US South Korean Relations Essay Research Paper

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U.S. South Korean Relations Essay, Research Paper Twenty Years: 1970-1990 Changing Levels of American Influence on South Korea Amidst Fluctuating Relations President Carter stated in a secret memorandum at the beginning of his administration that U.S.- Korean relations as determined by Congress and American people are at an all time low. This statement, coupled with his iron determination to withdraw forces from South Korea, reflected the end of what is often known as the Golden Age of Korean-American relations. During Park Chung Hee s 18-year authoritarian reign over South Korea, the late 1970s portray a complex web of alliance relations and tumultuous security commitment that threatened the overall strength of the two allies. Constant U.S. intervention and attempts to

influence Korea s political process were met with massive resistance and did not deter then president Park from steadfastly continuing his Yushin system of authoritarian rule until his sudden assassination in 1979 (Gleysteen 4). However, the decades following the 1970s portray yet another shift in Korean-American relations. Once opposed to Western style democracy, the government of the 1990s (namely, Kim Dae Jung) has shed its authoritarian foundation and now supports a policy that reflects the ideals of Western democracy. South Korea has effectively put into place a system of democracy that will now be difficult to overturn, if anyone should ever again try. Although unsuccessful in the 1970s, the U.S. has finally realized its primary goal of political liberalization in South

Korea. In this paper, I will discuss the relations between Korea and the U.S. in the late 1970s and the factors that led to tensions in alliance; mainly, differing political ideologies. Then, I will elaborate on the great strides Korea has made in achieving democracy, therefore lessening the political gap between Korea and the Western nations. I will do so by presenting Kim Dae Jung s strongly democratic vision of Korea among opposing viewpoints. By analyzing his response to Lew Kwan Yew s generally anti-Western democracy stance, one is able to discern the similarities in political thought that bridged the seemingly irreparable gap rendered during the Park Chung Hee rule. The differences in these two political leaders effectively portray the opposite ends of the political

spectrum and show the changes in government Korea has made during the governments of Park and Kim. Upon Park Chung Hee s rise to power following the military coup of 1961, it was inevitable that Korea would not follow a trend towards democracy. Given Park s military background, Confucian heritage and Japanese education, there was nothing in his history to suggest that he would embrace democracy American-style. In fact, he considered this practice to be inconvenient and unproductive (Oberdorfer 32). A U.S. military assessment noted: From the time he led the 1961 coup, it has been evident that President Park had little admiration for or interest in the craft of politics. His approach to his stewardship as ROK head of state has remained that of a general who desires that his orders

be carried out without being subjected to the process of political debate (Oberdorfer 33). Although heavy U.S. pressure influenced Park to return to nominal civilian rule following his coup, one can see that from the beginning there were prominent factors that foreshadowed the clash of ideologies to come. Park began his most anti-democratic line of rule in 1972 with the advent of his Yushin system that disbanded the National Assembly, declared martial law, discarded the existing Constitution and prepared for indirect election of the president. To silence opposition, Park arrested many of the senior political leaders of the country. He justified this radical line of rule by declaring that they were revitalizing reforms that were necessary to strengthen and unify the nation to