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How to Make the ‘Korean Legend’ Continue
While studying in the United States many years ago, I had a chance to work at the World Bank for a while. I was a political science major, but the opportunity to work for the global financial institution mostly staffed by economics majors arose because a security-related project was under way. I also believe that I owed the opportunity to my predecessor, a female researcher of Korean descent, who had earned a good reputation for her job performance.
Now that Jim Yong Kim, the Korean-born president of Dartmouth College in the United States, has been nominated as the next president of the World Bank, two of the world`s “Big Three” international organizations (United Nations, World Bank and IMF) could be led by ethnic Koreans. Some people say that the nomination came from President Barrack Obama`s political consideration to placate the resistance of newly developing countries to another U.S. nominee leading the World Bank. However, political consideration cannot be a major reason for nominating the head of an organization that exerts great influence on the global village`s politics and economy.
Some years ago, the late Dr. Lee Jong-wook, director-general of the World Health Organization, actively worked as the first Korean chief of a U.N.-affiliated agency, earning praise as the world body`s “Little Giant.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also displayed enough leadership to be reelected to a second term. Apart from Kim`s outstanding personal qualifications and ability, one may say that the impressive activities by these Koreans in the international community influenced President Obama`s decision.
Along with these individuals` capabilities, the Korean government has also exerted remarkable efforts since South Korea joined the United Nations in 1991. The number of Koreans serving at international organizations has continued to increase. As of June 2011, a total of 398 Koreans are working for international organizations, nearly triple the 139 in 1999. During the same period, the number of Koreans serving in high-ranking positions at international bodies has also risen from 10 to 37.
However, Koreans still claim an insignificant portion of staffers at international organizations. Currently, Korea accounts for 2.26 percent of the U.N.`s regular budget, ranking 11th in terms of the amount of contribution among the world body`s 193 member nations, but Koreans constitute a mere 0.26 percent of the entire staff of the U.N. Secretariat. Korea remains one of the under-represented countries in the United Nations, with its citizens constituting no more than 1 percent of the workforce at any U.N. agency. This is why our nation has to apply more systematic and aggressive diplomatic efforts toward the world body.
However, we must not think that raising the portion of Korean staffers at international organizations will directly serve Korea`s national interests. Working as a staff member of an international organization means being a public servant of the entire international community. Therefore, our government has to devise its policy toward international organizations from long-term perspectives rather than focusing on the immediate practical issues such as increasing the number of Korean staffers and hosting international events or organizations.
In other words, the nation should try to expand the scope of its multilateral diplomacy by demonstrating its leadership as a middle power through the exploitation of niche issues of global importance or contributing to operational reforms at international organizations. These efforts will eventually lead to greater advances in Korea`s status and prestige.
Despite being a major economy with membership of the OECD and G20 and boasting of the world`s top-notch technology as an information and communication powerhouse, Korea is still groping for its position and role as a middle power in global politics. It is especially difficult to promote our national interest and prestige by building up hard power such as military strength amid the current international circumstances dominated by complexity and uncertainty with the United States and China locked in competition.
On the other hand, it is a more realistic alternative to improve our status and influence by strengthening soft power, which is represented by international reputation, cultural charm and national image. When there are more Koreans internationally recognized and respected and the Korean government`s diplomacy and policy efforts equipped with global vision and strategies create synergy effects, the “Korean legend” will go on.