Skip to content

Realism and Liberalism in Economic Sanctions: An Analysis of South Korea’s Sanctions on Iran in 2010


After the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted UNSC Resolution 1929 in June 2010 against Iranian support of terrorist groups, the United States individually asked South Korea to cooperate in sanctioning Iran. At the demand of the United States, South Korea announced a new set of sanctions on Iran in September 2010, which caused economic troubles in Korea. This paper fundamentally questions why South Korea put sanctions on Iran and whether or not it was a successful course of action. Does South Korea show liberalism by pursuing the virtue of peace and alliance instead of materialistic gains? Or is Seoul’s decision a realistic outcome from a close cost-benefit calculation? In order to answer those questions, the paper will first scrutinize the measures of South Korean sanctions on Iran, examine their bitter impacts on South Korean economy, and lay out South Korea’s quandary regarding consistency with nonproliferation, the U.S.-ROK alliance, possible economic retaliation from Iran, and U.S.-led economic retaliation. Finally, it will conclude that South Korea’s sanctions on Iran were a successful approach to apply liberalism based on realistic calculations.

Soo Kook Kim is second-year M.A. student at SAIS, concentrating in Conflict Management and International Economics. She also has an internship at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Korea Chair, supporting Dr. Victor Cha’s research projects. She worked at the Defense Forum Foundation from 2009-10, and at the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea in 2008 as an intern. She received her B.A. from Seoul National University in International Relations.