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Current World Relations

Image that says South Korea.South Korea Geopolitical realities during the Cold War era caused South Korea to maintain close political and economic ties to the United States and the West after the end of World War II. Even during the '60s and '70s, when the government was essentially a military dictatorship, ties with the West remained strong. With the establishment in the late 1980s of a government again controlled by civilians, international ties became only stronger and broader. International cooperation is a major diplomatic goal. South Korea even established diplomatic relations with mainland China in 1992.

The outstanding exception to good international relations for South Korea is North Korea. Though there have been periods of political "thaw" between the two nations and sentiment for rapprochement is growing in South Korea (it is a major plank in the current government's party platform), relations remain mercurial, and the fear of invasion by the North is constant. Negative attitudes toward the North are still prevalent in large segments of South Korea's society.

In order to protect itself, South Korea maintains an armed force of over 600,000 military personnel, distributed through an army, navy, and air force. Equipment and training are kept to the highest modern standards. The fiscal outlay for South Korea's military in 1995 was about $14 billion, or 3.3% of the GDP. This is a large military establishment for a nation of 46 million people, but considered necessary to ensure survival against the North.

Image of some missiles coming from North Korea and a caption that reads: North Korea.North Korea In contrast, North Korea's international relations have shrunk considerably in recent years. Tied by politics and ideology to the Communist bloc after World War II, North Korea developed few ties to the rest of the world. With the collapse of Communism, even North Korea's erstwhile allies began to weaken connections, leaving the country more and more isolated. Even Communist China, its biggest supporter, established diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1992.

In recent years, North Korea has been viewed as a growing threat to peace in the rest of the world. It has established and armed a huge standing military force of over a million soldiers. Annual defense outlays are estimated to be about $5 billion, an astounding 20-25% of the GDP. North Korea has also developed its own short- and intermediate- range guided missiles. The missiles are primarily for use against South Korea, but they are apparently being sold to other nations like Libya. Some observers believe that North Korea is developing a long-range missile, the Taepo Dong II, that would be capable of carrying a small nuclear warhead to targets in the United States. North Korea has developed its own nuclear weapons program, and some suggest that it already has a small stockpile of warheads.

Shutdown of North Korea's nuclear weapons capability was the objective of a diplomatic mission by former US President Jimmy Carter in June, 1994. Unfortunately, the sudden death of Kim Il Sung in July,1994 delayed those negotiations. Although North Korea agreed in December 1995 to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for two new nuclear power reactors, Kim's son and designated political heir, Kim Jong Il, lacks the total control exercised by his father, so the political direction North Korea will go in the future is uncertain.

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