South Korea’s Overseas Peacekeeping Activities – Part I: The History and Current Status by Hojun Song, Korea Economic Institute’s The Peninsula
On May 27, 2016, during her official state visit to Ethiopia, President Park Geun-hye visited soldiers from the Hanbit unit, which consists of South Korean troops deployed as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. She praised their hard work and encouraged them to keep upmost efforts in assisting South Sudan’s reconstruction. President Park Geun-hey also visited another South Korean dispatch, the Cheonghae unit, in the port of Abu Dhabi last year. As she already pledged to make additional deployments of South Korean troops to overseas peacekeeping activities in her speech delivered at the 70th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, it is expected that South Korea’s contribution to overseas peacekeeping missions will play a more critical role in contributing to international peace and security.
The Republic of Korea Armed Forces were established for defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of South Korea, mainly from military threats from North Korea. However, as South Korea became the world’s eleventh largest economy and the economic gap between the two Koreas widened drastically, the ROK Armed Forces started to increase its engagement in international affairs such as humanitarian and disaster-relief efforts worldwide. It reflects both South Korea’s eagerness to repay the aid and assistance from the international community which had allowed South Korea to overcome the wounds of Korean War and its efforts to play a proactive role in the international community. As of June 2016, the ROK Armed Forces had 1,108 soldiers supporting peacekeeping operations in 13 countries.
The ROK Armed Forces have participated in peacekeeping activities in various forms including multinational forces, the United Nations Peacekeeping Operation (PKO), and military cooperative activities. South Korea’s first participation in a multilateral force was the Vietnam War, which was also the first overseas deployment of the ROK Armed Forces. As part of multilateral force, South Korea deployed 325,517 soldiers to South Vietnam from 1964 to 1973. South Korea also deployed its armed forces as part of a multilateral force to the Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan, and the second Iraq War. Mostly, South Korea deployed medial support, transport, and engineering units for assisting multilateral forces. The Zaytun Division which carried out peacekeeping and reconstruction missions in Iraqi Kurdistan from 2004 to 2008 was the biggest overseas deployment after the Vietnam War and praised for its contribution to the stabilization and economic development in Irbil…