Friday, April 10, 2015

[Book Review] South Korea's Rise

Uk Heo and Terence Roehrig. 2014. South Korea's Rise: Economic Development, Power, and Foreign Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The argument of the book is simple and straightforward; a country's economic development leads to its wider and more sophisticated foreign relations. Though commonsensible, the causal mechanism built in this thesis has not been much developed so far. Instead, starting from the authors such as Paul Kennedy and A.F.K Organski (or any classical realists of international relations thereof), economic prosperity of a country has long been assumed to somehow nurture its will to use it to further its foreign policy goals. 

Neither was it ever seriously tested. It is the literature of comparative democratization or international conflict where empirical analysis on the effect of economic development is most heavily concentrated (one exception would be Mansfield & Pevehouse 2005).

By theorizing and testing this unexplored terrain at the intersection of comparative politics and international relations, the book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how a state 'rises'. 

Aside from this rather theoretical contribution, the book has a number of virtues that deserve some highlights. First of all, it is an intense historical narrative utilizing a number of first-hand evidence that the book casts for its methodological approach. Thus,the book provides detailed accounts for many historical junctures of South Korea that often go unexplained in other studies. Probably because of this, even readers who are not necessarily familiar with the historical context of North East Asian international relations can easily grasp what the book offers.

Second, the book navigates some of the frontiers of South Korean foreign relations that are not really discussed in detail in the existing literature. Personally, I had little to no knowledge how the economic tie between South Korea and India has been established (or no-so-much established depending on perspectives) before reading this book.

Third, it employs easy proses. It is often frustrating for those who teach social science classes that many of the books assigned often appear to be simply un-readable (I mean they are important reads, but accessibility these days is an important issue in American higher education).

All in all, this is not only an easily recommendable book to a wide range of audience; but also a must-read for more seriously-engaging scholars.

Link to my Goodreads review on this book
Link to the publisher's page