Korean Law Courses at Columbia

The Center offers two separate courses on North and South Korean law, reflecting the growing complexities of law and globalization in South Korea and the geopolitical tensions impacting inter-Korean law and legal relations. These courses are open to Law School students, School of International and Public Affairs students, and students of other Columbia divisions.

    Spring Semester: Geopolitics of Law and Conflict on the Korean Peninsula

    This course focuses on the complex domestic and international legal frameworks that inform the “Korean Question” today. Throughout the course we will examine the relationships of both South Korea and North Korea with surrounding large powers in the region (including the United States), as well as the geopolitical impact of North Korean activities and behavior within the context of existing domestic and international legal norms. The course is divided into three parts:

    • Part I explores division and nuclearization within the broader theme of North Korea’s (and South Korea’s) relations with China, the United States, Russia, and Japan. Looking back to Japanese colonialism and the Cold War, it seeks to assess how the legacies of unanswered questions have informed present dynamics on the peninsula. It also involves an in-depth analysis of the North Korean Constitution, hereditary succession, and the use of nuclear weapons for survival.

    • Part II focuses on North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, missile program, and human rights abuses within the context of the existing international treaties regime. It covers topics relating to the legal aspects of negotiating with a nuclear North Korea, including: North Korea’s role in foreign affairs and US legislation, the effectivity of sanctions, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the impact of the 1994 Agreed Framework and KEDO

    • Part III focuses on a critical examination of the international and domestic legal issues related to establishing a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. This includes assessments of the mechanisms by which to declare either war or peace within both international law, as well as the domestic legal regimes of the United States and South Korea. Recent advancements in inter-Korea relations are also assessed, including: territorial disputes involving the Northern Limit Line, the Inter-Korean Military Agreement, as well as the law and policy implications of unification.

    Throughout the seminar, emphasis will be placed on exploring North Korean activities and behavior within the context of existing regional and international legal regimes and governance mechanisms. As we examine this context, our goal is to gain a better understanding of the way in which North Korean law and legal institutions, regional mechanism, and international law and conflict over North Korean issues (denuclearization, human rights) interact to form the outcomes we observe and to improve our ability to gauge future developments in law and politics on the peninsula and in the region.


    Fall Semester: Korean Legal System in the Global Economy

    (Not offered Fall 2021)

    Rising from the devastation of Japanese colonization and the Korean War, South Korea now plays a pivotal role in East Asian economic development and stability. The Korean economy has become a major force in cross-border legal harmonization, international economic and political cooperation, and global governance. This course examines the law and legal institutions of South Korea from the perspective of its role in the global economy. We will begin with an historical overview of the Confucian roots of Korean legal traditions, initial encounters with Western legal systems, the impact of Japanese colonization, and the emergence of democratic rule. We will then examine and critically analyze the ways in which contemporary global influences continue to compete with long-standing notions of law and society in Korea. The course will cover the changes in the Korean legal landscape from the time of Japanese colonial rule, through the Korean War, and lastly to the transition from the post-war authoritarian government to a full-fledged democracy.

    Topics include cultural norms associated with law and legality; history and development of democratic rule, including the Constitutional Court and its jurisprudence; legal education reforms and the opening of the Korean legal market to foreign law firms; corporate law and governance, including various nuances of Korean corporate law, chaebol reform, the "economic democracy" debate, and small business promotion; Korea's engagement with the international legal system, historically and as seen through its relations with its immediate neighbors; and international and domestic human rights standards in Korea.

    The course is designed for students with little or no prior knowledge of the Korean Legal System. No knowledge of Korean language is required.

    Topics to be covered:

    • Introduction to the Korean Legal System
    • Early Korean legal history to the present: Confucian legal traditions; Japanese Colonization; Democratization and Rule of Law
    • Legal System and Profession
    • Constitutional Rights and Freedoms
    • Criminal Law & Procedure
    • Business Law & Corporate Governance (I, II, and III)
    • Civil Litigation; Social laws
    • Korea and the International Legal System: History; Inter-Korean relations; Japan-Korea Relations
    • Dokdo and the Comfort Women issue
    • Korea and the International Human Rights System
    • Korea and International Trade Law: WTO; FTAs