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50 trilateralism and beyond Balancing Security Interest and the “Mission” to Promote Democracy American Diplomacy Toward South Korea Since 1969 Seung-young Kim This chapter examines how several U.S. administrations dealt with the issue of democratization in South Korea since 1969, beginning with the effect of the Nixon administration’s troop withdrawal policy, which had the unintended result of working to harden authoritarian rule in South Korea. It will also examine briefly the response of the U.S. Congress to the deteriorating human rights situation in South Korea, along with South Korea’s efforts to mitigate the criticism through its lobbying efforts. Then, it offers a detailed examination of diplomatic efforts exerted by the Carter and the Reagan administrations to promote democracy in South Korea. The two administrations pursued their goals with markedly different approaches and achieved different outcomes, which may have implications for current international efforts to promote democracy in different parts of the world. The democratization of South Korea became possible primarily because of the mounting resistance of the Korean people, driven by their deepening yearning for democracy in the last quarter of the twentieth century.1 The aim of this chapter is to examine the U.S. role in this process of democratization based on the recently declassified material obtained by the National Security Archive (NSA). The examination of the South Korean case can help shed light on one key issue in the recent debate over U.S. foreign policy: the proper balance, or relationship, between the promotion of democracy and U.S. national security interests.2 It also offers a unique opportunity to examine the nature and goals of U.S. foreign policy. The examinations of each presidency begin with a brief discussion of the administration ’s initial vision and approaches on foreign policy, then how Washington’s policy changed in reaction to Seoul’s priorities and political realities in Korea.3 The final section briefly summarizes U.S.-Korean relations since the end of the cold war, focusing on the effect democratization in South Korea has had on the alliance. 50 Wampler text.indb 50 3/27/12 1:42 PM american diplomacy toward south korea since 1969 51 The Nixon Administration The Nixon administration, inaugurated in 1969, sought to reduce its defense commitment to East Asia by rearranging great power relations. It secured diplomatic rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and simultaneously pursued a reduction of tension with Moscow, exploiting the Russian concern of being isolated from the détente diplomacy. Pursuing détente, the administration believed, would also allow it to quickly reduce its costly military commitments to South Vietnam and South Korea.4 While implementing this new strategic vision, the administration failed, at least from Seoul’s viewpoint, to provide adequate assurances regarding the continued U.S. commitment to protect South Korea from Communist North Korea. South Korean unease only deepened as it became clear that the Nixon administration did not intend to be hindered by the concerns of the South Korean government when implementing the reduction of U.S. forces in Korea.5 When notified of the U.S. plans in the spring of 1970, President Park Chung Hee tried to delay the troop reduction, arguing that the existing U.S. troop levels in Korea should be maintained at least until 1975. But the Nixon administration unilaterally carried out the withdrawal of its Seventh Division in 1971.6 The Park administration felt a sense of betrayal, as it had believed that the United States would not pursue such force reductions while South Korean troops were still fighting in Vietnam alongside American troops.7 In Washington, national security adviser Henry Kissinger led the drive for such a readjustment as part of his strategic vision for détente. When reviewing National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) 27, which assessed the troop withdrawal issue, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) expressed reservations about a speedy reduction of U.S. forces in Korea.8 But Kissinger pushed through the reduction plan bolstered by another, more positive, assessment made by his National Security Council (NSC) team, which was reported about a week later.9 Throughout this process, Kissinger argued that, without the support of China, the chances of a North Korean attack on the South were low. He also recommended minimizing the forward-deployed U.S. forces to the north of Seoul.10 To prepare South Korean forces for the U.S. troop reduction, in early March 1970 the NSC recommended an increase...


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