Citizens’ National Security Identities as a Watchdog for Governments in Korea-Japan Relations

Dr Seung Hyok Lee – Hebrew University of Jerusalem

November 11, 16:30-18:00, Humanities building 5318, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

South Korean and Japanese citizens are playing an increasingly influential role in the unfolding of their bilateral relations. This society-level influence on government interactions is especially prominent when a bilateral issue or a dispute is linked to widely publicized security concerns, as it easily prompts emotional involvement of the mainstream citizens embracing the most widespread national security identity of each country. Moreover, when the societies charged with national sentiments are preoccupied with a security-linked disagreement vis-à-vis the “other side,” they tend to exaggerate the nature of the disagreement as the latest symbol that reinforces a long historical pattern of the other side always being a current or a potential security hazard to their own country. For better or worse, democratic political structures of the two countries thus enable the domestic societies to perform a “watchdog” function of limiting policy options available to popularly elected government officials involved in publicized bilateral interactions.

This presentation will focus on the bilateral relations during the last decade to illustrate this point. In the midst of the fast-changing regional security environment during this period, the two societies started to reevaluate and redefine their traditional national security identities.  Interestingly, these identity-shifts in South Korea and Japan were mainly fueled by their changing public attitude toward North Korea. However, the ideational transformations in both countries also ended up provoking a “mutual security anxiety” between the South Korean and Japanese citizens, as they started to embrace a sense of uncertainty about the other side’s possible future trajectory as a potential risk to their own state. This societal-level mutual distrust continues to provide a powerful ideational limit to the government-level bilateral interactions even up to today.