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South Korea

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South Korea



Figure 1. Administrative Divisions of South Korea, 1990

FOR NEARLY A HALF-CENTURY, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the United States have maintained a close relationship. Since the mid-1980s, South Korea has been the seventh or eighth largest trading partner of the United States, and the United States has ranked as South Korea's first or second trading partner. In 1991, nearly four decades after the end of the Korean War (1950-53), Washington retained more than 45,000 troops on the Korean Peninsula committed to the defense of South Korea. During the 1991 conflict in the Persian Gulf, Seoul joined other coalition partners of the United States and provided a military medical team and several hundred million dollars in support of the campaign to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.

Ties between the two countries extend to language, education, and culture. In 1991 English was the primary foreign language studied in South Korea, and for some time it has been popularly said that more Ph.Ds from American universities work for the South Korean government than for the United States government. Hundred of thousands of United States servicemen, businessmen, Peace Corps volunteers, and missionaries have lived and worked in South Korea, and as many as 1.5 million South Koreans--one fourth of all overseas Koreans--have emigrated to the United States.

The Korean Peninsula has been inhabited since paleolithic times, and Korean historians trace the ethnic roots of the Korean people at least as far back as the pottery-using cultures of the fourth and third centuries B.C.. Early tribal groups formed numerous federations, and over the centuries these combined into larger state-like entities. Sometime before the fourth century B.C., at least one of these entities had begun to refer to its leaders by the Chinese title for king, wang. Three of these states, boasting an aristocratic social structure and centralized institutions of government, had come to dominate Korea by the early centuries of the present era, conducting trade and intermittent warfare with each other and with China. Stretching down from Manchuria in the north was the kingdom of Koguryo; in the southwest and southeast, respectively, the kingdoms of Paekche and Silla held away. Korean political, cultural, and linguistic unity dates back to the unification of these three kingdoms under Silla in the seventh century A.D., making Korea, despite its present temporary division into two states, one of the oldest unified nations in the world.

Geographically poised between China and Japan, Korea developed its own social and cultural patterns. More deeply influenced than Japan by Chinese culture, Korea adopted the Chinese model of monarchy and successive dynasties, rather than developing a single imperial line from its early tribal federations. Yet Korea retained its native preference for a strongly aristocratic social order based on hereditary lineages. Korea also served as one of several cultural bridges between its two regional neighbors, taking pride in passing along advanced Chinese political, philosophical, religious, and literary ideas and models to what Koreans consistently perceived as a less well- developed Japan.

Korea's geographic position often made it a focal point for regional conflict. Recovering from two Japanese invasions in the late sixteenth century and Manchu incursions several decades later, Korea's last traditional dynasty--the kingdom of Choson (1392-1910)--withdrew into self-protective isolation, strictly regulating travel and commerce with Japan while maintaining its tributary status with China. This policy was increasingly challenged, however, during the nineteenth century, when Western diplomats, traders, and adventurers sought to open all of East Asia, including what they termed the Korean "Hermit Kingdom," to European-style trade and diplomatic relations. In the end, Japan forced open the Korean door, imposing a Western-style "unequal treaty" on Korea in 1876.

At the turn of the century, Korea was the object of two wars as China and Japan in turn fought to maintain footholds on the peninsula and to exclude a Russia keenly interested in Korea's warm-water ports. In the first half of the twentieth century, Korea was victimized by several decades of colonization by Japan (1910-45), becoming by the 1930s a stepping stone and industrial base for Japanese military expansion into Manchuria and northern China. Although many Koreans fought for independence from Japanese rule, Korea's liberation in 1945 was brought about not by Korean efforts but by the Allied victory over Japan and by the division of Korea into two zones of occupation by the United States and the Soviet Union. In the southern zone, the United States Army Military Government in Korea lasted for three years before the establishment of the Republic of Korea. South Korea's immediate postwar fate was dominated not only by the Cold War antagonism of the two great powers but also by seemingly irreconcilable political differences among Koreans themselves. Separate and antagonistic states controlled the two halves of the peninsula by 1948, setting the stage for the considerable civil conflict that led to the Korean War (1950-53).

Given the tragic and bitter legacy of the loss of national independence under Japanese colonial rule, the experience of national partition in 1945, and the ensuing civil war, educational authorities in South Korea have emphasized areas of national identity in schoolbook treatments of Korean history and language. Despite many differences among South Koreans, this carefully nourished national consciousness centered perceptions on national independence and the place of Korea on the stage of world history. Such thinking underlies much of the vigorously pursued economic development of the past three decades and also carries on a long tradition of modern Korean thought. For example, after Japan seized control of Korean foreign relations and military affairs in 1905, Korean historian Ch'oe Nam-son compared the nation's parlous condition with the glories of ancient Korean dynasties and asked, "How long will it take us to accomplish the goal of flying our sacred national flag above the world?" As energetic national preparations for the 1988 Seoul Olympics--under the slogan "Korea to the world, the world to Korea"--demonstrated, toward the end of the century South Koreans still were striving for national success and an international reputation in response to that same impulse.

South Korean urbanization--which increased by a rate of more than 4 percent annually during the 1960s and 1970s--continued at a slightly slower rate of 3 percent per year in the 1980s. According to the 1990 census, Seoul was one of the world's largest cities. Its more than 10.6 million people accounted for almost one quarter of the country's 43.5 million people. The concentration of the population in Seoul prompted efforts by city planners to decentralize government and other functions by moving some ministries and agencies to Taejon. The growth of Seoul and other cities, although partly caused by interurban migration, also was accompanied by a reduction of the rural farming population, especially in the poorer areas of the southwest. This migration was reflected in Seoul by the numerous restaurants that offered regional specialties and by the electoral districts that produced bloc votes for presidential candidates from one or another province in the December 1987 presidential election.

Another social change with political implications was the increased emphasis on higher education during the 1980s. When army General Chun Doo Hwan took power in 1980, he approved a plan to double college and university enrollments within four years. Perhaps, as some observers said, the change was intended to submerge traditional student protest in a sea of aspiring professionals and white-collar workers. Yet planners also knew that broader education was vital to continued economic growth, inasmuch as the country's exports faced increasing competition from labor-rich Third World countries and Seoul sought to shift to knowledge-intensive and high-technology industries. By 1990, according to a Ministry of Education study, one South Korean in four was a student. The number of South Koreans in college by the late 1980s comprised some 35 percent of the relevant age-group, a higher percentage than Japan or any country in the world except the United States and the Philippines.

The changes in higher education corroded old political patterns and in several ways may have set the stage for the political and constitutional reforms of the late 1980s. With the spread of scientific and technical education and the continued growth of a new managerial elite, the military's claim--heard especially in the high-growth years of the 1960s and early 1970s- -to managerial and technical leadership became increasingly irrelevant. The more educated populace also seemed less tolerant of press censorship and other authoritarian practices. Meanwhile, increasing student enrollments and the consequent rise in the number of college graduates in the job pool created even greater discontent among many employed and underemployed graduates and provided a setting in which a small but increasingly radical student dissident movement--often financed with sizable student association fees--could find its voice.

The steady modernization and urbanization of society was accompanied by a continued growth in nostalgia for Korea's past. Even in the countryside, the 1980s saw a continuation of the late 1970s revival of folk arts, often supported by generous government subsidies for regional festivals and "living cultural treasures"--experts in traditional technologies, crafts, and arts, such as architecture, temple painting, or traditional p'ansori folk opera. Shamanism, ignored by modernizing elites in the 1950s and 1960s, was much more openly practiced in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was not unusual to see a new office building or major tourist hotel formally opened with shamanistic rites. Many urban professionals enjoyed taking their children to visit the Folk Village near Seoul where they could examine a well-scrubbed reconstruction of nineteenth-century country life and try to imagine a quieter, less hurried time. The revival of traditional culture in the 1970s and 1980s cut across class and political lines. It had a political dimension as well, seen both in dissident student adaptations of traditional anti-aristocratic mask dramas that lampooned the social and political establishment and in government promotion of school trips to the shrine of sixteenth-century naval hero Yi Sun-sin.

Religious commitment was strong for many South Koreans, nearly half of whom were affiliated with an organized religious community in the 1980s. About 20 percent of the population was Buddhist, whereas a somewhat larger and more rapidly growing Christian community gave South Korea the second largest proportion of Christians in Asia, following the Philippines. Although conservative on the whole, the country's Christian population also included some of the most active elements of the political dissident movement.

Confucianism was dominant during the last dynasty (1392-1910) but declined in force as a political philosophy following the loss of independence to Japan in 1910. Nevertheless, it retained a lingering impact on social relations even in the early 1990s. Attempts to revive Confucian ethical values, whether through the Park Chung Hee government's campaign for filial piety and loyalty in the 1970s or in occasional public seminars or newspaper editorials through the early 1990s, reflected both a decline in the practice of Confucianism as a living creed and the feeling of many South Koreans that rapid modernization and the growth of materialism had created an ethical vacuum.

Population policies began in the 1960s continued their momentum through the 1980s. Tax and medical insurance benefits for smaller families, for example, provided additional incentives for family planning in the early 1980s. The government also distributed posters, such as one featuring an attractive young couple and the slogan, "Have one child and raise it well." The effect of such efforts continued to be felt in a decline in the number of primary and middle school students; the number of middle school students alone dropped by half a million during the 1980s. The success of the family planning program was suggested by the desire of other Asian countries to send officials to Seoul for training.

As the number of births per couple reached 1.9 in 1990, the population growth rate dropped to just over 0.9 percent from almost 1.6 a decade earlier, causing the Economic Planning Board to predict serious labor shortages and to authorize importing increased numbers of foreign workers. Many factories already had been compensating for such shortfalls by hiring illegal immigrants (1,000 such workers were deported in 1990), or by breaking prevailing patterns to hire married women in substantial numbers. By 1991 South Koreans also were beginning to reflect on the social and policy implications of two emerging problems: a possible male-female imbalance by the end of the 1990s, resulting from a continuing preference for sons and use of family planning techniques; and projections of a steadily increasing proportion of elderly in the population over the coming two decades.

South Korea's economic growth continued to be driven by the import of raw materials and semi-finished components (the latter proportionally declining in the late 1980s) and the export of finished industrial products. Manufacturing accounted for more than 30 percent of the gross domestic product, aided by the rapid modernization of technology and the continuous reinvestment of trade proceeds. By the end of the 1980s, the Republic of Korea was the world's tenth largest steel producer and had made major strides in mastering the production technologies required for the home electronics and semiconductor industries. South Korean-made televisions, personal computers, videocassette recorders, and microwave ovens increasingly became known under their own brand names, although dependence on Japan for key components and some assembly production for Japanese companies also continued.

The automotive industry gained a firmer footing under close government direction following overexpansion in the late 1970s. Most of the growth in the early 1980s was fueled by overseas sales, which began to boom in 1985, but also was stabilized by a rapidly growing domestic market by the end of the decade. Textiles and construction, both staples among the export industries in the 1970s, continued to play an important role through the 1980s. As South Korea's comparative advantage in labor became increasingly subject to challenge from developing economies in Asia and elsewhere, however, planners looked to even greater social investment in high technology fields, such as materials science, biotechnology, electronics, and aerospace, and to an economy that would become technology-intensive sometime during the 1990s.

Growth in the service sector, comprising real estate, supply services, entertainment, the hotel industry, and other services, continued in the late 1980s, outpacing increases in manufacturing. The number of workers in service industries increased by 8 percent between 1988 and 1989, amounting to more than twice the rate of increase in manufacturing-sector employees during the same period. In the first half of 1990, the total number of workers in manufacturing declined for the first time since the early 1960s. In 1990 the Economic Planning Board, concerned over this trend and a projected shortfall of 69,000 new manufacturing workers for the year, announced its Industrial Manpower Supply Program. The program was designed to stem the exodus of skilled manpower from manufacturing industries by offering long-term workers preferred admission to college and university night-school programs. The government also prepared to use tax penalties and higher utility rates to slow the growth in what it viewed as unproductive "consumption industries."

As South Korea continued to industrialize and urbanize during the 1980s, the agricultural sector drifted into stepchild status. Official support for rice prices dropped behind the rate of inflation in the mid-1980s as Seoul attempted to reduce government costs. Urban growth contributed to a series of problems. Young people were sent to the cities for education or left the farms to seek employment and left behind a smaller and increasingly older farm population. Young bachelor farmers had greater difficultly in finding wives willing to undergo the rigors of rural life. Productivity gains failed to keep up with changes in population, leading to greater imports of wheat and soybeans. Rising land prices caused by the housing squeeze and commercial and industrial construction gave an impression of increased farmers' assets, even as modern machinery costs and increased use of consumer credit contributed to higher farm indebtedness. Tenancy increased from 21 percent to more than 30 percent during the decade, as urban investors and the larger scale farming encouraged by the government absorbed increasingly scarce and costly farm lands. Average farm incomes had fallen well below urban incomes by the end of the decade. By 1990 many farmers could agree with the statement of the founder of a matchmaking center for bachelor farmers that it was "time to turn the government's attention to farmers' life and welfare."

Part of increasing farm indebtedness during the second half of the 1980s was used to finance consumer durables that brought farm families closer to national standards, even as the gap between rural and urban incomes was increasing. A 1990 report of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries indicated that more than 90 percent of rural households had refrigerators, electric rice cookers, and propane gas ranges. Even more significant were major increases in rural ownership of consumer goods, such as telephones and color television sets, which served to link rural families with national and international developments and issues. Such linkage, in turn, may have contributed both to an increasing awareness of the growing rural- urban gap and to the politicization of farmers' movements in response to foreign pressures to liberalize agricultural markets.

In political life, South Korea began the 1980s with an old pattern. For the third time in two decades, a military leader or former military leader declared a state of political crisis, rewrote the constitution, and drove prominent civilian politicians from government through farfetched legal charges or under the guise of "political purification." Re-elected president in electoral college voting in February 1981, former General Chun Doo Hwan consolidated his control through dominance over the court system, use of the state security apparatus, and tight restriction of the media. By the second half of the decade, however, Chun's government had lost considerable political capital. In the National Assembly elections of 1985, Chun's Democratic Justice Party was able to retain control of the legislature only through a system of proportionality that converted its scant 35 percent of the popular vote into 54 percent of the seats. Polls taken in 1986 showed that only 41 percent of people queried expressed confidence in political leaders and that less than 50 percent of respondents were satisfied with the kind of society in which they lived. Dissatisfaction with government control of the media was especially strong and was evident in newspaper editorials and a popular campaign to withhold payment of compulsory viewers' fees to the state-run television network.

The gradual reemergence of banned political figures, such as Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam, began in 1985 and culminated in the full restoration of political rights to all former politicians in a political compromise between the ruling and opposition political parties that followed severe civil disturbances in June 1987. Subsequent events marked a watershed in South Korean politics. First, the government removed virtually all restrictions on the media. Next, in late 1987, the Constitution was revised--the first constitutional revision since 1960 that was drafted through a process of multiparty discussions. The 1987 revision promised substantial changes in the unequal power relationships among the three branches of government that had prevailed at least since the inception of the yusin constitution in 1972. Under the new fundamental law, the president lost the power to rule through emergency decrees and to dissolve the legislature. The National Assembly gained new rights to investigate state affairs, to hold longer annual sessions, and to approve Supreme Court appointments. These and other constitutional provisions pointed to more potential autonomy for the legislature, the court system, and for the constitutional review of legislation.

The presidential election of December 1987 placed a former army general, Roh Tae Woo, of the ruling Democratic Justice Party in the Blue House, or presidential mansion. A minority president, he won only 36 percent of the votes cast. Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung, who together accounted for 54 percent of the votes, accused Roh's party of election fraud, while apologizing to the public for their failure to agree between themselves on a unified opposition candidacy. The charge of fraud on a scale great enough to have swung the election was undermined at the time by the fragmentary and anecdotal evidence presented and by the insistence of each of the two Kims that he was the one who would have prevailed in the absence of government misconduct. In 1990, however, the government admitted to one serious legal breach--the diversion of more than more than US$14 million dollars from the 1987 national budget to support Roh's election campaign. For some observers, it remained an open question whether other large-scale irregularities may have occurred, or what further steps the government might have taken to ensure victory had the two major opposition candidates been unified.

In the National Assembly elections held in April 1988, the ruling party lost a working majority for the first time in South Korea's history. The new balance of forces in the legislature made a reality of the separation of powers provided for in the new Constitution when opposition assembly members joined forces to reject President Roh's first appointment for chief justice of the Supreme Court in the summer of 1988. Through the rest of 1988 and 1989, additional signs of the new order were seen in the distribution of committee chairmanships among the ruling and opposition parties and in the process of compromise, as floor leaders of the four principle parties periodically met to negotiate working agendas for the legislature and its committees. As 1989 ended, Roh's party was engaged in secret negotiations with two of the three opposition parties to bring this process of compromise under firmer control.

As a result of these talks, Roh's party merged with Kim Young Sam's Reunification Democratic Party and Kim Cong-p'il's New Democratic Republican Party to create a new Democratic Liberal Party (DLP) in January 1990. Some observers likened the resulting coalition to Japan's Liberal Democratic Party. Each of the former opposition party leaders clearly hoped to become an important power broker within the ruling party and perhaps also to become the party's candidate for the 1992 presidential election.

In the short term, the formation of the DLP provided the president with a substantial majority in the National Assembly, while politically isolating his most uncompromising political opponent, Kim Dae Jung. Seen in longer-term perspective, the merger curtailed the broader processes of compromise and cooperation in the National Assembly that had included even Kim's Party for Peace and Democracy (PPD) in 1988 and 1989. It further put the new ruling party in the awkward position of having to pass important legislation in the absence of opposition politicians, who boycotted the legislature on several occasions during 1990. The merger also complicated factional politics within the ruling party and raised the question of whether the president could make good on his promise to revise the Constitution.

Although politicians were permitted to change parties under the 1987 Constitution and related laws, Kim Dae Jung immediately labelled the move a "coup d'état against representative politics" and called, unsuccessfully, for new elections. A small number of legislators from Kim Young Sam's party also objected to the new super-party and eventually formed the small Democratic Party. Kim Dae Jung's isolated Party for Peace and Democracy spent much of 1990 and early 1991 fulminating against the DLP and attempting to embarrass the government politically by boycotting National Assembly sessions or attempting to resign. The disengagement of the PPD often seemed to leave it marginalized and unable to contribute to major legislation or even to influence issues in which it had an immediate political interest, such as the scheduling of small district local elections in March 1991.

Awareness of the costs of intransigence may have prompted a more moderate approach in the second half of 1991. In private talks with President Roh in September, Kim Dae Jung successfully lobbied for several regional development projects in the Cholla region.

By mid-1991 the DLP coalition was beginning to show signs of strain, brought about by differences over questions such as the timing of the upcoming 1992 presidential and National Assembly election and disagreement over how the party's presidential candidate would be chosen. On most such issues, Kim Chong-p'il and President Roh formed a mini-coalition within the party, opposed by Kim Young Sam and his followers. Competition for the party's presidential nomination reintensified after National Assembly elections in March 1992, in which the DLP won slightly less than fifty percent of the seats. The DLP was able to recover a bare majority by absorbing several members who had run as independents.

Kim Dae Jung's party encountered major defeats in local elections in March and June 1991. It subsequently absorbed small numbers of opposition lawmakers, becoming in turn the New Democratic Party and finally, under Kim's joint leadership with Yi Ki-t'aek, the Democratic Party (DP) in September. The DP, which included some members from outside the Cholla region, continued to fight the ruling DLP across a variety of issues, including tax and budget policy, hyperinflation in urban land prices, and corruption. Like the Kim Young Sam faction within the DLP, the DP also opposed possible revision of the Constitution to create a parliamentary system of government. In National Assembly elections in March 1992, the DP won a respec; table 31.1 percent of the seats.

Outside the world of the parties, other features of political life changed during the 1980s. Professional associations and interest groups, long under the domination of the state, began to strive for more autonomy. Farmers' associations--traditionally little more than mechanisms for communicating government policies--began to proliferate and to protest trade liberalization measures. Professional associations of university teachers, journalists, and lawyers also became increasingly outspoken on political issues. The major business conglomerates-- chaebol--sought a greater role in economic policy formation. The voices of industrial associations were heard more clearly as the respective economic ministries began to gain influence within a less centralized state planning structure. At the fringes of politics, an extremist wing of the leftist student movement conducted sporadic violence through the 1980s. The violence peaked in dozens of arson or Molotov cocktail assaults against government offices, commercial establishments, police boxes, and United States diplomatic and cultural facilities in late 1988 and 1989.

South Korea's diplomacy during the 1980s, while remaining oriented toward the West, also aggressively pursued closer ties with China, the Soviet Union, and East European countries. Trade with these countries, obscured by Seoul's nonpublication of the relevant import-export statistics, continued to grow throughout the decade, and was matched by a variety of other contacts, culminating in the participation of the Soviet Union, China, and all the major East European countries in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. These efforts, which South Korea termed pukpang chogch'aek, meaning "Nordpolitik" or northern policy, were intended to diversify the country's global trade relations and to give Seoul greater leverage in its difficult relationship with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea).

Seoul's northern policy alone would probably have accomplished little without the dramatic liberalizing reforms in East European countries, which made it possible for South Korea to establish diplomatic relations with all nations of Eastern Europe by the end of the 1980s. The opening of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in September 1990 followed a series of high-level bilateral meetings in 1989 and early 1990.

South Korea's two-way trade with communist countries increased by one-third in 1990 to reach an estimated US$5.6 billion. Increased trade relations with the Soviet Union followed closely on the heels of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, driven by Moscow's perception that South Korea could play an important role in the development of the Soviet Far East. As with other East European countries, South Korea's exports to the Soviet Union were heavily concentrated in electrical and electronic appliances. During 1990 and early 1991, news of bilateral exchanges, civil aviation agreements, and pending commercial deals between the chaebol and the Soviet Union filled the South Korean press. By the end of 1991, South Korea had paid or approved slightly more than half of a promised US$3 billion package of loans, commodity credits, and project assistance to the Soviet Union, and it was expected that Seoul's aid program would continue with the new Commonwealth of Independent States.

Trade with China, which began with quiet transactions in the late 1970s, was estimated to have reached US$1 billion in 1985 and more than US$5 billion in 1991. The importance of the Seoul- Beijing economic relationship was demonstrated in the establishment of trade offices with limited consular functions in the two capitals in October 1991 and a trade agreement two months later, in which South Korea and China exchanged most-favored nation status. The political component in such trade remained prominent, as evidenced in Seoul's tolerance for sustained balance of payments deficits. In the case of trade with China, such deficits grew from US$1.2 billion in 1989 to a projected US$2 billion for 1991.

Probably because China remained more sensitive than the Soviet Union to North Korea's reactions, progress in moving toward diplomatic relations between Seoul and Beijing was slower than the moves establishing formal trade ties. In the mid-1980s, the two countries had increased quasi-diplomatic contacts to include a number of negotiations to resolve a series of sea and air incidents, and China also permitted South Korea's attendance at international conferences and meetings of United Nations organizations in China. The two countries also participated jointly in a variety of athletic competitions and sports exchanges. In September 1990, China extended courtesy diplomatic status to South Korean athletic officials attending the Asian Games in Beijing; and by mutual agreement senior diplomats in the trade representative offices held formal diplomatic immunities and privileges under the Vienna Convention, reportedly performing consular as well as commercial duties. Beijing sent a vice foreign minister to the Seoul meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in April 1991; South Korean-Chinese discussions during the meeting provided the highest level official contact to that date between the two countries. In May 1991, when it became clear that China would no longer support its North Korean ally by vetoing South Korea's membership in the United Nations, some observers believed that the two countries had moved even closer to establishing formal diplomatic ties.

Over the past two decades, South Korea's relations with North Korea have been characterized by alternating periods of tension and dialogue. A joint communiqué issued by the two countries on July 4, 1972, agreed to continue discussions concerning political and military questions and confidence-building measures to be implemented through a North-South Coordinating Committee and Red Cross channels. Through the 1970s, however, further discussions stalled as each side reaffirmed its position in an effort to claim and retain the initiative and to deny legitimacy to the other side.

In early 1980, the two countries for the first time referred to each other by their official names and agreed to work toward prime ministers' talks. By the following year, negotiations stalled again after P'yongyang made a number of political demands on the Chun Doo Hwan government--including withdrawal of United States troops from South Korea--as a precondition for further talks and also sponsored an abortive attempt to have Chun assassinated by two Canadian gangsters. A second attempt--a bombing in October 1983--failed to kill the South Korean president but killed four cabinet ministers and thirteen other officials during a state visit to Rangoon, Burma. In 1984 Seoul rejected P'yongyang's proposals for three-way talks that would have included Washington but excluded South Korea from key discussions on military topics. Bilateral discussions during the same year concerning a joint Olympics team failed to achieve results in time for the Los Angeles Olympics in July.

After South Korean acceptance of North Korean rice, cement, and medicine for southern flood victims in September 1984, the two sides conducted talks and some exchanges on a range of issues for a sixteen-month period through early 1986. These discussions in the mid-1980s were sometimes acrimonious and frequently interrupted, each side presenting proposals, as one observer noted, that almost seemed intended to provoke rejection by the other or to play to the galleries of world opinion. In retrospect, however, it can be seen that the mid-1980s discussions were successful in establishing institutions for dialogue on both sides and in laying down multiple channels of contact and communication that continued to function through the early 1990s.

A series of talks to reunite families separated by national division and the war took dozens of Red Cross representatives and even more journalists from each side across the Demarcation Line during three visits in 1984. In September 1985, several dozen North Koreans and South Koreans met with separated family members, and a similar number of folk art performers from each side gave concerts in the two capitals.

In the area of economic cooperation, vice-ministerial level conferences met at P'anmunjom on a number of occasions during 1984 and 1985, exploring for the first time specific trade, transportation, and other joint projects. South Korean and North Korean legislators met twice in July 1985 to explore political issues. Bilateral discussions began in 1984 concerning a North Korean proposal to cohost the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. After an interlude following the North Korean bombing of a South Korean airliner over the Andaman Sea in November 1987, Olympic talks continued through mid-1988, when they broke down in disagreement over the number of games to be hosted in P'yongyang.

The two Koreas continued to talk past each other concerning broader political issues during much of 1988 and 1989. President Roh's July 1988 proposal for freer contacts and expanded exchanges between the two Koreas and the eventual establishment of a Korean commonwealth was met with North Korean reiteration of Kim Il Song's 1972 proposal for a transitional Democratic Confederal Republic of Korea. Meanwhile, Seoul began to disclose the existence of a quiet trade relationship between the two countries and in early 1989 allowed a major industrialist to travel to P'yongyang to discuss additional forms of economic cooperation. North Korea generally welcomed these steps but also continued to demand abrogation of South Korea's National Security Act, under which Seoul prosecuted several unauthorized South Korean travellers to North Korea.

An important breakthrough in relations between the two Koreas began in 1990, which saw the beginning of a series of prime ministerial talks. Held alternately in Seoul and P'yongyang, these garnered substantial publicity but little progress until mid-1991, when it became clear that Seoul had won China's support for its plan to have both Koreas simultaneously admitted to the United Nations. The event took place in September. During the fourth round of prime ministers' talks in P'yongyang in October, the two Koreas agreed to work on a nonaggression accord. This document, the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchange and Cooperation, was signed in Seoul on December 13, 1991. It took effect in mid-February, 1992, at the time of the sixth round of prime ministerial talks in P'yongyang. In late December 1991, the two Koreas signed a separate agreement barring either side from having or using nuclear weapons.

Although the new agreement was in itself a landmark, observers noted that it was essentially a promissory note, in which the two Koreas pledged to cease negative actions toward each other and to continue to work toward resolution of several important issues. These issues included a declaration of nonaggression, a separate peace treaty, and measures to promote free travel and correspondence. The question of mutual inspection of nuclear facilities, which South Korea held to be of overriding importance, still was being discussed by working-level negotiators in late March 1992.

South Korea's relationship with the United States increasingly was focused on bilateral economic issues, spurred by a current account surplus that began in the mid-1980s and increasing United States pressures to open South Korean markets for agricultural and industrial products as well as telecommunications and finance services. These issues posed a problem not only for South Korean diplomacy, but also contributed to often tumultuous domestic criticism of Seoul whenever it appeared to show signs of weakness in negotiations with Washington.

An important issue in South Korean-United States relations during the 1980s was the joint security relationship. This relationship not only encompassed technical issues such as the size, composition, financial support, and legal status of United States forces stationed in South Korea, but also included a psychological dimension because of the popularly perceived role of the joint United States-Republic of Korea Combined Forces Command in the brutal killings of civilians in Kwangju in May 1980 during the coup d'état of Chun Doo Hwan. Facts surrounding the Kwangju incident--deliberately distorted under Chun Doo Hwan's martial law authorities--remained unclarified until the United States government issued a detailed statement on the subject in 1989. The statement, prepared in response to a South Korean National Assembly query, showed that the United States had not approved the coup and that the troops used in Kwangju in 1980 were not under operational control of the Combined Forces Command but had taken their orders from South Korean army authorities under General Chun.

The Korean War permanently enhanced the role of the military in South Korean society and politics as well as in the defense of the nation. Although South Korean military officers did not seek to intervene actively in politics under the rule of President Syngman Rhee (1948-60), the coups d'état of generals Park Chung Hee in 1961 and Chun Doo Hwan in 1980 demonstrated that some elements in the army believed that the nation's security demanded periodic corrections in the course of politics as well as preparedness against North Korea. The army's influence on society and politics during the 1980s continued to be seen in the laws that prevented the news media from freely covering political- military issues, the mandatory student participation in the college-level Student Defense Corps, the custom of preferential placement of retired senior officers in the civil service and in state-run corporations, and in the frequent practice of punitively drafting students expelled for demonstrating against the government. At an even broader level, harsh discipline within the military probably provided the most significant political socialization for the more than 75 percent of South Korean males who served in the regular army, the reserves, or the Homeland Reserve Force.

Many of these practices were the subject of reforms outlined in the Ministry of National Defense White Paper in 1988, when the Roh administration abolished the Student Defense Corps and made efforts to standardize conscription practices and to provide some protection to the rights of recruits. As opinion surveys conducted in 1990 indicated, however, the public continued to support reforms that would improve conditions of service, eliminate preferential placement of retired military officers in the civil service, and move military installations away from populated areas. In the same year, the government promulgated additional regulations intended to reduce the more severe aspects of military life and protect the basic rights of recruits.

As the 1990s began, however, some observers believed that change in many military practices would come slowly. One of the most outspoken criticisms voiced in a South Korean army publication in 1990 was by an army major general who charged that "a trend characterized by assaults, abusive language and torture prevails in the barracks." He called upon the army to reform itself to regain the trust of the public. The charges were given additional credence two months later when a former marine corps officer was convicted on charges of torturing a subordinate. In October 1990, the minister of national defense was relieved of his position after a former undercover agent of the Defense Security Command disclosed that the military counterintelligence organization had continued to maintain dossiers and conduct surveillance on some 1,300 prominent civilians, including politicians, clergymen, and journalists. The government pledged its efforts to return the Defense Security Command to its original function. The following year, however, the government admitted as true new media charges that the DSC was investigating several student activists.

Under President Chun Doo Hwan's force modernization program, military spending increased dramatically during the 1980s, exceeding estimated North Korean military spending during most of the decade and nearly doubling to US$10 billion a year by 1990. As a result of improvements in the defense industrial base that began in the mid-1970s, 70 percent of the equipment and weaponry used by the armed forces was being produced by domestic defense industries by the late 1980s.

At the end of the 1980s, the armed forces numbered about 650,000. The army continued to divide responsibilities among three commands. The First Army and the Third Army defended the country from the threat of North Korean attack in their positions along the Demilitarized Zone. The Second Army, positioned well south of Seoul, was charged with logistical and training responsibilities and managing the military reserve system. Some of the country's forward defense was also provided by the marine corps, which was charged with defense of the Han River estuary and five islands located close to North Korea. Specialized army units, such as the Capital Defense Command, defended the seat of government, while the Defense Security Command in Seoul was responsible for military counterintelligence and monitoring politics within and outside of the military.

The air force expanded its fighter squadrons during the 1980s, operating almost 700 combat, transport, and training aircraft under its three commands. In wartime, it assumed control of civilian airports and sections of major highways adapted for use as runways. During the 1980s, the air force added the F-16 and the Republic of Korea-United States coproduced F-5 to its fighter inventory. The smaller navy also modernized during the decade, focusing on antisubmarine warfare and the deployment of new, domestically produced submarines, frigates, fast-attack craft, and patrol boats.

In 1990 Roh moved the headquarters of the army and air force (with navy to follow) to Taejon in an effort to promote more effective interservice cooperation and more efficient command and control of the armed forces during wartime. In 1990 the armed forces began a three- to five-year plan to reorganize the command structure. Under the Armed Forces Organization Act passed in July and promulgated in October, the joint chiefs of staff system in use since the Korean War would be replaced with a more centralized Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters in which operational control of the military forces would be centralized in the hands of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The new Joint Chiefs of Staff structure was designed to give Seoul a wartime command structure separate from the United States- Republic of Korea Combined Forces Command.

Fundamental to the restructing was the separation of the operational and administrative functions immediately below the minister of national defense. Under the reorganization, which took effect on Armed Forces Day, October 1, 1990, the minister of national defense defined military policy, consolidated planning, and allocated resources. The newly invigorated Joint Chiefs of Staff had the authority to employ military units of all the military services, including task forces organization for joint operations. Unified operations, strategic planning, intelligence, and logistic directorates consolidated functions previously controlled by the separate services, and the service headquarters were reduced to maintenance, support, logistics, personnel, and administrative functions. The services were to have reduced intelligence organizations, but most of their intelligence assets were to be transferred to the newly created Joint Chiefs of Staff Defense Intelligence Command.

The 45,000 United States troops in Korea included a small contingent at P'anmunjom with the United Nations Command, some 32,000 United States Army members under the Eighth Army, and 12,000 United States Air Force personnel under the Seventh Air Force. Military issues relating to the Combined Forces Command and other topics were discussed in annual bilateral Security Consultative Meetings and in other joint talks. In April 1990, the United States Department of Defense announced a program to shift gradually the United States military presence in South Korea to a smaller and more supportive role as international political conditions and strengthened South Korean defense capabilities permitted. As part of this program, the United States and South Korea also agreed to disband the United States- Republic of Korea Combined Field Army and to separate the Ground Component Command from the Combined Forces Command during the 1991-1993 period. The two countries further agreed to appoint a South Korean senior officer as commander of the Ground Component Command and to replace the senior member of the United Nations Command to the Military Armistice Commission (MAC)--who had been a United States officer since the signing of the armistice in 1953--with a South Korean general. The appointment of a South Korean army major general to the senior MAC position was made in March 1991.

At the twenty-second Security Consultative Meeting in November 1990, Seoul agreed to increase its financial support for United States forces stationed in South Korea from US$2.7 billion in 1990 to US$2.8 billion the following year. This figure includes valuations for contributions in real estate, logistics support, discounted costs, and tax. Other issues discussed included Seoul's requests for eased United States restrictions on its exports of coproduced military hardware and improved terms for United States Foreign Military Sales to South Korea. Discussions also occurred concerning possible reductions in the Team Spirit exercise in 1991, in part because of United States military commitments in the Persian Gulf.

In January 1991, South Korea and the United States signed a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) governing the legal position of United States forces in South Korea. This agreement, the first major revision of the 1966 SOFA, expanded Seoul's jurisdiction to cover all kinds of crimes involving United States personnel--not just felonies--and required the United States to guarantee the presence of United States criminal suspects before South Korean courts. Other provisions of the agreement concerned customs procedures and the disposition of property no longer used by United States forces in South Korea.

In 1991 President Bush announced that the United States would withdraw its nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula, and later in the year, in a statement accepted by United States authorities, President Roh Taw Woo declared that the country was free of such weapons. In 1989 the United States had stated that North Korea had a plutonium reprocessing facility theoretically capable of supporting nuclear weapons development. By mid-1991 United States, Japanese, and South Korean estimates held that North Korea was much closer to producing a nuclear weapon than previously realized. By the end of the year, North Korea, which had signed the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1985, still had not set a date for on-site inspections of nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In the joint statement issued after the close of the twenty-third United States Republic of Korea Security Consultative Meeting in November 1991, both countries declared that they had "agreed to postpone the second stage reduction of United States forces in Korea until such time as the North Korean threat and uncertainties of developing nuclear weapons have disappeared and the security in this region is fully guaranteed." This fact meant that withdrawals would stop once United States forces were drawn down to the 36,000 target for stage one. It was also confirmed at the meeting that the United States Republic of Korea Combined Field Army would be dissolved and that a Korean general would be made Combined Forces Command ground component commander in 1992, further decreasing the United States Profile.

March 31, 1992
William R. Shaw

Data as of June 1990



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