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Informal Empire: The Origins of the U.S.–ROK Alliance and the 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty Negotiations
Abstract

Abstract

The creation of the security alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States offers a historical case of how great powers maximize their strength in regional security. The case of Korea demonstrates how the United States imposed “informal” order by establishing a normative hierarchy in which sovereign states deem as legitimate the hegemon’s leadership and comply with rules and order imposed by the hegemon. The great power also established a “formal” network to reinforce this informal order. The United States fulfilled both of these conditions in the establishment of its alliance system in Asia in the 1950s. It created a formal network of bilateral alliances with Japan (1952), Korea (1953), Taiwan (1954), the Philippines (1951), Australia and New Zealand (1951). The United States occupied the central “hub” position of this network, in which all states were asymmetrically dependent on Washington. The hub and spokes system that emerged, moreover, was deemed legitimate as an informal hierarchical order through the “micropolitics” of the alliance structure. These micropolitics consisted of embattled Asian leaders who internalized the legitimacy of the U.S. alliance as intrinsically positive political goods. This, in turn, reinforced the validity of the alliance system. I demonstrate this argument in greater depth by offering a rare archival account of the 1953 mutual defense treaty negotiations that led to the creation of the U.S.–Republic of Korea (ROK) alliance.