By Rebecca Thomas, Assistant Editor
IN THE PAST DECADE, the Korean Peninsula has been among the most active regions in the world. The two Koreas, divided at the start of the Cold War, remain to this day a curious juxtaposition of different systems and values. The success of South Korea’s economic recovery following the Asian financial crisis and its establishment of a full-fledged democracy and the rule of law are in stark contrast to a closed system in North Korea that has remained largely unchanged for the past 60 years and now is the center of international attention over its nuclear weapons program.
After the breakdown of the multilateral arrangement known as the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea was to be provided with two light water reactors in exchange for shutting down its traditional nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, the country restarted the reactor, withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and proceeded to extract fuel from 8,000 rods. The step would allow the country to reprocess the spent fuel into weapons-grade plutonium used to create nuclear weapons. In March 2005, North Korea ultimately declared itself “a full-fledged nuclear weapons state.”
Professor Roh (third from left) at a negotiating session with North Korean representatives from the US, South Korea, Japan, and the EU in 2002.
South of the heavily fortified border separating the two nations, South Korea has experienced vibrant economic growth, becoming the world’s 12th largest economy. Hyundai and Samsung have become household names around the globe. Moreover, the South Korean legal system is entering a period of profound change, as Korean law schools make plans to convert to a U.S.-style legal education program of three years (at present, law is studied as an undergraduate major.)
In substantive ways - political, economic, and legal - the Center for Korean Legal Studies has played important roles with both nations. No other law school in the United States has a center devoted entirely to the study of both the South and North Korean legal systems. The Center, which was established at the Law School in 1994 with initial grants from the Hankook Tire Group and the Korea Foundation, has been under the direction of Professor Jeong-ho Roh ’88 and has played a vital role in educating the American legal community on various challenges facing the Koreas. The Center draws students, scholars, judges, and other academics to research and discuss a broad range of issues, such as replacing the 1953 armistice agreement with a permanent peace treaty, addressing North Korea’s current nuclear capabilities, and guiding the economic growth of South Korea.
Among the Center’s activities is its Roundtable Series, which last year brought together 25 eminent scholars on North Korea and inter-Korea relations for a one-day conference, Dynamics on the Korean Peninsula in the Aftermath of the U.S. Presidential Elections. The event focused on North Korea’s conduct on the world stage, particularly in light of President George Bush’s second term. Conference attendees included both academics and government officials and covered not only North Korea’s suspected nuclear weapons program, but also issues related to economic reform and human rights problems. The Center plans to continue this event on an annual basis and eventually to publish a book on the topics addressed.
The Center is fortunate to have as its director Prof. Roh, a native South Korean who holds a Columbia J.D. and possesses a wealth of experience in Korean law and politics. In addition to his position as director of the Center, he serves as Legal Advisor to the Korean Ministry of National Unification on the North Korean light water reactor project. Since 2002, he has made six trips to North Korea and, on his last visit, traveled to the North Korean region of Kumho to tour the construction site of the unfinished light water reactor. Prof. Roh frequently publishes articles on the Koreas and hosts a weekly radio show on Radio Korea AM 1660 that covers a broad range of issues relating to inter-Korean matters.
In September, Prof. Roh will be joining the law faculty of Yonsei University in Seoul, where he will teach U.S, North Korean, and international law. Most promising for the Center will be his role in directing Yonsei’s transition as it creates a U.S. style post-graduate three-year law degree program.
“I believe that this is the start of a new paradigm for legal education in Korea, and I hope that the possibilities for collaboration between Columbia faculty and students and those of South Korea will increase on a huge scale,” he said.
Prof. Roh hopes to increase traffic between the law schools, as students, faculty, visiting scholars, and others travel to exchange ideas and learn more about each other’s legal worlds. Prof. Roh talks of creating a center where American attorneys practicing in South Korea, as well as citizens of other Asian nations traveling through the country, can take courses on Korean law. Serving as acting director of Columbia’s Center for Korean Legal Studies will be Chang Moonchul, a professor of law at the Korean National Police University, who was a visiting scholar this year.
The Honorable Park Geun Hye visited Columbia University on March 18, 2005 to give a talk on the future of the US-Korea Alliance.
South Korean economic growth has been nothing short of miraculous in the past two decades, and Columbia’s impact on South Korea’s globalization efforts is keenly illustrated in the work of the Center. Recognizing the need for Korean judges, attorneys, and academics to be educated in the types of law needed to manage this rapid growth, the Center’s Annual Trade Law Seminar, held every year since 1996, gathers more than 20 students from the Judicial Research & Training Institute of the Republic of Korea for a two-week-long program at the Law School. In July 2004, attendees participated in an intense course of study with seminars taught by some of the foremost experts on U.S. trade law. The seminars, which ranged from intellectual property matters to corporate and securities law, have helped to train key members of the South Korean legal profession in running remaining competitive with the rest of the world.
Another way the Center builds bridges between the United States and the Koreas is with its Korean Law Forum, which this year brought to campus the Hon. Park Geun Hye, chairwoman of the Grand National Party of the Republic of Korea and daughter of the former President of Korea, Park Chung-Hee, who was assassinated in the late 1970s. She spoke on “The Future of the U.S-Korea Alliance.” In past years, speakers have included the Korean minister of justice and the minister of unification. More recently, Ambassador Chun Yung-woo, deputy permanent representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations, gave a talk titled "A South Korean Perspective on the North Korean Nuclear Issue," and Ban Ki-moon, foreign policy adviser to the president of South Korea (presently the minister of foreign affairs and trade of the Republic of Korea), spoke at Columbia on “Korea - U.S. Relations at a Crossroads.” The latter event, held in April 2003, provided a rare opportunity for Minister Ban to confer with Korea experts in the New York area and the Columbia faculty on important issues before Presidents Roh Moo-hyun and Bush held a summit in Washington, D.C., in May.
Professor Roh (right) and representatives from North and South Korea in 2004, with the KEDO light water reactor in the background
The Center also maintains an active visiting scholars program. This year, the participants include former Congresswoman Choo Mi-Ae, who is conducting research on the future of the transformation of the Northeast Asian region, and Chang Moonchul, a professor of law at Korea Police National University, who is conducting research on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and international commercial arbitration.
“While attending some classes and workshops on ADR and arbitration, I [had] an opportunity to learn more about American legal education on ADR,” Prof. Chang says. “I chose Columbia Law School because I believe that it provides the most comprehensive ADR programs and brings leading dispute resolution experts to classes and workshops.”
Beyond classroom course offerings, the Center has dedicated itself to building the most comprehensive depository of Korean legal materials outside the Koreas. The Center also has created the Korean Language and Cultural Exchange Program, which matches visiting Korean scholars with law students mutually interested in improving their English/Korean language skills. This year, five visiting scholars and J.D. students developed their language proficiency by discussing topics related to the U.S. and Korean legal systems.
Apart from language exchange, Columbia students with little or no background in the Korean legal system can take Contemporary Issues in Business Laws of South and North Korea, a three-credit offering taught by Prof. Roh. The seminar examines changes to the business law environment in both South and North Korea, including the IMF bailout of Korea in November 1997 and the subsequent restructuring efforts that caused fundamental changes to many of the laws, regulations, and practices applicable to doing business in Korea. The class also looks at new prospects for foreign investment in North Korea. Students are encouraged to explore themes relating to Korea’s initial encounter with Western law and Korean ideas and attitude toward law.