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Cooperation and conflict mark a 50-year alliance

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Jan 06,2003
The U.S.-South Korea mutual defense alliance, formed immediately after the 1950-53 Korean War, has evolved along with U.S. strategy in the region over the last half-century. The Mutual Defense Treaty between South Korea and the United States, the legal basis of the alliance, was signed in the spring of 1953, shortly before the armistice suspended the war. Syngman Rhee, the South Korean president, risked trouble with his UN allies by freeing anti-communist POWs in an effort to protest the cease-fire being negotiated by Washington. The United States, thus, signed the mutual defense accord to appease the South Koreans, whose ultimate desire was not a cease-fire but a victory over the North and reunification of the peninsula. If it agreed to a cease-fire, the South Korean leadership reasoned, the freedom and security of the South must be guaranteed. In 1954, Washington began large-scale military and economic support to the South. U.S.-South Korean military relations hit their first major snag in 1969, when the Nixon administration drafted the "Guam Doctrine," which placed the primary responsibility for immediate self-defense on South Korean forces. A second predicament came in 1976 when the Carter administration considered withdrawal of U.S. troops from the peninsula. Under the Guam Doctrine, the U.S. 7th Infantry Division and its 20,000 troops left the South; another 6,000 soldiers left under the Carter administration. Alarmed by the troop reductions, President Park Chung Hee resolved to strengthen the nation's defensive power. Seoul began developing missile and nuclear weapons programs, despite strong U.S. objections. A serious conflict was touched off. The Reagan administration's hard-line policy toward the former Soviet Union and its allies, including North Korea, during the 1980s reaffirmed Washington's commitment to the peninsula. The alliance between Seoul and Washington, however, was no longer seen as unilateral U.S. military and economic aid to the South; the relationship had evolved into more of a partnership. South Korea began covering most expenses of the United States Forces Korea's presence and paid for many improvements to U.S. military facilities here. Several incidents have coincided recently to fuel resentment of the U.S. military presence here. Questions about a possible massacre of South Korean civilians by U.S. forces in the early stages of the Korean War at Nogeun-ri were raised in 1999. Strong protests over a U.S. bombing range at Maehyang-ri took place the following year. This year, anti-U.S. sentiment reached a new peak after two GIs involved in an accident that killed two South Korean girls were acquitted by U.S. courts-martial. Progress in inter-Korean relations since the June 2000 summit in Pyeongyang has also played a part. As Seoul has tried to reach out to the North, the Bush administration's hard-line policy against Kim Jong-il's government has chilled U.S. relations with both halves of the peninsula.
by Kim Min-seok
January 06, 2003




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