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Security and diplomacy strategies 1

Security and Diplomacy Strategies 1
Security and Diplomacy Strategies during the Cold War Era (1948 to 1988)
 1. Changing Policy Environment
After gaining independence from Japan’s colonial rule in 1945, the Korean peninsula buzzed with people’s hopes for the realization of a modern and unified nation-state. Such hopes were dampened, however, when in the same year the foreign ministers of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union gathered together at the Moscow Conference where they agreed on the establishment of the Joint U.S.-USSR Commission on Korea, under which the country would be ruled by trusteeship for the subsequent five years. The question of establishing a modern government on the Korean peninsula continued to be debated in the 15 Commission meetings that followed. The controversy persisted, as right-winged factions in Korea opposed the trusteeship, while their left-winged counterparts supported it.

In the meantime, the Soviet encroachment into North Korea eventually led to the creation of the Northern Joseon Provisional People’s Council in February 1946. The Left-Right Collaboration Movement in South Korea similarly gave birth to the South Korean Interim Legislative Council on December 12, 1946, and ultimately the Interim Government of South Korea on June 3, 1947. The Second U.S.-USSR Joint Commission, established on August 12, 1947, further undermined the prospect of establishing a single, unified and independent government on the Korean peninsula. Although the Korea question was later placed in the hands of the United Nations, the UN could not go beyond setting up a republican government in South Korea due to staunch opposition from North Korea. After a new permanent government came into being in the South with the UN’s help on August 15, 1948, North Koreans countered by declaring the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, thus consolidating the political divide between the two Koreas.

Ongoing debate exists among scholars on whether the Korean division had more to do with internal or external factors. Those who place greater emphasis on the latter mainly argue that the Cold War, in an incipient stage at the time the Korean peninsula was partitioned, presented an insurmountable obstacle to the hope of setting up a unified government. Those who lean more toward the internal explanation argue that the left-right ideological divide in Korea had already reached an irreversible depth during the period of the Independence Movement, and that the two opposing camps simply did not share the goodwill necessary for them to work together toward building a unified government. A fuller explanation, however, would take into account not only the ideological animosity in Korea, but also the international environment that failed to provide a suitable political forum for addressing and mending Korea’s political gaps. The Yalta Conference held in early 1945 saw the United States and the Soviet Union already making moves to divide the world into two ideological camps. This ideological divide was further solidified in territorial divisions, especially in Germany, Austria, and the rest of Eastern Europe, through the Potsdam Conference. The Korean peninsula, like the rest of the world, fell victim to the surge of Cold War politics. Indeed, it was simply impossible for a poor, third-world country that had only very recently been freed from colonial rule to overcome on its own the sweeping tide of political and ideological divisions happening worldwide. Unfortunately, however, the international community failed to provide suitable forums for debates and policymaking that would have encouraged reconciliation and peace.  

The division of the Korean peninsula decided during this time period remains today, despite the fact the Cold War has ended. During the decades of the Cold War, the division between the two Koreas gained momentum on its own, taking on diverse aspects of structuralized national division as a result. That is, for four decades from the rise of the Rhee Syngman administration to the end of the Chun Doohwan administration, Korea’s foreign and security policies remained solidly within the framework of the Cold War and the national division, the two main structural factors that Korean policymakers could not easily overcome.

 The persistence of these international and structural factors, however, should not blind us from seeing the important differences in policy approaches pursued by different administrations. Korean foreign and security policies took on different themes and goals according to the different belief systems and visions of presidents as well as the changing political circumstances in Korea. The strongly personal, President-centered tendency was an integral feature of policymaking in Korea prior to its democratization, with the continuing Cold War and the solidified national division conspiring with this authoritarian political tradition to repeatedly thwart steps toward democracy. The goal of democratization made its first significant and official progress in Korea only after the Cold War came to an end and structuralized national division began to give way to a new mood of détente. This indicates that the Cold War inevitably served as a mechanism for boosting and sustaining the authoritarian politics of many countries.

Nevertheless, the Cold War as a structural factor was a phenomenon more variable than monolithic in nature. The Cold War broke out with the first proxy war fought on the Korean peninsula in the early 1950s and quickly enveloped the entire world throughout the rest of the decade. Though U.S.-USSR relations began to show signs of thawing toward the end of the 1950s, the rivalry between the two countries was rekindled and reached new heights during the 1960s. While the Vietnam War provided yet another occasion for the two superpowers to test and provoke each other in Asia, they also evinced a more reconciliatory posture on the European front in the new mood of détente championed by President Charles de Gaulle of France (Gaddis, 1982; 1997). As the Vietnam War drew to a close and U.S.-China relations began to improve, Washington and Moscow also began to engage in new efforts for greater cooperation, including strategic arms talks. The atmosphere of détente sweeping across the world became the most significant factor behind the changing tones of foreign policies of many countries in the 1970s (Garthoff, 1994). Korea joined this new trend with the South-North Korea Joint Declaration of July 4, 1972.

However, the Cold War took on a new level of intensity and hostility when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the late 1970s, to which the Carter administration took an uncompromising and critical posture. The Reagan administration that came to power in the early 1980s renewed the anti-Soviet stance and atmosphere with its aggressive military and economic policies. Until Mikhail Gorbachev’s rise to power in 1985 and the ascent of the open policy, the Cold War continued to decide foreign and security policies in Korea and in the rest of Northeast Asia with increasing intensity.

2. Security and Diplomacy Policies under Different Administrations
During the Cold War period, Korean security and diplomacy policies remained quite sensitive to the various occurrences and risks of hostility and conflicts in the region overall and around the globe. The Cold War defined and shaped the Korean policymaking structure. The Korean War served a crucial role in the outbreak and expansion of the Cold War not only in Northeast Asia, but worldwide as well. It was the Korean War that prompted Washington to abandon its postwar policy of peace and revert to the state of permanent tension, launching the ambitious containment policy against Communist encroachments worldwide throughout the 1950s. The Rhee Syngman administration actively supported the principle of containment, and succeeded in entering the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States in July 1953, immediately after the ceasefire of the Korean War. The Korean security strategy in the subsequent years closely reflected developments and changes in the Cold War, centered as it was on the Korea-U.S. alliance.

The Rhee administration outwardly advocated national reunification by South Korea’s takeover of the North. In essence, however, its security policy was more concerned with reinforcing the nascent alliance with the United States so as to contain and counter the military threats posed by North Korea. Although the Rhee administration engaged in talks for normalizing relations with Japan, its top policy priority was containing Communist threats to the north of the 38th Parallel. President Rhee was a staunch anti-Communist and an uncompromising realist when it came to international politics. His personal beliefs and outlooks found a natural match in the escalating state of tension worldwide during the early years of the Cold War.

The Jang Myeon government that replaced the Rhee administration inherited its predecessor’s foreign and security policies. The Park Chunghee administration that came to power after the Jang government’s demise decided the South Korean security strategy for the subsequent 18 years. Throughout the 1960s, the Park administration emphasized the containment of North Korea’s military threats, the strengthening of the alliance with the United States, the diversification of alliance and partnership with other states in the liberal camp, and victory over North Korea on various international occasions of competition and diplomacy, as the main objectives of its security and diplomacy strategies. The focus of Park’s foreign policy was on securing international support for the economic development of South Korea, relegating the goal of national reunification to secondary status. Evidence of this change in priorities can be found in the normalization of relations with Japan in 1965, which the Park administration promoted not only due to pressure from Washington, but also to facilitate economic growth. That same year the Park administration began to dispatch Korean troops to the Vietnam War, a move aimed at both enhancing South Korea’s alliance with the United States and with it Korea’s security prospects, and forming a new diplomatic environment capable of deterring North Korea from launching an attack on the South. This contribution to the American war effort also played a role in escalating the Cold War worldwide.

The Park administration’s security strategy, however, was forced to change when the atmosphere of détente began to sweep the globe. Acknowledging impending defeat in the Vietnam War, Washington announced the so-called “Guam Doctrine” in 1969, transferring the burden of security of Asia to Asian nation-states themselves. The Guam Doctrine also led to the withdrawal of almost 20,000 U.S. troops in the Seventh Division from Korea in 1971 (Woo, 2005). Faced with this change in the international environment, the Park administration on the one hand sought to reinforce the Korean military to compensate for the withdrawal of American troops, and on the other began efforts to engage North Korea in dialogue (late 1971). It was the improvement in relations between Washington and Beijing, however, which decisively and profoundly shifted the security strategies of both Koreas. As a result, the two Koreas released the Joint Declarations of July 4, 1972 and of June 23, 1973, which signified a decisive turn in favor of détente in the Park administration’s foreign policy. The international state of tension, however, began to escalate again in the last days of the Carter administration, as the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan (Choi, 1992; Mun, 1994). The new Cold War led to reinforcement of the Korea-U.S. alliance in these years (Shin and Kim, 2000).

The strengthening of the alliance with the United States occupied a central position in Korean foreign and security policies until the end of the Chun Doohwan administration and the collapse of the Cold War in the late 1980s. The Chun administration’s pro-American emphasis found a natural ally in the Reagan administration’s staunch anti-Soviet stance, and thereby contributed to the rise of the new Cold War and the continuation of tension and animosity with North Korea.

Korean security and diplomacy policies during the Cold War period stood helpless in the face of the systemic and structural trend of dichotomization dominating various levels of domestic and international politics. The Cold War entailed more than a rivalry between two superpowers and a dichotomized world order based on the two opposing ideological camps. As the two sides continued to hone their ideological and political commitments—one to communism and the other to liberal democracy—their continuing hostility bred a culture of opposition on the domestic and social fronts as well. The permanence of the Cold War and the military threats it implied also went on to alter and shape the respective collective identities of South and North Koreans in profound and irreversible ways. The Cold War fundamentally molded not only the distribution and makeup of national interests, but also the ways in which those interests were perceived and pursued. As the Cold War took on increasing cultural, economic, and social implications, Korean security and diplomacy strategies were no longer aimed solely at deterring and countering North Korea’s military threats; rather, they came to require South Korea’s victory and ascendancy over North Korea in all areas of competition, particularly through the reinforcement and continuation of South Korea’s alliance with the United States and the liberal world. The ideological divide, ignited and perpetuated by the Cold War, came to replace the national identity based on ethnic homogeneity. The Korea-U.S. alliance was certainly not free of struggles or conflicts, however subtle they might have been, but these conflicts always stayed well below the surface, naturally relegated to a secondary status behind the priority of maintaining the strategic partnership between the two countries as they fought the Cold War together.

Source: Korea International Cooperation Agency. 2004. Study on Development Aid and Cooperation for South Korea: Size, Scope and Exemplary Effects. Seoul.