Mutual defense ensures Korea’s safety and successIn 1948, South Korea had no proper military to defend itself against the North, which had a force of 200,000 troops. Given its vulnerability, President Syngman Rhee made signing a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States a top priority for the sake of the of survival of the newly-formed country.
U.S. Ambassador John J. Muccio resisted the push, saying that the U.S. had never concluded a mutual defense treaty with another country since President Thomas Jefferson’s time. In June of 1949, the U.S. withdrew its troops from South Korea, despite strong opposition from Seoul.
On Jan. 26 of the following year, the U.S. concluded the Agreement on Mutual Defense Assistance with Seoul in a bid to soothe the nation’s anxieties. However, the treaty had no real teeth and South Korea was left without a military deterrent force to prevent an invasion from the North.
South Korea faced the serious possibility of disappearing from the map when the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950. But President Rhee quickly won U.S. military assistance under the banner of the United Nations. The war situation turned in the South’s favor in less than three months thanks to the Incheon landing operation on Sept. 15. However, when the war came to a standstill after the Chinese military intervened, Rhee put the brakes on a hasty decision to sign the armistice by raising the conclusion of the Agreement on Mutual Defense Assistance with the U.S. as a condition. The truce talks that initially took place in July 1951 reached a deadlock until 1953. The U.S. government tried to withdraw the U.S. Army and make the United Nations responsible for enforcing the armistice on the peninsula. The U.S. had the hidden intention of taking a hands-off policy toward the problems of the Korean Peninsula.
On June 16, 1953, Rhee used a brinkmanship strategy by promulgating the release of 27,000 prisoners without the consent of the United Nations commander in chief. Rhee proclaimed that Korea was betrayed twice by the U.S. - first when the U.S. let Japan annex Korea in 1910 and again when the U.S. allowed the division of the Korean Peninsula in 1945. He shared his complaints with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Walter S. Robertson, and urged the U.S. to conclude a mutual defense treaty with Korea.
The U.S. faced the choice of carrying out their plan “Everready” - which involved toppling President Rhee - or complying with Rhee’s request.
The U.S. decided to sign a Mutual Defense Treaty on Aug. 8, 1953, guaranteeing the automatic intervention of the U.S. Army in Korea if war breaks out here again. Rhee was pleased that future generations would enjoy the protection of the U.S. Indeed, to this day we owe him thanks for helping lay the foundation for Korea’s current prosperity and security.
*The writer is the dean of the school of liberal arts at Kyung Hee University.
By Huh Dong-hyun