콘텐츠 바로가기
로그인
컨텐츠

Category Open

Development Overview

tutorial

Overview of Korea’s development experience

home

Development Overview
Government and Law International Politics

Print

International Politics

Foreign policy 2

Between Loyalty to the United States and Diversification of Allies: 1970s to the Mid-1990s
 
The détente and the eventual end of the Cold War caused a groundbreaking shift to the main pillar of Korean foreign policy that had been singularly centered on an active and tight alliance with the United States since the end of World War II. While Seoul still prioritized maintaining and securing Washington’s commitment to Korea’s security, it also sought to diversify the range of its allies and the scope of its foreign policy to counter anticipated changes in Washington’s pledge of commitment. The Korean government also sought to enhance the nation’s self-defense capacity based on rapid economic development. The complex interplay between loyalty to the American hegemony, on the one hand, and attempts to diversify and broaden the scope of Korea’s foreign relations and partnerships, on the other, first emerged during the last years of the Cold War and continued well into the years that followed.
 
(1) Domestic and International Conditions
President Richard Nixon’s so-called “Guam Announcement,” made on July 25, 1969, expressly acknowledged the limits of partnering with the United States as a main security strategy. Nixon exhorted the allies of the United States to bear responsibility for their own security, clearly indicating that Washington would no longer intervene with the survival and security of its allies so single-handedly. Although the Guam Announcement included a renewed promise to make good on Washington’s pledge of security for its Asian allies, it also represented a dilution of the strength of that commitment. In his address to the public on November 3, 1969, Nixon further clarified that Washington’s pledge of security for its allies would include providing a nuclear umbrella in which the United States had vital interests, and providing grants and aid for allies under attack.[1] The changing terms of Washington’s security pledge, however, sent reverberating shockwaves throughout Korea, a country that had so unquestioningly relied on the United States for protection.

The Nixon administration, furthermore, sought to withdraw all U.S. troops from Korea. Fearing that the worsening state of animosity over the Korean peninsula in the late 1960s might culminate into another Vietnam War-like situation, the Nixon administration promised to China, in the U.S.-China talks, to withdraw American troops from Korean soil and to enlist China’s cooperation in managing the state of affairs in East Asia (Jeon, 2005, 44-51; Cho, 2005, 65-67). Accordingly, the number of U.S. troops, which hovered around 61,000 prior to the Guam Announcement, declined to 54,000 by late 1970, to 43,000 by the end of 1971 (with the Seventh Division having backed out), and to 38,000 by the end of 1974. Although the Nixon administration insisted that these moves amounted to gradual reduction and not complete withdrawal, there is documented evidence that it was indeed the latter that Washington was actually angling for.[2] Although the changing tides of domestic politics in the United States prevented the materialization of complete withdrawal, the fear of it would haunt the Korean government ever after.

The Carter administration continued its predecessor’s policy of withdrawing U.S. troops from Korea, this time following a new foreign policy stance that sought to combine human rights concerns with security. Citing human rights violations and the suppression of democracy under the Yushin government in power in Korea at that time, the Carter administration announced its plan to withdraw American troops in 1977, and proceeded with the withdrawal in 1978. The summit of 1979 may have served to stem the escalating tension between the United States and Korea, occasioned by the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but was inadequate to dissolve Korea’s perception of increasing vulnerability to external threats in the absence of American troops (Park, 2007). President Carter’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops worldwide, however, ground to a halt in 1979 due to rising political objections in the United States and the deterioration of U.S.-USSR relations.[3]

Washington’s attempt to reduce the presence of American troops in Korea continued after the end of the Cold War as well. There was growing pressure inside Washington to roll back the United States’ military commitments overseas now that the rivalry with the Soviet Union was effectively over. In response, the Department of Defense (DoD) submitted the East Asia Strategy Initiative (EASI) to Congress in 1990. The EASI envisioned withdrawing all American troops from Korea over the subsequent decade, and immediately led to the withdrawal of 7,000 troops in 1992 alone. While the end result envisioned by the EASI never materialized due to the North Korea nuclear problem, the EASI confirmed that Washington could always backtrack its commitment to Korea’s security should political and strategic circumstances shift.

In the meantime, the astonishing growth of the Korean economy served to somewhat offset fears over the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops. The Korean economy was mired in a seemingly impossible postwar reconstruction process until the late 1950s, and began to grow at a dramatic pace in 1961. Figure 2-5 shows the miraculous growth in gross domestic product (GDP) Korea achieved until the mid-1980s or so. Korea entered the upper 30th percentile in terms of GDP distribution worldwide in 1966, the upper 20th percentile in 1970, and the upper 10th percentile in 1987. Korea’s GDP per capita maintained an equally impressive growth rate during the same period. Although Korea may have stepped down a few rungs on the scale of international GDP per capita distribution as resource-rich, newly independent nations began to develop in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it continued to make progress into the upper percentiles. Korea entered the upper 50th percentile in terms of GDP per capita for the first time in its history in 1976, and the upper 30th percentile in 1991 (Heston et al., 2006). The Korean economy, in other words, achieved dramatic growth in both the quantitative and qualitative sense.

Such speedy economic development provided the foundation upon which Korea could pursue and pave its own way of survival as an independent, self-sufficient nation. As shown in Figure 2-1, South Korean military spending began to exceed its Northern counterpart in 1976, particularly because the reduction in the number of U.S. troops led the South Korean government to introduce and levy the defense tax in 1975. This turnaround in military spending between the two Koreas grew wider and irreversible, as did the economic gap between the two countries. Seoul began to reinforce its conventional military power and contemplate development of nuclear weapons, launching activities to that end in late 1971 (Park, 1989; O, 1994; Meyer, 1984, 172). Having detected signs of nuclear weapons in development in South Korea in 1975, Washington sought to bring the program to an end by extending its nuclear umbrella (Min, 2004, 129-135; Mazarr, 1995, 27).

 
[1] President Richard Nixon, “Address on Vietnamizing the War” (3 November 1969) in Commager 1973, 738-741.
[2] The withdrawal of American troops from Korea became a key issue on the agenda for the U.S.-China talks due to Zhou Enlai’s requesting its inclusion at a meeting preceding the talks in July 1971 (Hong, 2004, 33-34). Washington eventually accepted Beijing’s demand and promised to withdraw its troops from Korea, Taiwan, and South Vietnam (“Memorandum of Conversation,” 24 February 1972, Memoranda for the President Beginning February 20 1972, box 87, President’s Office Files, White House Special Files, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Archives in Burr 2003).
[3] The troop withdrawal plan was effectively struck down after President Ronald Reagan was elected and his administration ushered the United States into the era of the new Cold War.


Source: Korea Institute of Public Administration. 2008. Korean Public Administration, 1948-2008, Edited by Korea Institute of Public Administration. Pajubookcity: Bobmunsa.