Rick Spencer

Korean Think Tanks you ask?

In recent discussion about the world of think tanks, a question was raised about the think tank culture in Korea. The question reminded me of a list I found a few years ago when I was trying to understand the think tank industry. What I was looking for was a sort of directory, or who’s who of the think tank world. Unsurprisingly, there are at least two places that I’ve found where one can go and learn more about the think tank sector as a whole.

One is this amazing annual report produced by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks & Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) called the *2016 Global Go to Think Tank Index Report*(17Mb PDF). This report draws from a database of  over 6500 think tanks and uses a four-stage nominating and ranking process that invites the entire community of institutions and 7500+ journalists, donors and policy-makers to create a comprehensive set of rankings of think tanks around the world.  The two images below are just a tiny sample of the volumes of interesting information one can cull from the document.

Countries with the largest number of think tanks sorted by region
Countries with the largest number of think tanks sorted by region
Global distribution of think tanks by region
Global distribution of think tanks by region

Spoiler Alert The best think tank in the world in 2017 is Chatham House in the UK.

Another great place to track the think tank world is Think Tank Watch. They include the TTCSP rankings as well, but as a blog produce a lot of interesting news about think-tank happenings.

While this year’s global top ten rankings are dominated by US institutions, South Korean institutions appear on nearly every ranking list, and some of those placements are exceptional. It’s clear that the S. Korea is able to produce world-class think tanks in economics, development and defense. There are simply too many notable appearances to list here. But cursory survey of some of the rankings point to three South Korean think tanks that repeatedly appear in top 50, 25, 10 or even a few #1 placements.

The Korea Development Institute (KDI) took #6 for Top Think Tanks Worldwide (Non-US), #44 Worldwide (US & Non-US), #1 in a list dedicated to China, Japan, India and Republic of Korea. It is the #1 International Development Think Tank in the world, #11 International Economics and Best Managed, and appears on seven other top lists.

The #3 placement on the top Asian think tanks (China, Japan, etc.) is Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP) (Republic of Korea).  KIEP takes the #5 spot for Top International Economics Think Tanks and appears on 15 or so lists throughout the rankings.

Another name I saw often was IFANS, or the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.  They were ranked #7 on Think Tanks to Watch in 2017, #57 for Foreign Policy and International Affairs, #35 for Defense and appeared on a few other lists.

South Korean think tanks hold a very strong presence when compared to China, Japan and India, behemoth countries with incomparably large economies. The #1 and #3 spots were South Korean, as mentioned above. Four of the top fifteen, and seven of the top 50 on that list sit just below the 38th parallel. If the beltway ever needed a selfish reason to care about the DPRK missile threat, it could find one in the impressive brain-trust that thrives under the sword of Damocles called: