all the factors which both under realism and liberalism perspective recognises the benefits that both Japan and Korea would reap from establishing a stable alliance, why did their relationship remained cold and stagnant over the past fifty years.

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The three-nation summit between China, Japan and South Korea was discussing the formation of a three-nation foreign trade agreement. We can observe many other FTAs in the region, and ASEAN has been trying to consolidate its integration to become an economic, social/cultural and security community. However, in the first meeting of the expanded East Asian Summit (EAS) in the autumn of 2011 participating countries exchanged somewhat harsh words regarding the principle of freedom of navigation and respect for international law, having in mind the territorial disputes in the South China Sea between China and a number of Southeast Asian countries. One of the most serious current issues in the region is how to cope with the rise of China, particularly in the security area.

The explanations to this counter productive relation is to be sought within constructivist theory. It comes to no surprise that Japan and Korea’s relations has been rigged by diplomatic conflicts and non-entente due to Japan’s colonialism over Korea for over a decade. While it has not been the longest invasions, the Chinese has had the control over Korea for a longer period of time, it is the most vivid in Korean memory and the poor conclusion of affairs of the war has creating some lagging issues which has prevented the growth of any effective relations between the former enemies. Contrary to Europe, whereas the post-war period has constituted an active rebuilding process in relationship and diplomatic bonds between the involved countries, including the final settlement of territorial disputes and the issues of satisfactory apologies, the post-war East Asian region didn't have to go through a similar process (Reiter & Stam, 2010). As the USA loosen its influence on the region, it left behind some unresolved problems including territorial disputes over the Senkokku/Daisy island and set the tone of the rhetoric to adopt of peace-building process. As a result, the relationship between Japan and Korea has remained frozen by the resentments of the past and certain factors have contributed to the entrenchment of these divisions into the politics of both countries.

First of all, Korea emerged as a new democracy as a result of the conflicts. The genesis of their democracy and the new identity building process had integrated as one of their main tenet, the opposition against the invader, i.e Japan. This antagonism has merged into the identity of the country. Similarly, on the Japanese side, there is a sense that the Korean are unwilling to move past historic issues and the previous attempt to settle the problem should suffice. In 1993, the Kono statement was the first step towards this conciliatory stance, which was followed by further disputes between the two countries. In 2001, Koizumi visited Seoul and offered a more general apology for the suffering caused by Japanese imperialism. A poll carried out in 2005 by the Mauren & Mike Foundation reveals that 21.5% of the Japanese respondent had an unfavourable opinion towards Korea. However, the vast majority; 60.7% answered that they were undivided on the issue. On the same survey posed to the Korean counter part, a staggering 63.3% responded that they had an unfavourable stance toward japan and 28% only did not express animosity nor sympathy (Bogdandy, 2005). It is not until 2014, that Shino Abe and Park Geun-hye meet in the context of talks hosted with the USA. As a result, a deeply entrenched anti-feeling exists within the South-Korean and Japanese public and this strong opposition have proven to burden any attempt to further the relationship.

As Glosserman argues, national identity is not static but rather a constantly changing norms, which reflects the opinions and values of a nations. While it is subjected to influences through the voluntary or involuntary actions of states, it is also influences the outcome of the state behaviour. In a democratic entity, the opinions of the people, to a certain extend has the power to form the interest of a State. State are somewhat able to resists the direct influences of the public in a representative democracy, which is the prevailing systems in the international order, however elections and expressed support or discontent with specific policies do have an impact on the outcome of the decision. Therefore, the meeting point between these opinions and security issues form the framework in which state have to make policies. In modern political thought the influence is vastly ignored (Moses, 2000).

The recent efforts at institutionalizing security cooperation—the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and the Military Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) made it clear in June 2012 that domestic opposition remain an influential obstacle to significant development. In order to achieve a stable security relationship both country must emphasize the national benefits resulting from the alliance, while deconstructing the historical grievances and enduring territorial dispute. Another factor that could facilitate the development of healthy defense partnership between Japan and Korea is to restricts the objectives of the treaty to very specific issues, which are of mutual concern. Narrowing the initial scope of cooperation could improve their credibility to the public. This approach focused upon the national benefits resulting from the alliance, should put emphasis on Korea’s intentions to have Japan as a security partner. The treaty should make it clear that Seoul is not committing to collective defense nor seeking a formal alliance or defense treaty with Japan. Missile defense becoming an increasingly important issue for the region, cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo would improve the quality of protection for both and move the two countries toward greater operational integration (Park & Yun, 2016). However, if all efforts fail to reconcile Korean and Japan’s interests, another possibility would be to seek a more robust trilateral arrangement involving the United States. The standoff between Japan and Korea could potentially create an opportunity to establish a formalized trilateral alliance between the three countries. The result of this cooperation would be to centralize data through a data center procedure.


Bogdandy, A. V. 2005. State-Building, Nation-Building, and Constitutional Politics in Post-Conflict Situations: Conceptual Clarifications and an Appraisal of Different Approaches. [Online] Available at: [Accessed March 18, 2017].

Moses, J. 2000. Liberal Democratic Values and Asia Pacific Security: The promise of peace or a path to conflict? [Online] Available at: [Accessed March 18, 2017].

Park, J. & Yun, S. 2016. Korea and Japan's Military Information Agreement: A Final Touch for the Pivot? [Online] Available at: [Accessed March 18, 2017].

Padden, B. 2015. US Allies Japan, S. Korea Mark Treaty Anniversary. [Online] Available at: [Accessed March 18, 2017].

Porter, M. 1990. The Competitive Advantage of Nations. [Online] Available at: [Accessed March 18, 2017]. Reiter, D. & Stam, A. C. 2010. Democracies at War. Princeton University Press.

Sheen, S. 2003. Japan-South Korea Relationship. [Online] Available at: [Accessed March 18, 2017].

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