A Superpower Between Superpowers: How Post-Cold War South Korea Leveraged Pop Culture Into Soft Power
CitationBarden, James. 2019. A Superpower Between Superpowers: How Post-Cold War South Korea Leveraged Pop Culture Into Soft Power. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractUnderstandings of soft power usually focus on its role in a relationship between larger, more militarily and economically powerful countries towards their less powerful counterparts. This thesis explores the inverse by asking: what does soft power look like when deployed by a less powerful state, towards more powerful states? Post-Cold War South Korea presents a useful case study: placed geopolitically between military and economic superpowers, it has consciously transformed itself into a cultural superpower through K-Pop as its government pursued its long-standing security interests of immediate peninsula stability, denuclearization in North Korea, and eventual peninsula reunification.
In this thesis, I consider the role of K-Pop in South Korea’s three most significant security relationships: its ally and security guarantor, the United States; a nearby growing superpower, China; and its most pressing security liability, a North Korea in rapid pursuit of becoming a nuclear power. I also consider South Korea’s notable global influence as an internationally trusted leader of multilateral institutions. The results of this review support that post-Cold War South Korea’s government-supported growth into a cultural superpower through K-Pop does indeed play an important role in the dynamic of its security relationships with the United States and China, positively supporting its national security goals, and helping to position the post-Cold War republic into a key leader in multilateral institutions.
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