- A Troubled Peace: U.S. Policy and the Two Koreas
More than fifty years ago, an armistice ended the Korean War. Chae-jin Lee, director of the Keck Center of International Studies at Claremont McKenna College, has written a valuable study describing the "troubled peace" that has been the legacy of this brutal conflict. "In order to elucidate the changing nature of U.S.-Korean relations," he "examines the manner in which the United States has historically formulated its goals for Korea, publicly and privately articulated those goals, and selected the methods and instruments with which to implement them" (p. 6). Lee also describes how Washington, Seoul, and Pyongyang have perceived each other and have managed and mismanaged relations. Diplomatic and military issues receive primary attention, but there is coverage of economic and cultural interactions. Regrettably, Lee provides less detailed treatment of North Korea than South Korea, focusing on showing how the latter "transformed its 'special' relationship with the United States into a 'normal' interdependent partnership" (p. 280). Few can disagree with his conclusion "that the United States will continue to assume a significant role in the Korean Peninsula for many years to come" (p. 295).
In his introduction, Lee sets a pattern that concentrates on describing relations between the United States and South Korea, pointing to this as a prime example of the "asymmetrical interactions" (p. 2) that other political scientists have examined. He then briefly summarizes relations under each U.S. president after 1953, concluding that, by 2004, "U.S. policy toward the Korean Peninsula was, to put it mildly, in a state of flux" (p. 6). A fifty-five page chapter follows briskly surveying U.S.-Korean relations from the arrival of the first shipwrecked American sailors in 1853 to North Korea's seizure of the Pueblo in 1968. Skillfully setting the historical stage, Lee explains why U.S.-Korean relations by 1905 "were fraught with asymmetrical interests, mutual misperceptions, and eventually profound disillusionment on the part of the Koreans" (p. 14). After forty years of indifference, the United States returned and helped divide Korea. Relying on the best primary and secondary sources, Lee provides a balanced and judicious explanation of the Korean War. Coverage of events over the next fifteen [End Page 97] years identifies examples of how the conflict intensified hostility and mistrust between the two Koreas and motivated the United States to establish "a system of dual containment" (p. 39) on the peninsula.
Lee's next three chapters, each roughly fifty pages in length, summarize events with a near exclusive emphasis on state-to-state relations. "The Dynamics of Structural Adjustment" weakened the alliance under Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, and Jimmy Carter, as U.S. military disengagement from Asia compelled President Park Chung-hee to build his military to reduce "South Korea's dependency on its unreliable U.S. defense commitment" (p. 70), while working to lessen tensions with North Korea. "The Passing of the Cold War" under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush allowed U.S. policy on the Korean Peninsula "to transcend . . . the predominance of its bilateral relationship with South Korea, commencing a dynamic new period of trilateral interactions with both Seoul and Pyongyang" (p. 113). "From Containment to Engagement" under Bill Clinton began badly with U.S. unilateralism in the first nuclear crisis with North Korea creating "mutual distrust and . . . the erosion of alliance cohesion" (pp. 175–76), but U.S. support for Kim Dae-jung's Sunshine Policy meant that relations "between the United States and the Korean Peninsula toward the end of 2000 never looked better . . ." (p. 209). "In Search of Hegemonic Diplomacy" traces over more than sixty pages George W. Bush's abandonment of containment, deterrence, and isolation of North Korea that by 2003 had resulted in a "growing fissure in America's military alliance and diplomatic coalition with Seoul" (p. 249). In "Prospects," Lee concludes that inter-Korean relations will determine future U.S. policy, discussing options under...