US Conditionality, “Going for Development,” and South Korean
Security and Democracy in the 1960s
South Korea is today viewed as a success story for outward-oriented policies and export
led growth. Of all the less developed countries practicing import substitution industrialization
in the 1950s, in1960-80 only South Korea and Taiwan made dramatic progress in transforming
themselves into practitioners of export-led growth.1 While the success of this transition can be
partly attributed to external factors -- the terms of trade in the 1960s shifted in favorable
directions for both countries,2 the world economy was growing relatively rapidly compared to
the next two decades, the government and economy benefited from its military effort in South
Vietnam, and relations with Japan were finally normalized, opening a new source of aid and
trade -- in the South Korean case the conditionality attached to US aid was effective in inducing
a series of changes in South Korean policy that helped to move the country onto a path of export
led growth. Because much of the archival evidence was not available until the 1990s, and
because Foreign Relations of the United States, the major compendium of declassified
documents, is not organized in a way that highlights the exercise of conditionality, it is not
surprising that scholarship that remarks upon the transformations in Taiwan and South Korea
often has little say about the role of US aid in effecting these policy changes.3 Once the extent,
aggressiveness, and success of US policy conditionality in Korea is grasped, it is also easy to
understand why South Korean officials would choose not to emphasize this aspect of the aid
relationship with the United State government.4
The South Korean case features an important shift in US operational goals. The shift
began about 1957, but became more pronounced in the late 1950s. The accession to power of
the Kennedy administration in 1961 was followed by even more dramatic changes in US
operational objectives, but it is impossible to apportion variance neatly between the change in
American administrations and the change in Korean governments. The shift could best be
described as “going for development” -- re-directing US aid flows and re-shaping the conditions
attached to them so as to achieve the maximum impact on economic development. That this
was done subject to a very important security constraint should not be forgotten, nor should the
continued importance of military aid from the United States be forgotten. However, the re-
direction of US policy away from maximizing military capability was substantial, and so were
its effects on Korea. To some extent these effects and the shift in policy were masked by the
Vietnam war interlude in which the dispatch of ROK troops into combat spurred substantial aid
flows that otherwise probably would not have occurred, but in examining closely the period
1960-66 one can observe the effects of policy on the US and the ROK independently of any
Along with the effort to reduce military spending, the US sought to guide the military
towards re-establishing civilian government. Democracy per se was not a prime US objective,
but the US attached considerable importance to fostering a stable, effective and responsive
South Korean government and moving towards a restoration of civilian rule, free elections, and
orderly transitions in governance. Unfortunately, almost no declassified material addresses the
critical question of the interaction between the military force goals and US governance goals.
In both domains the US adopted a posture of pragmatic activism. It was pragmatic in the
sense that it was flexible and adapted to what it saw as the inescapable political realities in
South Korea, but activist in that it was relatively uninhibited and aggressive in using the actual
or threatened reduction in aid flows to signal displeasure with various South Korean practices or
policy initiatives. In the 1960-66 period, the US usually succeeded in getting what it wanted.
The Legacy of the Korean War for US Aid Programs: Supporting the ROK Army
Explicitly military aid to South Korea prior to the war had been a very small portion of
that country's aid, but the fungibility of resources meant that even ostensibly non-military aid
enhanced the capacity of South Korea to field an army. After 1953 US military aid was much
larger: The U.S. supported a Republic of Korea army of 20 divisions (and 730,000 soldiers) in
1956, at that time the fourth largest in the world.5 Partly because of its large financial commit-
ment, partly because of fears about the intentions of the Rhee government to march north, and
partly because of the legitimacy and legacy of the UN Command presence, the South Korean
army was under the command of the Commander in Chief, UN Command, invariably an
American. Thus, the US exercised direct operational control over these forces in a way that was
unique (though in the case of coups or political turmoil it was always an open question whether
that control would be effective or how it might be exercised).6 Along with other aid, the US
financed $120-130 million of the Korean military budget of $225 million in CY 1956.7 (By
comparison, at that time the US paid 100% of the Lao military budget; 5% of the Thai budget;
17% of Taiwan's; 5% of the Philippines’, and 84% of South Vietnam's.)8
These forces were not intended solely for defensive purposes. Soon after taking office,
John Foster Dulles argued that he did not want to limit the mission of South Korean forces:
In NSC 170, “U.S. Objectives and Courses of Action in Korea,” which called for the United
States to build up and maintain the defensive capacity of the ROK armed forces pending a
political settlement in Korea, Secretary Dulles recommended that the Council delete the
adjective "defensive". He argued that it was not easy any longer to differentiate between
offensive and defensive arms, and he did not wish to support the limitation suggested by the
present phraseology.9 In 1953, Dulles was pleased when the South Koreans increased their
army from 17 to 20 divisions.10 However, over the next three years he decided that the large
South Korean army did not serve any real deterrent purpose because US military strength
provided the fundamental security for South Korea. The importance of the South Korean army,
Dulles argued, was "largely psychological."11
Others were less willing than Dulles to abandon very large ROK forces. The Van Fleet
mission to the Far East of 1955 proposed a strategy of building up the armies of some US clients
to use in a campaign against the Chinese at an opportune time:
Our defeat is unnecessary. There are large indigenous material and human
resources in the area which can be developed and harnessed in the event of
hostilities with Red China. Twice we let slip the 'decisive strategic opportunity'
of subtracting Communist China from the Soviet orbit, and thus beginning the
rollback of Communist power in Korea and Indochina. When Chinese
communist aggression starts again, as it undoubtedly will, we must be prepared
to strike back and seize that strategic opportunity. ... Considered separately, the
problems of Korea, Formosa, Japan and the Philippines appear insoluble except
through ultimate defeat; for these countries are in the line of march for
communist conquest. On the other hand, considered as a regional area, linked to
US influence and power, they have assets of great present value, and even greater
Admiral Arthur Radford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the mid-1950s, likewise
opposed any reduction of ground forces, and seemed to have views on the ultimate necessity for
a military show-down with China that were similar to Van Fleet's.13
US aid to South Korea in FY 1955-57 averaged $940 million per annum,14 not including
expenditures for two US divisions, airbases for U.S. aircraft, and U.S. surface-to-air missile
installations. It is the total US in-country expenditure, and not US "economic" aid, that is
important, since both governments desired that South Korea maintain a large military, and
neither was strongly interested in economic development, as opposed to keeping civilian
consumption at politically safe levels. Thus, as was noted by the Draper Committee,
With an agreed force goal and military budget, the proportion of the host govern-
ment's revenues allocated to military support must, of necessity, be relatively
high if US aid is attributed largely to non-military uses. ... In other words, an
increase in US aid allocated for non-military purposes will merely shift the
military burden to the host government and will not necessarily increase avail-
abilities for economic growth unless, at the same time, the combined total of
resources available to the country is increased, or the size of the military budget
reduced. Given a relatively fixed military objective, an increase in total US aid,
not a shift in its attribution, is necessary if these countries are to achieve a rate of
growth which will enable them to bear an increasing share of the military burden
without sacrificing other necessary activities.
For the Far East countries, the possibility of obtaining these additional
resources from sources other than the [United States] D[evelopment] L[oan]
F[und] is slim.15
A contemporary estimate of South Korean gross national product for 1956 was $1,860
million.16 With US aid accounting for half of South Korean GNP, the economy still grew at a
rate of only 3.5% per annum. With population growth of 1.8% per annum, this yielded annual
per capita income growth of 1.7%. (The US government later calculated the annual 1958-62
increase in GNP to be only 2.5%, with an annual population growth rate of 3%. That implies
that per capita incomes were falling.)17 According to Lowell J. Chawner,
On the assumption of the continuance of these rates and no appreciable increase
in the level of consumption per capita, it is estimated that at least 20 years would
be required before Korea would be able to attain a level for domestic production
for goods and services adequate to compensate for the present level of assistance.
These assumptions, of course, are unrealistic, particularly the likelihood that
political and social conditions would be satisfactory during a period of two
decades in which no improvement in living conditions occurs. In any case, it is
obvious that the maintenance of the present military and political posture in
Korea will require massive aid for a very long time.18
Chawner cited South Korea's poor natural resource base, the severing of trade with North Korea,
its meager capital stock, and its dense population as factors impeding economic growth. He
tactfully omitted mention of the Rhee government's refusal to normalize relations with Japan,
that same government’s corruption, or the US aid strategy of maximizing military strength
subject to economic constraints (principally, securing a level of civilian consumption that
matched the pre-war (1949) level, but also maintaining price stability), rather than "going for
growth" subject to security and price stability constraints. (Although unemployment and under-
employment were estimated to be running at about 35% as late as the beginning of the 1960s,19
this issue received little attention until the Kennedy administration). As early as 1955, senior
ICA officials were pointing out that the US was not making any progress in getting Korea on
path of "future stability and self-support." ICA head John Hollister told the National Security
Council that the US must either reduce its aspirations, or else “increase our expenditures if
[Koreans] were ever to be in a position to stand on their two feet." In reply,
Gov. Stassen said . . .in view of the fact that the struggle between the free world
and the Communist world was likely to be fought in the future in the area of
internal subversion rather than in that of overt aggression, it was more important
than ever to pay attention to the problems raised by the OCB report. This might
mean that we would proceed to cut down military force goals which had set up
for countries like Korea, and substitute for them new guidelines more in keeping
with the character of the struggle which we were likely to face. The President
replied that Gov. Stassen’s point was part of a much larger problem. To this
Gov Stassen answered that there was an obvious need to indicate clearly that we
are shifting to a new form of the long struggle against Communist totalitarianism.
The President said that on this point, at least, he couldn't agree more.
Sec’y Dulles commented that the biggest single difficulty that the US
faced in administering its assistance programs was the unwillingness of many of
these countries who were beneficiaries genuinely to rely on the deterrent power
of the striking force of the US. What they wanted were visible military forces on
their own soil. We therefore had to educate the peoples and government to the
effectiveness of our deterrent, and to convince them that this deterrent will work
even if they have much smaller mil forces of their own. This might well, for
instance, apply to Korea. Sec’y Dulles warned, however, that we couldn't hastily
change the situation in Korea by urging a sudden reduction of the level of S
Korean forces to a point where they could be more nearly supported by the S
Korean economy. Sudden action of this sort might well break the morale of S
Sec’y Wilson counseled building more reserve divisions in S Korea and
reducing number of active divisions. He cited figures which indicated that the
US was putting into the South Korean economy each year a sum equivalent to the
GNP of South Korea. No wonder there was 25% inflation. We must take a look
at this situation especially in view of the new Russian economic challenge.20
These comments reflect a recognition of the problematic implications of continuing to
support very large ROK conventional forces. Although the Eisenhower administration is often
depicted as being obsessed with preventing additional Korea-style wars, their understanding of
the security threats facing South Korea was a good deal more sophisticated than that.
US officials not only valued improved economic performance for its beneficial effect on
South Korea and the level of US aid, but also because it would help to neutralize the powerful
and negative demonstration effect of superior North Korean economic performance:
The President expressed himself, in terms of bitterness and disappointment, that
after all the careful plans that had been laid to rehabilitate South Korea, the
Communists were actually doing a much more impressive job in the
rehabilitation of North Korea. ... What he wanted, said the President, was not
merely food, but houses, hospitals, roads, bridges, and the like, so that the South
Koreans would feel they had some stake in peace and would not be prone to
resume hostilities if President Rhee were to break his promise to us and try to
lead his people into another war. In sum, said the President, he wanted all limita-
tions taken out, and he wanted the [National Security] Council to tell Governor
Stassen to do whatever was necessary to assure that the South Koreans remained
on our side.21Similar concerns about the negative consequences of superior North
Korean economic performance were expressed in the Kennedy administration:
“Agencies generally agree that indefinite continuation of economic stagnation in
[South] Korea will seriously jeopardize political stability, may ebb away military
strength over a period of time and hazards increasingly adverse comparison with
North Korean growth, which is substantially higher.”22
By the mid-1950s, it was becoming apparent to US officials that they would either have
to reconcile themselves to a very lengthy period of very high aid levels, or else alter their
politico-military objectives in South Korea.23 Ambassador Walter Dowling met with Clarence
Randall, Chair of the Council on Foreign Economic Policy, on his Far East 1956 trip, and told
[W]e cannot maintain the Korean military establishment at its present strength
and at the same time provide for the minimum of economic development
required for political and economic stability with an aid program of the present
magnitude. To attempt to do so will, in my judgment, mean that we shall fall
short of our objectives in both fields. To put it another way, the alternatives are
that we much either re-assess our objectives or be assured of substantially larger
aid funds, both military and economic.24
Randall's own conclusions from this and other conversations were similar:
It is essential, therefore, that economic development programs go forward as
rapidly as possible, so as to build up the economic capabilities of the country and
reduce the amount of assistance required in the future from the United States. ...
In the absence of a substantial increase in private foreign investment, either the
military program will have to be reduced in order to make more aid available for
economic development, or additional funds will have to be appropriated.25
Dowling had also told ICA that it was time to shift the aid program from relief and rehabilitation
to development. He suggested that insufficient attention had been given the Korean balance -
of-payments problem and the necessity for South Korea to finance almost all of its imports by
US aid. (As late as 1961 90% of South Korea’s imports were thus financed).26 However, he
did not recommend any significant changes in US economic aid, and actually called for greater
military assistance (partly for increased pay for the troops).27 Dulles by this time thought that
the US would be able to reduce substantially its aid to countries such as South Korea and
Turkey, but that the big obstacle to doing so would be “getting these countries to accept such a
program without tearing things to pieces because we had not related our program to the
psychological repercussions it was bound to cause in these friendly countries.”28
Proceeding from the Cabinet consensus noted above, in 1957 the Eisenhower admin-
istration at "the highest levels" launched a concerted effort to induce the South Koreans to
reduce their army, proposing a reduction from 20 to 16 divisions and a corresponding reduction
in US aid levels. The annual Mutual Security report justified this decision in terms of the
“modernization and increased fire power of US forces in the area,”29 omitting mention of the
need to divert aid to spur economic development. The US also suggested that further reductions
might ultimately be made to 11 active divisions. This was accompanied by beginning to reduce
overall aid and to de-emphasize supporting assistance for maintaining a large military, and
emphasizing instead aid programs intended to foster development.30 However, the withdrawal
of Chinese troops from North Korea in 1956-59 was not the occasion for a corresponding
reduction in the size of US or South Korean forces.31 The record of the opinions of the Joint
Chiefs about this change is not as clear as their earlier statements, but the civilians agreed that
reductions were wise. Informed elite opinion also supported such a shift: The 1959 Draper
Committee recommended that the US aid be used to help South Korea move to a greater
reliance on reserve divisions. It could then de-activate divisions “at the rate of one or possibly
two per year beginning in calendar year 1960 and continuing until a minimum required active
army division strength of not less than 12 has been reached.”32 In 1959-60, the South Korean
government agreed to reduce troop strength to a ceiling of 600,000, but a 19 division force
structure was retained.33
The policy dilemmas facing the US in any decision to reduce the funding for military
forces in South Korea were concisely captured in an analysis prepared by the Bureau of the
Budget on precisely this question:
1. Scale down military forces and programs to increase the prospects that
economic development can go forward without serious
a. Would decrease serious economic burdens in countries such as
Pakistan, Korea and Vietnam and allow greater
share of domestic and US aid resources to go into
b. Would allow a more selective approach to military forces, smaller,
more mobile heavier armed forces, more
immediate readiness through higher active-duty
strength of remaining units. Forces and programs
better designed for the particular country Defense
requirements could be developed.
a. Would decrease effectiveness of military forces which are a
serious deterrent to communist aggression, e.g.,
b. Reduction of military programs or forces would meet with intense
political resistance in most countries, e.g., Korea
and Taiwan, and upset present close relationships.
c. Countries might attempt to compensate for aid reductions by
increasing defense budgets, with undesirable
2. Scale back economic development activities so that more local resources
can be used to help toward assuring a more effective
military effort. (This would involve reversing priorities in
current basic NSC policy.)
a. Would allow development of more effective indigenous forces,
possibly with less need for US mobile forces.
b. Would increase morale and determination of countries on
a. Would seriously jeopardize fulfillment of US policy of
stimulating economic growth.
b. Would increase long-run costs because there would be no trend
toward country self-support.
c. Might result in serious political instability as economic aspirations
of people were thwarted.
(Note: A third possibility, in theory, is to supplement proposed economic and
military programs, with additional US financial assistance -- as for example, to
assist in budget support or to supply consumable imports to ease inflationary
pressures. This approach is not feasible because of the current tight budgetary
situation which faces the administration. In addition, it is very unlikely to be
saleable in the Congress.)34
Although later analyses added many details to this picture, they did not alter the basic outlines.
The choice between development and security was viewed as a thorny one. The huge US
strategic nuclear superiority of that era did not translate into easy confidence in the capacity of
the strategic deterrent to deter an attack on South Korea, but the size of the conventional forces
if nuclear weapons were not used was a burden to South Korea and the U.S. It is also
interesting that a well funded force was perceived as an enemy of a high quality one -- more
mobile, with a higher level of readiness, and missions and plans more appropriate to the
individual country. The latter benefits were seen to flow from reducing military assistance
funding. This may have been because US military assistance would be reduced proportionately
less than the reduction in forces, thus ensuring that the remaining forces were better equipped.
The Fall of Rhee and the US Reaction
In 1966, as the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was deepening, former Ambassador to
South Korea Samuel Berger wrote a history of the changes in Korean policies following the fall
of Rhee and the coup against Chang Myon. His motivation, which drew heavily on his
experience while Ambassador, was partly hortatory: He argued that although the United States
was facing a very difficult situation in Vietnam, the situation that it had faced in Korea had
earlier been thought to be quite difficult, too.35 Since the latter situation had turned out
relatively well, the clear implication was that American decision-makers should not be daunted
by the immense task facing them in South Vietnam:
South Viet Nam is vastly more complicated than Korea. But there are some
parallels and it has been suggested that there may be some lessons of value in our
Korean experience of creating a viable and effective government.
Berger's view of conditions in Korea in 1966 now seems too rosy, particularly his assessment of
contemporary political conditions. He argued that, "A military coup government has
transformed itself into one based on free elections and constitutional processes, commanding
popular acceptance as a legitimate government[,]" a verdict which, in light of the subsequent
history of South Korean politics, appears simply wrong-headed. However, his assessment of
improvements in economic policy and performance, as well as his judgment that the post-coup
regime in South Korea was willing to tackle problems that the Rhee or Chang governments had
not, was more accurate (though, as we shall see, he seems to have deliberately down-played the
extent to which the change in Korean policies actually occurred before the coup and his tenure
The U.S. government increasingly turned its attention to South Korea as Rhee's regime
weakened and fell. Within the Eisenhower administration there was general agreement on the
need to spur greater economic development, reduce aid, and make the South Koreans more self-
reliant. However, disagreement over the appropriate size of the South Korean military and the
appropriate level of American support for it continued until the very end of the Eisenhower
administration. A briefing note prepared for a December, 1960 NSC meeting on Korea stated
that, "[Splits on the Planning Board] all turn on the key issue of the size of the ROK armed
forces and the extent of U.S. military assistance required for those forces."36 (At that time the
US did support a cut in the size of the ROK forces from 630,0000 to 600,000). Although Chang
Myon had won election on a platform that promised to reduce the South Korean army by
200,000 soldiers, and had tried once in office to reduce it by 100,000, his efforts to make this
larger cut were opposed rather than supported by the US.).37
Rhee's departure was followed by a period in which the elected government of Chang
Myon unsuccessfully attempted to steer South Korea in a new direction. Chang, "in response to
US pressures and incentives," instituted a number of "fundamental economic reforms,"
the effects of which had not been fully felt by the time of the coup. Unrealistic
exchange rates were revised. Transportation and utility rates were increased.
Positive actions were initiated to ameliorate unemployment.38
The “pressures and incentives” to which Berger alluded were contained in the “Dillon Package,”
an October, 1960 letter from the Under Secretary of State Dillon to Chang Myon. Dillon offered
$172 million in aid, but required the ROK to reform its exchange rate, to raise significantly
public utility and transportation rates, and to resolve problems related to effective use of aid.39
The problem was that the Chang government did not enjoy the level of political support
that it needed to push through measures which disadvantaged the previous beneficiaries of
Rhee's policies. A Special National Intelligence Estimate of 21 March concluded that
On balance, the Chang government has achieved certain limited goals but has not
sparked any broad degree of public enthusiasm or support. As the government in
power, it bears responsibility for the absence of significant political or economic
advances. Well aware of increasing nationalist feeling, Chang has sought to
avoid becoming too closely identified with the US. This has been difficult,
however, as the government has recognized the necessity also of cooperating
with the US on the solution of its economic problems. Although the Korean
public probably does not regard Chang as a US puppet, it almost certainly
believes that, under his government, the US has taken a more direct hand than
previously in the conduct of the government's economic affairs and that the US
therefore shares responsibility for existing economic conditions. . . . [T]he ROK
will continue to be plagued by formidable economic and political problems, and
the long-term outlook for the ROK is bleak.40
Berger’s assessment was less complex and more personal: the fundamental problem was that,
"Chang Myon never understood power or how to use it." The State Department similarly was
dismayed by what it saw as a lack of “forceful leadership,” “serious weakness in moral fiber,”
and “graft and corruption on scale equaling if not excelling that during moral nadir of Rhee.”
[Y]outh and intelligentsia most Asian countries are in no mood in latter 20th
Century to continue stomaching “typically Asian” accommodation to graft,
nepotism and apathy of past centuries; and history has shown that they are more
ready to accept the high costs in human values exacted by communism (even
when these are understood fully, and all the more when they are not) than we
tend to find credible before the fact. When sufficiently revolted by apathetic
drifting and by illegal gains for the elite, the totalitarian aspects of communism
appear less fearsome and its austerity and determined purposes may become
positively attractive, in the hunger for national material progress leading, they
hope, to national dignity at last. You will be able to draw on your uncommonly
thorough knowledge of the antecedents to the China mainland collapse in
troublingly recurrent theme in post-war Asian realities. Unfortunately we are
having similar problems in Laos, Viet-Nam, and in varying degrees elsewhere.41
Berger’s memoir is consistent with this view, though it is not clear whether he is speaking about
events in Seoul or in Washington:
By the spring of 1961 the enthusiasm which had greeted Chang's election had
turned into gloom and frustration. Faith in democracy was rapidly evaporating.
The drifting and disarray which was apparent on every side produced a growing
fear that communist influence would soon take hold in the South.
In this atmosphere it was apparent that sooner or later one or the other of
the military groups which had been seriously thinking of a military coup ever
since the last years of Syngman Rhee would make a bid for power. One of these
groups did strike in a bloodless coup on May 16, 1961.
Berger described the May coup leaders as nationalistic officers who had avoided contact with
the Americans (though he noted that some -- notably General Pak and Kim Chong-p'il -- had
studied in military schools in the US.) Although some of their views were troubling -- their
interest in reunification of Korea, their hostility to Japan, and their willingness to experiment
with heterodox economic policies -- they took actions in a number of areas which met with
approval from Berger and the US government. As noted by Berger,
a. They cleaned up the littered streets of the major cities. They removed
squatters' huts and shops from the main streets. They brought order and
discipline into the anarchy of city motor traffic, and started a driving safety
campaign. They built playgrounds for children and cleaned up and beautified the
b. Partly built public buildings which had been under desultory construction for
years ... were quickly finished, with army engineers in charge or directing private
Major reforms were swiftly undertaken:
a. Six weeks after the coup the country's several electric power systems were
unified under a central management and a rational rate structure introduced -- a
reform long advocated by US AID Mission advisors.
b. Military officers accustomed to order and command were installed in dozens
of faltering, derelict, idle, and usually heavily subsidized public enterprises -- a
fertilizer plant, a school book publishing corporation, a cigarette factory, a steel
mil, a foundry, a ship-building yard, etc. Most of these responded to the
c. In a drive against corruption, the pay of civil servants was substantially raised,
and a number of civil servants were fired and a few jailed as a warning to others.
d. A score of Korea's leading business men were jailed as profiteers and tax
evaders, and released only after agreeing to pay very large sums and fines to the
government. (One business man had amassed a fortune of $75 million in ten
years, and others were not far behind.) As a by-product the military leaders
learned their first mission in economics -- that business does not run without
business men, and with this their zeal for these arrests quickly cooled.
e. A country-wide reform against usury in agriculture was introduced two
months after the coup ... . This reform, too hastily conceived and not too well
thought out in detail, was far from successful, but it did impress many farmers
that for the first time a government was trying to do something for the average
farmer. They were further impressed when the government used military
transport to deliver seed and fertilizer in time for planting.
f. Long advocated reforms in university education, urged on successive
governments by American and Korean advisors, were put through -- again with
excessive haste and they had to be partly modified subsequently.
g. A notable reform which ended in failure and had to be abandoned after one
year because of bad planning, hasty improvisation, poor leadership and because
the numbers involved were too ambitious was the National Construction Corps,
modeled after our CCC, to provide for jobs for the hordes of unemployed youth
who roamed the city streets.
Innnovative measures were taken to make government more efficient, producing some
a. Supervisory civil servants and, at one stage, Cabinet Ministers, were
compelled to take courses in public administration. Later a Foreign Service
Institute was built (with Asia Foundation help).
b. A Central Plans and Statistical office was created on the national level.
It is instructive to compare this list with Washington’s operational objectives prior to the
coup. An April 1 telegram from the State Department to Seoul, and a June 13 NSC Action offer
two slightly different versions of those objectives:
a. National planning, both economic and social, on practical concepts, with effective
participation by leading Korean personalities and promising younger people. Planning activities
to be supported by public information program.
This April objective was retained in the June NSC Action.
b. Energetic, non-political promotion of National Construction Service as a matter of greatest
This objective was dropped from the June NSC Action.
c. Removal of police from politics and promotion of its morals and esprit de corps as dignified,
self-contained public service agency.
d. Civil Service reform.
These two objectives were stated slightly differently in June, but essentially retained.
e. Continued emphasis on tax reform, including equitable and effective collection.
This was not included in the June Action.
The June NSC Action included three objectives not mentioned in April:
f. Consideration of the preconditions for the eventual return to civilian rule;
g. Assurances that the new regime does not interfere with CINC-UNC in the discharge of its
h. Protection of the rural population against the exorbitant interest rates of the money-lenders.42
Not surprisingly, given the similarity between the list of US objectives and the list of
Korean actions, Korean opponents of US aid charged that US was "interfering" in the operations
of the government, infringing Korean sovereignty, and treating South Korea as a client state.43
That these charges were “somewhat irrational,” as outgoing Ambassador McConaughy claimed,
is doubtful -- most US citizens would react similarly if told that a foreign power had pressed
such policy changes on the US government, even if they approved of many of them.44
Washington assesses the post-coup situation
When the Kennedy administration took office, it held a critical view of US aid policy.
The administration critique of the Korean aid program was the same as its general critique of
U.S. aid: it "emphasized stopgaps. If there was famine you provided food, but you didn't look
beyond that to what you should do about the food problem."45 A heavy reliance on financing
consumer goods imports was thought to feed corruption. "The new emphasis should be on long-
range economic, political and social development."46 The accompanying political critique was
that the State Department had been too reluctant to exert conditionality. In Korea and elsewhere
we have seen the costs of State’s essentially passive policy, which argues that we
must live with these governments as we find them, because the risks of pressing
them in directions we think more productive are too great. But in those client
states where we regard the situation as critical or nearly so, the costs of inaction
are often greater than the risks of over-reacting. . . . In all too many of these
cases it is the new Administration which has to pick up the pieces.47
This critique was not entirely accurate, if only because the Dillon Package, as well as some
earlier interventions, involved the exercise of conditionality in precisely the way that the
Kennedy administration favored. However, on the issue of reductions in military assistance, the
incoming administration was poised to do more, and to take more risks, than its predecessor.
The coup leaders were eyed warily by Washington. A Special National Intelligence
Estimate on "Short term prospects in South Korea," concluded that
South Korea's coup leaders are a new and different breed from the civilian and the
more senior military people with whom the US has had the most contact. Their
authoritarian and nationalistic stamp suggests that they will be less receptive to
US guidance. Furthermore, they will be tough, determined, and difficult to deal
with. They will probably continue South Korea's alignment with the US,
recognizing their country's dependence on the US, but at the same time will seek
to assert South Korea's independence in military, economic and political affairs.
[2 lines deleted].48
The SNIE was pessimistic about the likely achievements of the new leaders, arguing that
The coup group will probably inject a new sense of drive and discipline into the
ROK Government's economic and administrative efforts, and may make some
headway, especially in curbing corruption. However, in view of the magnitude of
the problems the new leaders are inheriting and are themselves creating, we
believe they will not make much progress, and, because of their inexperience and
a probable reluctance to accept outside advice, may make matters even worse.49
The US commander in Korea, (and commander of the UN forces), General Carter
Magruder, told the new government that
my mission was to defend Korea, not to determine what kind of a government
Korea had. I explained each of my important actions in the past based upon
carrying out my mission of defending Korea. I sought by implication to make it
crystal clear that as long as the revolutionary government took no action that
would prejudice the defense of Korea they had nothing to fear from me.50
This espousal of a hands off policy towards Korean politics was not entirely candid, because
Magruder had attempted to have several officers, including the one who met with him, removed
from the ROK Army because they were “agitators.” (The officer in question was removed in
January, 1961, but reinstated following the coup). The US had some forewarning of the coup
and was also aware that high level South Korean government figures were aware of preparations
against the government but were doing little to suppress them. Magruder’s own
Counterintelligence Corps had even conducted crude public opinion surveys within a day of the
coup that revealed majority support for the action, so his stance of ostensible neutrality was less
improvised than first appears.51 It also was consistent with known Joint Chiefs of Staff guidance
to US forces in Korea about how to respond to a coup attempt. That guidance was to remain
neutral if a coup were launched by pro-US forces, but to release ROK troops under US command
to the government to aid in the suppression of the coup if so requested. (If pro-US coup leaders
requested release of ROK troops, the matter was to be referred to the Joint Chiefs of Staff). The
US commander was authorized to suspend elements of the Military Assistance Program (such as
petroleum shipments) if the situation warranted. He was also supposed to use that program to
“continue current US support for pro-Western ROK Armed Forces and Government,” though
how he was to do that was not specified.52
Drought had led to food shortages in January, and the US had responded with alacrity by
stepping up deliveries of surplus food. (The US also supplied food aid directly to ROK military
units as a way of supplementing their low salaries).53 Given public criticisms of the high food
prices that linked them to US pressures for revision in the exchange rates and increases in utility
prices, the US might have been especially sensitive to the need to head off public disaffection.54
Administration staff also began in April to discuss sending a special aid mission to South Korea,
more than a month before the coup.55 However, this was in the context of a general Kennedy
administration practice of creating ad hoc missions to report on the aid programs for other
countries in the Far East (the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand).56
The administration was concerned not to send too cordial a set of signals to the Koreans.
In guidance cabled to Seoul, McConaughy advised that
Department not particularly inclined to issue further circumstantial policy and
operating directives at this time unless you feel the need of such additional
detailed guidance. Such guidance would almost inevitably have effect of
cementing close relations with new regime and thereby increasing their
confidence that they can count on full US support, at a time when various
disturbing actions taken by them indicate that they should be kept under some
indirect pressure from us and in some suspense as to our future course. Possibility
that General Chang may pursue application to come to US for consultations is a
further reason for refraining from more detailed negotiations at this moment. We
are also influenced by adverse results General Magruder's May 23 meeting with
General Pak Chung-hui, amounting to ROK refusal to return ROK armed forces
to operational control of CINCUNC.
If you nonetheless feel that you need more comprehensive guidance at this
stage, you should so indicate, setting forth any new operational areas in which you
believe Departmental instructions would be useful. Bear in mind that we believe
we can best test bona fides of regime by observing their actions in response to
representations made by you and General Magruder and that we would not want to
take any new initiatives at this stage which might embolden them to withhold
actions responsive to our known wishes.57
Probably because events subsequently moved very quickly, the administration created a Task
Force on Korea to create a plan of action without having had the time to dispatch an aid mission
first (the terms of reference for the aid mission were included in the Task Force's report).
The Task Force report to the NSC on 5 June conveyed caution and wariness:
[T]he US is now confronted with an authoritarian, military regime, flushed with
success in staging a bloodless coup, with strong nationalistic motivations
compounded with opportunism, and committed to strong action against all
challengers to maintain itself in power. ... Since the military Supreme Council for
National Reconstruction now appears to be firmly in control of the Republic, the
United States has no alternative except to try to work with it for the time being,
and seek to win its leaders' confidence in an effort to channel their dynamism and
emergency powers toward constructive ends. This will call for a careful blend of
friendship and firmness, encouragement of Korean responsibility and initiative,
and a demonstration of US readiness to contribute significant additional
assistance, coupled with determination to withhold such assistance if necessary to
force appropriate Korean action. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that
the tenure of the present leaders of the Supreme Council is by no means assured,
and they may have to reckon with pressures from irresponsible and even more
extreme elements within their ranks.58
US aid was to be used to signal the conditionality of U.S. support. The situation did not require
any large infusion of American money: "Large scale additional US financing is not required on a
“crash” basis and might act as disincentive to the Koreans in solving their own long term
problems." Instead, the U.S. should concentrate on "resolute and even dramatic US actions in
selected areas to demonstrate a break with the somewhat sterile past." "The new emphasis of the
American aid program on long-range economic, political and social development" would not
only "give the people a sense of purpose and hope but also to impress on their skeptical new
leaders the further contribution which the US can make toward the solution of their problems."
As already noted, many of the reforms that the Task Force proposed merely continued
previous US policy. Other recommendations, however, were long-range and politically quite
Korean society needs new cultural values to replace its earlier Chinese heritage
outmoded by the cataclysmic events of the last several decades. A blending of
traditional concepts and values with modern social and political aspirations could
yield a new national philosophy with specific goals and provide a dynamism
which would ensure their realization.
The United States should encourage the evolutionary process of social
change lending specific support where possible under programs of cultural
exchange. In its encouragement, special attention needs to be paid to the
intellectuals. The process, the form and the results, however, must be Korean.
The effectiveness of US influence is likely to be determined as much by the
restraint and humility of its exercise as by its substance. ... Korean education, still
heavily influenced by the Confucian tradition, stresses liberal arts and philosophy
to the detriment of the natural sciences, industrial arts, administration, and the
social sciences. It should be drastically revised, reoriented and modernized if it is
to prepare Korean youth adequately for contemporary life. This will require
Korean determination to effect change and US technical assistance on an
extensive scale for a period of years. At the secondary level, emphasis should be
focused on the extension and improvement of vocational schools to train Korean
youths in the trades and other mechanical arts. In the classical high schools, there
is an urgent need to emphasize the basic sciences now largely neglected in their
curricula. The aid-administering agency should assess skill and manpower
requirements and undertake an expanded program of assistance in education to
meet fundamental needs. At the same time, it should recognize and respect
Korean national sensitivities which may center increasingly on the education
These suggested interventions amount to cultural engineering: the replacement of
allegedly outdated Confucian values by a more instrumental set of concerns focused on economic
development. They would not involve conditionality, and would not be expected to produce
short-term results. They also were expected to engage Korean “national sensitivities” -- not
surprising, since they amount to the contention that Koreans must detach themselves from their
traditional culture if they are to assume their proper place in the current world system.
The discussion of the Task Force Report at the NSC meeting on 13 June revealed doubts
among high-level officials about whether South Korea could ever become a viable state.
However, two measures were seen as helpful to the Koreans and within Washington’s capacity to
influence: the improvement of relations between Japan and South Korea, and support for efforts
to reduce corruption within South Korea. By this time, the President had become inured to the
necessity of dealing with the junta. When General Decker suggested that the US demand the
return of control of the armed forces and the country immediately to senior officers "rather than
to a bunch of lieutenant colonels," John Kennedy disagreed, expressing the opinion that the US
had no alternative except to deal with the people in power.59 (However, shortly thereafter the
officials in the Korea Task Force discussed contingency planning for situations where the junta
fractured because of internal conflicts -- particularly a situation where one faction would attempt
to gain the upper hand by initiating reunification with the North.)60
Reducing the Size of MAP and the ROK Army
The timing of the upheaval in South Korea was fortuitous from the standpoint of the
Kennedy administration’s evolving views on aid, for the huge cost of the Korea aid program, its
weak performance as a spur to economic development, and the recognition by Washington that
the South Korean military was a millstone around the neck of the South Korean economy all
conspired to lead Washington to a much closer consideration of how and by how much South
Korean and US military forces on the peninsula might be reduced. The NSC staff believed that
the interest of Chang Myon in reducing the size of the ROK army would create an opportunity
for the US to increase the proportion of economic aid. But the failure of the Eisenhower
administration to secure larger cuts in ROK forces inclined them to conclude that “there are such
built-in resistances to such reorientation that, if it is to occur, it will require a command decision
by the President. Such a decision would have to be supported by public statements and private
conversations with the countries concerned to explain the philosophy underlying the shift in
emphasis.”61 Fortunately for those who favored this reorientation, the President was sympathetic
to their efforts.
After deflecting an early 1961 effort to boost substantially the Korean Military Assistance
Program as part of a general effort to signal resolve to Moscow and Peking by increasing the
program worldwide, the White House turned to the difficult task of reducing its investment in the
South Korean military.62 It had to do this in the face of opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
who contended that a 600,000 soldier ROK army and current US military assistance were the
“minimum acceptable” given South Korea’s current military security environment. The Joint
Chiefs recommended no changes in ROK force missions, U.S. and ROK force structure, or
military assistance.63 When in late 1961 Ambassador Berger recommended that the split
between local currency provided by the US for the South Korean government budget be altered
from the country team’s recommendation of 173 million hwan for military and 102 for civilian
activities to a division of 150-125, the commanding US general, Meloy, perhaps seeking to offset
this pressure, asked for an increase in the military allotment to 180-70. However, State and
Defense both ruled in favor of Berger in spite of considerable dissatisfaction within the ROK
military about the change in ratios.64
At a January 18, 1962 NSC meeting, Presidential instructions to conduct a major review
of the mix of economic and military aid in large country programs such as Korea, Greece, and
Turkey were codified into an NSC Action. The review was headed by the Director of AID, who
also served as the Chair of the Military Assistance Steering Group, the inter-agency body
responsible for making recommendations on military assistance programs to the NSC. It was
explicitly charged to evaluate proposals for lower levels of military assistance for each country.65
Walt Rostow hoped that recipients could be put on “an organized international long-term basis
and, in the course of doing so, make some real progress in getting the European contribution to
aid shifted over toward longer periods and lower interest rates.” For South Korea, the
“international basis” would be Japanese aid, which would not materialize until after a Japanese-
South Korean settlement led to a resumption of normal diplomatic and commercial relations.66
This policy shift was also motivated by Executive branch experience of increasing
difficulties in persuading Congress to fund aid requests. As Robert Komer suggested to the
President, the administration would have to “revalidate the basis for a continuing major aid
program” if it hoped to continue to secure appropriations sufficient to carry out key aspects of its
foreign policy: “the Alianza, shoring up the Indian subcontinent, cementing ties with the big
neutralists, and keeping afloat those military satellites (Turkey, GRC, Korea) which provide us
real military and intelligence assets at limited cost. Nor will we be able to sustain the kind of
effort in Southeast Asia which is now costing us well over half a billion a year.”67 This could be
done with an aid program that produced more economic development. “[R]eorientation of our
aid programs in countries receiving large amounts of military aid offers the most promising
possibilities for improvement in the total effort.”68 Elite opinion, represented by the 1963 Clay
Committee report on foreign assistance, was receptive to such a shift for Korea (as well as the
Republic of China) as long as the force reductions were gradual.69
AID Administrator Bell filed his report the following February. He argued that the
growing population of South Korea would become alienated from the government if it did not
experience substantial economic growth, concluding that
The problem of stability is basically internal and political, with the need for economic
improvement being a prime factor. Heightened Korean interest in greater economic
development support reflects the awareness of the ROK leadership on this score. The US
should take advantage of the interest to encourage progress in the economic sphere.
However, further demonstrable progress depends not only on increased US and third
country economic aid, but on greater availability of both public and private savings for
development, the direction of additional local budget resources to the civil rather than the
military budget, and most importantly, on the extent to which the ROK is willing to apply
these internal resources to development. In the absence of such progress, neither political
stability nor the public attitudes which must develop to maintain Korea as a dependable
military ally can be counted on in the coming years.
The security environment was supposedly seen by South Korea’s new rulers as permitting a
modest reduction in military effort, with a concomitant shift in resources to economic
The junta, in fact, seems prepared to sacrifice some military strength if necessary to
promote further economic development, and to expect proposals to this effect from the
US. ...They probably expect that a new move by the US toward further reduction of ROK
military forces will be accompanied by an offer of some additional economic assistance.
This additional assistance should be forthcoming, within the limits of our worldwide
commitments ... Such an attack is thus highly unlikely, unless reinforced by Chicom or
Soviet forces. In that event, prompt and extensive US reinforcement of the ROK would
be required. The [combined conventional and nuclear] deterrent should continue
Bell viewed the size of the shift in resources as constrained by renewed military dangers
or possible South Korean moves toward accommodation with North Korea. These could result if
(a) The effectiveness of US forces in Korea ... were reduced [significantly]; (b) ROK
forces were reduced to an extent that ... would require so early a use of nuclear weapons
to defend ROK as to either affect the credibility of the deterrent or eliminate flexibility in
US courses of action , e.g., attempting to get USSR pressures on the ChiComs to
withdraw; (c) the extent and speed of any combination of US/ROK/MAP reductions
jeopardized ROK confidence in the US.
Bell wished to maintain military forces adequate to prevent these outcomes from materializing.
For at least five to ten years, the US would have to maintain a substantial military effort, while
funding economic development projects for long-run results. “Immediate impact economic
programs” were not the answer.
The military reductions that Bell considered were the withdrawal of one of the two US
divisions, and two different reductions in South Korean forces: a modest cut-back of two
divisions, and a more ambitious reduction of eight divisions. His recommendations were to
forego the US withdrawal and the sizeable cut in ROK forces, but to implement the more modest
reduction in the next two years. After that time, the situation would again be assessed.
His stated reasons for preferring this proposal were numerous. Removing the US division
would create a number of difficulties:
* “The concomitant loss of 93 million dollars which accrues to Korea by virtue of the
presence of a division would be equivalent to reducing Korea’s export level by about
22%. Accordingly, an increase in supporting assistance would be required, a doubtful
possibility at best.”
* “Moreover, the Koreans might well increase their own defense budget at the expense of
the economic development which the US desires.”
* Acquisition of the necessary additional land in Okinawa for basing the withdrawn
division “would likely produce political repercussions which might militate against
continued US use of that vital base.”
* “The move would rouse strong fears of US abandonment and might be viewed by the
Koreans as the first step in a more extensive withdrawal.”
* “[T]he present regime would suffer a loss of prestige.”
*. “US/ROK command relationships in the UN command might be jeopardized.”
*. “[S]usceptibility would be increased to North Korean pressures for negotiations for
*. “Wile the withdrawal of a US division would probably not increase the likelihood of
communist aggression in Korea or elsewhere in the Pacific, it would impair the speed of
the necessary US response in the initial phases to such aggression. Lack of strategic lift
in the Western Pacific and the limited port and airfield facilities on Okinawa are the key
factors in this judgment.”
*. “The move to Okinawa would increase the present $9.3 million balance of payments
outflow for the division by $1.1 million annually, and the move would require an
additional one-time expenditure of $87 million, or $138 million if dependents were to be
A cut in South Korean forces from18 to10 divisions was projected to save the ROK $6 million in
FY 1964, rising to $32 million in FY 1967. It would also make it politically much easier for the
Executive branch to secure from Congress more funding for development assistance for the
Koreans. However, the case for modest cuts was deemed to be much more compelling:
*. Inducing the Koreans to make large cuts would “raise grave problems with the ROK as to
their confidence in us.”
*. A large reduction would create unspecified “internal problems affecting the internal
political stability of the ROK.”
*. It would “give the USSR/ChiComs reason to question the credibility of our purpose in
*. It would “somewhat increase the politico-military and subversive threat.”
*. In the event of war, Korea would “require US use of external nuclear forces at an
extremely early stage of hostilities.”70
The last issue speaks not only to the military mission of US conventional forces, but also
to political constraints on their missions. The reduction in US conventional capabilities that the
withdrawal of a division would entail was assumed to make it impossible “to conceal our intent
to move toward a primarily nuclear response to a Chinese Communist attack in Korea.” The
State Department viewed the political consequences of this as very expensive:
With respect to Korea itself, properly handled, the proposal might be politically
viable, but only if the president were to give what the Koreans would regard as a
firm and binding advance commitment to employ nuclear weapons at the outset of
any such attack. Such a commitment would of course present serious legal and
obvious political problems for any American president, including the problem of
validly binding his successors.
There is also the question of the UN command. The reduction of US troop
strength would almost certainly encourage the only two other contributing
countries -- Turkey and Thailand -- to withdraw their companies from Korea. . . .
From the standpoint of Japan, such an expressed or implied commitment
would present what are presently insurmountable political problems of
maintaining the ability to use our bases in Japan in support of the defense of
Korea. Given present Japanese public attitudes towards the use of nuclear
weapons, any Japanese government would, under present conditions, feel obliged
categorically to disassociate itself from support for any such strategy.
Even if it were militarily feasible to disclaim an intent to use Japan to
support a nuclear strategy in Korea it is inevitable that the whole question of the
role of Japan in cooperating with the United States in defense matters in the Far
East would be raised in Japanese internal politics. It seems clear that this could
only operate so as to reverse the present slow but favorable trend of Japanese
Bell’s proposal to pursue only modest cuts was thus much less risky than the more ambitious
reductions. However, just how riskless it appeared is not fully appreciated unless one knows that
the US Ambassador was telling Washington that the ROK was already likely to reduce military
spending unilaterally, without more US aid being provided.72
With the expansion of US involvement in Vietnam, the agenda for military discussions
between Washington and Seoul changed substantially. Lyndon Johnson, like his predecessor, was
personally “much interested in possible ROK force cuts and in an ROK-Japanese settlement.”73
While the topic of reductions of the South Korean army nominally remained “under
consideration” in 1964, the issue disappears thereafter, replaced by US interest in South Korean
troops for South Vietnam.74 (A justification for a large ROK army that Bell failed to mention
was that since the Van Fleet mission some saw it as “an abundant source of low-cost military
manpower which, if we continue to utilize it fully, will continue to give greater strategic
flexibility to U.S. forces in coping with pressures elsewhere on the ChiCom periphery.”)75
The 600,000 Korean troop level of the late Eisenhower years remained the force level on
the eve of the 1965 Vietnam escalation.76 The US never was successful in getting the South
Korean government to reduce its government military budget -- such a reduction did not occur
until 2001.77 US troops in South Korea increased slightly in 1964, but were reduced in June,
1965.78 (The US did not disclose these changes, but the South Koreans were suspicious of the US
reducing its commitment, and ordered police stations near US bases to collect information and
recruit informants to help them track changes in US troop levels.)79
The US discussions of the size of the ROK armed forces reveal a lack of consensus and
of intellectual clarity about the utility of these forces, their relation to the US nuclear deterrent,
and the balance of narrowly military and broader political considerations in the sizing of these
forces. The disparity in views is particularly pronounced in a Special National Intelligence
Estimate of April, 1962, where the requirements for successful deterrence of an attack on South
Korea were articulated: “As long as the Communist powers believe that the US will defend
South Korea, they will almost certainly not launch an overt military invasion.” This claim
spawned two dissenting statements. The first was by the Air Force representative: “As long as
the Communist powers believe that the US will defend South Korea with the kind and degree of
force necessary quickly to defeat any invasion, they will almost certainly not launch an overt
military invasion.” The second, by Defense Intelligence Agency, Army, and Navy
representatives, claimed that the chief deterrent was a "combination of the Communist belief that
the US will defend South Korea, present US-ROK military capability in South Korea and the
additional military strength the US can immediately bring to bear in that area." They opposed
reducing ROK forces because it would have “serious and unassessable consequences” for the
strategic balance in the Far East.80
The military’s arguments against cutting ROK forces or US assistance to them appealed
to a mix of narrowly military and broader political factors. For example, the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
in arguing against a cut in ROK forces, claimed that “[t]he net result of any significant reduction
of ROK forces below their present levels would be increased military risk in Northeast Asia;
lowering of US influence in Asia; decreasing the capability of keeping a limited war at a
nonnuclear level; increasing the requirement for the augmentation of US forces and shortening
the time by which these forces must be available; and encouragement of the communists to
undertake further aggression.”81 The comments about declining US influence and
encouragement of communist aggression are especially global and “political.” Likewise, a long
analysis of alternative South Korean force postures for the period 1962-70 prepared for the
Defense Department concluded that large cuts should not be implemented because they would
upset Pak's regime, increase political instability in South Korea, and have adverse repercussions
on US allies throughout East Asia, who would see in it a reduced US interest in their defense as
well.82 Finally, an even simpler justification for not cutting military assistance was provided by
General Van Fleet, who argued in favor of US support for the junta by stating that, "these are
good boys" and that "everything is going fine," and spoke approvingly of new Korean cabinet
appointments because they brought civilian bankers into key posts.83 These analyses are not
silly, but neither do they rely on any military expertise. It seems that general officers did not feel
constrained to offer only military justifications for their policy proposals, but it is not obvious
why others would take their analysis seriously when they justified policy on non-military
The final examination of Korean military assistance prior to the marked expansion of the
US role in Vietnam was chaired by Townsend Hoopes, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
for International Security Affairs, in early 1965. The Hoopes study explicitly recognized the
Sino-Soviet split as a factor in East Asian security. It argued that tacit detente between US and
USSR -- involving “mutual interest in restraining Peiping” -- and the “pervasive reality of the
Sino-Soviet split” had caused the Soviet threat in the region to recede; “these conditions have
also moderately degraded the near-term threat from Communist China. This is so because the
ChiComs cannot sustain large-scale military operations without Soviet material aid, and their
ability to take risks depends in part on Soviet nuclear protection. . . . [T]his strategic rivalry is
likely to continue without abatement during the period under study (FY 67-71).”84
Despite this evaluation of the strategic situation, the report’s conclusions about ROK and
US troop levels in South Korea were pedestrian: the recommended cut of three divisions (about
84,000 men), implied an ROK force of 500,000 (the same as that recommended by the extant
National Policy Paper on Korea). This was considerably less daring than the cuts discussed at
the end of the Eisenhower and beginning of the Kennedy era, when the notion of a Sino-Soviet
split was far more controversial.85 One source of their timidity was their doubt of the capacity of
the South Korean political system to absorb bad news. Although it viewed many leaders as
“able, industrious, and dedicated,” it concluded that “the stability of the present government is
not assured.” Quoting the April 1965 draft National Policy Paper,
Korean social and political behavior is characterized by a very high degree of
egoism, factionalism, nepotism, and corruption, and by a relatively weak sense of
public service or of loyalty to impersonal institutions. . . . The Korean
institutional framework, although gradually gaining in strength, is still regarded by
individuals in power as a tool to be freely used, or misused, to serve their ends. ...
The Opposition politicians, weakened by their factional rivalries, criticize
everything the government says and does, stimulating public distrust without
offering any meaningful alternative. Similar characteristics are found in every
area of Korean activity.
The economy was viewed as a bright spot, but one that still gave some trouble: “The economy of
South Korea is primitive . . . since the war, the performance of the ROK economy has been
mixed. Over the past two years the picture has brightened considerably. GNP has expanded at
more than 6% annually, and the basis for continued, self-sustaining growth may have been
developed.” Although noting that prospects for continued growth and for more aid from Japan
and European donors appeared promising, the Hoopes team was quite concerned about North
Korean economic performance: “In contrast with ROK performance, [North Korean] economic
success has been striking.” They quoted a recent National Intelligence estimate (NIE 42/14.2-65)
to substantiate its point
Although Pyongyang's claims are no doubt excessive and its statistics are highly
suspect, North Korea is probably outperforming the ROK by virtually every
economic index. Moreover, unlike the ROK, North Korea, which has apparently
not received major economic grants or development credits in the last few years,
seems to be financing its economic growth out of its own resources.
Although alluding to evidence that “North Korean growth is beginning to slow just as ROK
growth seems about to accelerate,” the study was candid in acknowledging that at present “the
PDRK is able to appear a far more dynamic society; and although the North Korean regime is
rigidly authoritarian, it is accepted and supported by its people. As the Joint Intelligence
Estimate for Planning (JIEP) for North Korea notes: ‘... the majority of North Koreans believe
their government to be honest and dedicated to national welfare.’ That estimate would be echoed
by a significant number of South Koreans.”
The team’s assessment of force levels was ostensibly mindful of US objectives. Although
humanitarian and economic interests were “of some importance,” the primary US interests, taken
from the National Policy Paper, were: (1) to maintain the ROK as a buffer and forward defense
position between Japan and Communist China; (2) to prove that the non-Communist approach to
nation building pays off; and (3) to demonstrate the dependability of US alliance commitments
and support. Specifically, this meant “the development of a strong, stable, and popular ROK
Government; economic growth averaging 6% annually, normalization of relations with Japan,
some progress toward unification, and an expanded ROK role in international relations,
particularly in the Far East.” An objective for military aid was "partial financing by the ROK of
its own defense forces, to the maximum extent feasible without jeopardizing attainment of
economic development objectives set forth in this paper."
The only military threat that the study credited was a large scale Chinese attack. The
threat of Communist subversion and insurgency appeared “limited in present circumstances. . . .
[T]the outcome of North Korean plans for the communization of the entire peninsula will
continue to depend more upon South Korea's success in solving its domestic problems than upon
what North Korea is likely to do." South Korea was judged able to withstand attack by the North
Koreans alone: “Excepting only the Air Force, ROK forces overbalance those of North Korea.
Although the proximity of Seoul to the DMZ imposes the difficult strategy of fighting to hold the
present line, it is clear that the North Korean forces alone could not expect to defeat the ROK.”
Why then was the Hoopes team so reluctant to ask for larger force reductions? Aside
from the obvious point that any reduction would weaken the military forces, they noted that US
“augmentation forces” would have to be allocated to the theater in roughly the ratio of one US
unit for every ROK unit eliminated. Because “the Koreans are not a confident people,” a force
cut imposed by the US “would raise questions as to the reliability of the US commitment”; the
ROK budget savings would not be large, since maintenance and operation costs per Korean
soldier “are extraordinarily low”; and a cut would tend to increase “the already large number of
unemployed and underemployed.”
The Aid-for-Troops Bargains of the 1965-68 Period
In March, 1964 former Korean Prime Minister Kim Hyon-chol informed Ambassador
Berger that the Republic of Korea might be willing to provide troops to assist the US and South
Vietnam "in carrying war to North Vietnam." The proposal was unofficial; nevertheless, once
informed of it by Berger, Foreign Minister Chong Il-kwon supported it and suggested ways in
which prohibitions hindering Korean troops from serving abroad could be overcome. The
Johnson administration, anxious to find allied support for the effort in Vietnam, welcomed the
offer. The two countries agreed that the US would underwrite the entire cost of the South
Korean effort, as well as paying for a medical unit and a tae-kwan-do training mission that the
South Koreans had dispatched earlier. The President of the United States even offered personal
assurances to the President of the Republic of South Korea that South Korean troops in Vietnam
would receive an adequate supply of kimchi, a spicy vegetable dish that is a Korean favorite.86
The US agreed to a South Korean request that their troops be paid from an unvouchered cash
grant in U.S. dollars. “Korean officials agreed with the United States request to do everything
possible to prevent disclosing that funding originated in the United States.”87 The arrangement
that was created gave the South Korean government budgetary support that offset 100% of their
deployment costs, while paying the troops generously by Korean standards, and thus allowing the
Korean economy to benefit from their remittances. The US agreed “to procure in Korea insofar
as practicable requirements for supplies, services and equipment for ROK forces in RVN and to
direct to Korea selected types of procurement for U.S. and RVN forces in RVN.”88
The South Korean troop commitment led the opposition in the National Assembly to
press the government to obtain one or more quid pro quos from the US government: A
commitment from the US to revise the 1953 defense treaty so that an attack on Korea would be
regarded as an attack on the United States; assurances from the United States that it would not
withdraw any of its forces stationed in Korea; a repeal or extension of time for completion of the
US program of transferring MAP procurement to normal Korean commercial suppliers, or an
increase in the level of MAP to compensate for the sharp decrease which had taken place in
recent years “as result of which the Korean forces were inadequately equipped even to defend
their own country, much less to go off to help in SVN.” Pak also sought US assurances that it
would assist a military pay raise, and enhanced trade with South Vietnam.89 The US responded
merely by making some minor changes in the MAP transfer program. When Pak visited the
United States, President Johnson offered to continue to help finance South Korean imports, to
provide $150 million in development loans over the next few years, and to continue food aid and
technical assistance, but these were programs that Washington privately been prepared to
conduct in any event.90
By 1968, when Cyrus Vance was sent on a special mission to Seoul in the wake of the
North Korean attack on Blue House and the seizure of the U.S. S. Pueblo, the US had adjusted its
status quo so that South Korean forces in Vietnam were taken as a given. When Vance returned
to Washington and met with the President and Defense Secretary Clark Clifford, he recounted
how he had responded when the South Koreans mentioned the possibility of withdrawing their
Clifford: Did you get any threat at all, even a veiled threat, about withdrawing
troops from South Vietnam?
Vance: The Prime Minister mentioned that the legislature might ask for that. I told
him very bluntly that we would remove our troops from South Korea if that
happened. The Prime Minister turned ashen. It really shook him.
Clifford: Then you think they are clear on that?
"Exerting United States Influence"92 in Re-Shaping South Korean Society
In light of more recent concerns about the relationship of US aid policy to the promotion
of democracy, it is striking that serious discussion of this question during the 1950s is found only
on the margin of the US national security bureaucracy. The International Division of the Bureau
of the Budget was responsible for monitoring foreign policy and national security programs, but
its interests were more than narrowly financial. In a memorandum for Bureau Director Maurice
Stans, Ralph Reid of the International Division articulated a point of view that became
increasingly common in the next decade as US involvement in Vietnam deepened:
A point on which I placed considerable stress last year involved the question of
whether or not we were underwriting the creation of military forces which might
in turn usurp civilian authority. In reviewing the question this year I have come to
feel that an equally basic question is whether we have assured ourselves of the
existence of adequate alternatives to the governments we are now underwriting.
As one swings around the arc of Asia and visualizes the governments we are
supporting -- Rhee in Korea, Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan, Diem in Vietnam, the
Shah in Iran, Saud in Arabia, Feisal in Iraq, Hussein in Jordan -- one is struck with
the fact that we appear to lack alternatives if the regimes are terminated.
Particularly in Iran, Iraq and Jordan, we appear as defenders of the status quo and
as the underwriter of regimes which may not necessarily rest on the consent of the
majority. Indeed, in the event of the assassination or death of any one of the three
monarchs, it is highly likely the under present circumstances any new regime
might represent a complete break with the past and with the United States as a
supporter of the past. The obvious problem is how to avoid associating ourselves
so closely with the current regimes that in the case of a change in governmental
structure we would find ourselves entirely without capacity to exert influence with
successor-- and conceivably more broadly based -- regimes. Similarly, an
abundance of caution is required to assure that we do not become so closely
associated with national regimes that we are unable to support the concept of an
Arab nation should this prove in our national interest.93
This analysis seems to have fallen on receptive ears, judging by the position that Bureau
of the Budget Director Stans took with the Draper Commission. He argued that the US should
try to hold down military aid by encouraging recipients to reduce their forces to a size commen-
surate with their own economic ability and the external threat, by encouraging them to rely on US
capabilities, and emphasizing police and constabulary forces for internal security.
Although the continuance of these programs at higher levels than contemplated by
the basic policy has sometimes been justified in political terms, I do not believe
we are taking adequate account of the political disadvantages: (a) the continued
threat to internal political stability of the economic burden of the forces; (b) the
political repercussions in neighboring countries; (c) the aggrandizement of the
officer corps and the creation of a military elite; (d) the possibility of coups
putting military forces and material at the disposal of anti-US or Communist
governments; and (e) the dangers of overt US association with local public safety
forces which may adopt extra-legal and repressive measures repugnant in a free
society. In more specific terms, if the above-mentioned national policy were to be
fully carried out, as I am convinced it should be, I believe it would possible (a) to
reduce substantially the forces we are supporting in the Far East, particularly in
Korea and Taiwan; (b) to reduce our commitments in the Middle East, particularly
in Pakistan and Iran; (c) to diminish our expenditures in Southeast Asia,
especially in Viet-Nam; and (d) to limit our expenditures in Latin American
countries to the level required for the support of internal security forces.94
Stans’ case for limiting military aid was tied to the desirability of preventing excessive military
influence over politics in the recipient country, and US identification with a military regime that
might impose repressive measures on its own population. However, these concerns were not
prominent in State Department, Defense Department or NSC discussions of the era.
The fall of Rhee occasioned Secretary of State Christian Herter’s June, 1960 view that
our performance in Korea was something to be proud of. Syngman Rhee,
although a great patriot, had gradually allowed his adherents to develop a great
deal of corruption and had permitted the police and the army to make the elections
a farce. In the context of the desirability of democratic governments the change
that took place in Korea was all to the good. However Sec’y Herter believed that
it would be difficult to achieve stability in a country which had a democratic
government and in which there were at the same time great disparities of wealth.
He was sorry to have to make such a gloomy report but he believed that the
revolutionary ferment in the world would be infinitely worse for the Free World
were it not for our overseas efforts over the years.95
Herter seemed to be suggesting that the overthrow of a corrupt and ineffective government, even
if legitimately elected, was ultimately beneficial from the standpoint of establishing democracy in
South Korea. In light of the contemporary judgment that one of the glaring weaknesses of the
South Korean political system was the lack of respect accorded the state’s institutional
framework,96 Herter’s judgment seems short-sighted. While impatience or dissatisfaction with a
democratically elected government that seems to deliver poor results might well result in loss of
support for the institutions of democracy, any actions that legitimate the use of force against
those institutions can hardly be very nurturing of democratic impulses.
By the mid-1960s, the US position had evolved to the point where it was thought
important that the South Korean government be “strong, stable and popular,”97 but none of these
traits requires democracy or is necessarily associated with it. Popularity would enable the
government to take unpopular actions -- to use up its stock of good will in policy decisions
necessary for economic development, but ones that would be politically costly. “Strong and
stable” governments would have the competence and determination to execute a development
strategy without having to make too many compromises with those who were disadvantaged by
it. Such a government would be an ideal partner for the United States if the US wanted to induce
that government to follow policies that had substantial domestic political costs. (Contrast, for
example, US assessment of the Chang Myon government with this latter normative vision).
Berger’s memoir spends little time discussing democracy. However, he does address
another, even more sensitive issue in his discussion of the revision of the Korean constitution.
This was described as a "pressing problem" (along with the holding of new elections and
reducing corruption) in a June, 1960 NSC briefing paper.98 Berger notes that
In the summer of 1962, the Pak government put to work on a new constitution a
combination of military and leading civilian lawyers and professors. The Korean
government selected two American constitutional lawyers from a list we provided
to examine the final drafts. The American lawyers had only minor criticism to
make of the constitution.
It is difficult to evaluate the significance of the involvement of the American lawyers, since we
do not know what would have had happened if their objections had been serious. Neither in the
Task Force report nor in any other declassified document that I have found is there any
discussion of what kind of constitution South Korea ought to have. Berger clearly was in favor
of the new constitution -- he liked the features that strengthened the executive and limited the
participation of leftist parties. However, there is no indication -- other than the generally
conventional nature of his views on other questions -- that he was speaking for more than him-
As for ensuring that the above program of recommendations for the Koreans would be
implemented, the Task Force on South Korea had a clear conception of U.S. strategy:
Experience has shown the effectiveness of sanctions, based upon withholding of
increments of economic aid, as a means of ensuring Korean performance.
Accordingly, United States influence should be reinforced by making economic
development assistance (as distinguished from supporting assistance) available in
increments which can be withheld in the event of Korean failure to carry out
agreed program. The technique of specifying by letter Korean actions mutually
agreed to be necessary, United States actions or support which is proposed as
concomitant, with dates for achievement (or withdrawal of the US offer) proved
relatively effective in recent economic and exchange reforms.
Thus, the Koreans were assured a "maintenance level" of US aid (i.e. supporting assistance) even
if they did not comply with US conditions, because the survival of the regime was in the U.S.
government's interest. However, to receive economic development aid, which was limited, never
very popular with Congress, and much in demand elsewhere, the Korean government would have
to submit to what amounted to a series of contracts with the Americans in which the expected
performance of each side was specified in advance.99 The effect of this was to create aid
"tranches" comparable to the tranches used by the International Monetary Fund. (In 1961 even
Defense Support funds were “tranched” in the sense that release of the last $28 million in funds
for South Korea in FY 1961 was delayed until sometime just before August 9, 1961.)100
Berger's account of his own actions provides a particularly clear-cut example of the
application of this strategy to democratization; another can be gleaned from other declassified
materials, as well as a third instance where the strategy was considered but not applied. The
latter situation is represented by Assistant Secretary of State Averill Harriman’s reaction to the
law on “Political Purity” promulgated in March, 1963. The law restricted involvement in South
Korean politics, ostensibly to eliminate corruption and establish a high moral standard. After
talks with Korean officials, Harriman “was impressed by determination and present sincerity of
group to eliminate corruption and raise moral tone of government and country in all fields.” The
new law was a “questionable method” of doing this, but it was an understandable product of “the
determination of revolutionary atmosphere.” Harriman was assured by the South Koreans “that
probably not more than 20 percent of four thousand affected individuals would be disqualified
from political activity though not disqualified from government employment.” Since the South
Korean government was “undoubtedly looking to United States for moral as well as material
support,” he believed that Berger could shape “to some extent” actions under this law.
I believe we are fortunate in having in this Asian country a group dedicated to
personal integrity and opposed to corruption as well as strongly anti-Communist,
though the road to satisfactory democracy may be a bit rough. Therefore,
recommend we do not change for the present our aid policies on account of this
latest political action. Ambassador Berger should, however, be fully supported in
his protest against this type of action without prior consultation.101
The second case, discussed by Berger, concerns the revolutionary government's decision
to hold elections. His account is worth quoting at length.
In March 1963 Pak made the surprise announcement that in view of the
confusion within his party and inability of the civilian politicians to reconcile their
differences, it was apparent that Korea was not ready for elections, the spring
election would be postponed, and the military government would remain in office
for four more years. The proposal would be submitted to a referendum. Pak had
apprised us of this dramatic change of plans the night before. We asked that no
announcement be made until we could give him our considered position. He
ignored our request.
There was no doubt about our view. By March 1963, much of the earlier
popular support for the military government had vanished. The junta was
fragmented. Corruption was coming in fast. Inflation was worsening. Kim
Chong-p'il had given the military government an unsavory reputation. Pak
personally still commanded a measure of public support as well as support in
military circles, but even this was slipping fast. There was now a strong
undercurrent of hostility to the military government, not only in civilian circles
but in military circles, and its extension was unthinkable.
Within hours of Pak's announcement urgent secret messages were sent to
the American Ambassador from members of the Revolutionary Council, from
friends of Pak, from officers in the field, and from civilians friendly to Pak (as
well as those hostile to him). The messages were almost unanimous. If Pak
persisted in extending military government, the students and people would be in
the streets within days or weeks and would overthrow Pak as they had Rhee. We
were asked to force Pak to abandon his plan. We needed no urging for we shared
their view of the consequences of the plan. We sent messages back that this was a
Korean problem and that the Koreans themselves should face up to it.
At the same time we secretly went to work on Pak, the Prime Minister (a
civilian), the Chiefs of Staff, and a few other key figures in the government. We
urged Pak to abandon this dangerous [initiative]. We urged the others to use their
influence with him. We made no public statement but the word was passed
around to both military and civil leaders that we opposed this course. After nine
days Washington issued a low key public statement that the US did not think
extending military government would bring stability, and calling on Pak and the
civilian leaders of the opposition to work out a solution to the crisis.
It took six weeks of patient, careful and arduous diplomacy to resolve the
crisis. Under pressure from us on both Pak and the civilian leaders they met, with
no agreements reached. We persisted and forced more meetings, still with no
In April Pak informed us through the Prime Minister and the Foreign
Minister that he could not get agreement and was going through with the original
plan. The following day he would announce the date of the referendum for the
extension of military government. We informed his intermediaries that within an
hour of his announcement the US government in Washington would in turn
announce that American support of his government had been predicated on the
fulfillment of pledges given to the Korean people and to the US to hold elections,
and restore civil government. If these pledges were not fulfilled, we would be
forced to reexamine our attitude toward the Pak government. Pak backed down,
and a few days later publicly announced that if in September the situation had
calmed down in Korea, elections would be held in the fall. This was a face-saving
Our opposition to the extension of military government and in favor of
elections was not a matter of moral principle, but a question of practical political
realities. We did not know what the election would bring, or whether it would
bring stability. We did know that extending military government would bring
upheaval, division, and probably bloodshed. An election had the merit that what-
ever emerged it represented the people's choice, and we made clear in private
conversations that we would support and work with whoever was chosen.
Secretly we were planning to throw our support behind one of the most hopeful
and respected civilians, if Pak had carried out the referendum.
Support for Berger's contention about American electoral strategy is provided by a
memorandum from Sen. Thomas Dodd to President Johnson.102 Dodd claimed that in
November, 1963, during the Korean election campaign, "several members of the Embassy were
photographed at the residence of Yun Po Sun, the opposition candidate, and ... the opposition
press openly implied, without refutation, that the American Embassy was sympathetic to them."
Since Berger did not name the civilian he would support, and since Berger is not linked by Dodd
to Yun Po Sun, Dodd's memorandum does not establish that Yun Po Sun is who Berger meant.
However, other reports of US funds being given to National Assembly candidates suggest that
the US government had no “hands off” rule for Korean electoral politics.103
In the dispute over the holding of elections the US government made explicit threats that
the failure of the Korean government to alter its position would lead to withdrawal of support and
aid. While it is clear that many Koreans were also opposed to the policies in question, it is
striking that members of the elite opposition would turn first to the Americans in hopes of having
Pak's decision overturned. This suggests that the perception that the U.S. embassy had a great
deal of influence with the Korean government was widespread.
A third case where the US exerted conditionality to shape ROK government behavior
related to democratization occurred in June, 1964. Faced with large street demonstrations and
sharp internal conflicts, Pak declared martial law. Before he did, he discussed the idea with
Ambassador Berger and the commander of US/UN forces, General Howze. They tried to lead
Pak into a discussion of substantive reforms he might consider to assuage grievances, pointed out
the necessity for him to win the support of the National Assembly, and warned him
there was danger of massive student and popular action in streets. Should this be
case it would create for U.S. Government a very serious problem of supporting his
government face of general public disapproval. He said he recognized this, but if
faced with uncontrollable popular opposition he would have to resign.
What exactly did US “support” entail? One consequence of support was that when Pak
asked the U.S. commander to release two ROK divisions under his command to implement
martial law in Seoul, he agreed. However, he cautioned Pak that, “It would be unfortunate if
people came to think that govt required presence of armed forces in order stay in power.” The
Ambassador then “wanted make clear that President [Pak] had not asked for our approval but
asked for release of troops. I wished his govt could avoid any statement that implied our approval
or agreement. This action was taken by ROK Govt in its sovereign capacity. President agreed.”104
Ambassador Berger was simultaneously telling Washington that
Govt's past ineptitude, corrupt practices, and subsequent loss of public confidence
have caught up with it. We are no longer confident that Pak able control situation
for any length of time. We do not predict that Pak govt cannot survive immediate
situation, but indications are that he may try to do so by use of force and
suppression opposition press, students, and possibly even national assembly. This
would be neither acceptable nor viable solution.105
General Howze also warned Pak about an incident in which ROK special forces troops
broke into a newspaper office and threatening to sabotage the printing presses.
[H]e was deeply disturbed by this second incident involving special forces. This
was a political act and it was apparent these troops were not properly disciplined.
Washington authorities would take a serious view of this second incident. We
were not prepared to use MAP funds to support undisciplined troops which
threaten orderly processes. Pak said he had ordered an investigation of the matter.
Gen Howze said that the troops should be withdrawn from capital security
command and returned to their normal garrison.106
The FRUS document collection does not record the consequences of Howze’s intervention, but
the cited cable and a following editorial note suggest that most of the political turmoil was
occasioned by popular antipathy towards Kim Chong-p’il, and that his agreement to leave the
country voluntarily was an outcome welcomed by the US Country Team.
One might well begin an assessment of this case with Berger's own conclusion, which
seems accurate overall:
The capacity of the US to influence the political and economic evolution of a
country, heavily dependent on the US, is considerable if the US interventions are
done quietly, with skill, persistence, and with determination.
How then to explain relative American success in influencing Korean behavior in the early 1960s
when compared to relative American failure in the 1950s? As Berger would have acknowledged,
what happened after the fall of Rhee was not due to an increase in the level of Korean
dependence on American aid (which was, if anything, tending to decline slowly but steadily over
this period). Instead, the variation occurred on the second variable that Berger highlights: the
American strategy for disbursing aid. From 1953 to 1963, American policy evolved from
viewing a large South Korean army as an asset to viewing it as a liability. The disbursement of
aid correspondingly evolved in the direction of becoming more and more oriented to the
application of conditionality and less and less concerned with providing funds to keep civilian
consumption levels high in the face of the need to operate a large military establishment. The
difference in aid policy between the late and early Eisenhower administrations was probably
greater than that between the late Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, but it is also clear
from the documentary record that there was greater high level concern about exploiting the
potential for the exercise of conditionality in US aid programs under Kennedy than under
Berger's summary fails to highlight the importance of the domestic political changes in
the recipient country. It was the advent of two governments, Chang's and Pak's, that were more
amenable to American positions, and hence more easily influenced to adopt positions favored by
the Americans, that contributed heavily to American successes and Berger's sense of triumph.
Haggard, Copper and Moon's assessment of the institutional changes inaugurated after the coup -
- an assessment shared by Berger -- is that they succeeded in eliminating the old immobilizing
and wasteful complex of interest groups, legislators, and rent-producing policies that had
hampered growth during the Rhee era. (However, Berger also regretfully noted that the new
military government was busy creating new mechanisms of corruption to replace the ones that it
had abolished). The new constitution, with its strong executive, made it possible for the central
government to pursue economic policies which deprived important groups in Korean society
without these groups being able to use their access to the legislature to hinder or reverse these
Berger's account slights the significance of events prior to the coup. It is apparent that
many of the policy changes that he lauded were initiated earlier. The National Construction
Corps, for example, was begun under Chang, not under Pak. That government also initiated a
stabilization program specified in the Dillon Package, though Berger gives it none of the credit
for the economic successes that followed. Many of the other post-coup measures mentioned by
Berger were standard concerns of American aid programs of the time; without knowing much
more detail about these programs, it is difficult to assess the extent of innovations accompanying
the advent of the coup government, and the relative roles of the Americans and the Koreans.
However, the verdict of Haggard, Cooper and Moon that "American influence is visible in every
one"107 of the reforms adopted is corroborated by the evidence produced here. Berger's account,
which apparently was not available to them at the time they performed archival research,
suggests that it was both a matter of long term working relationships and short term leverage;
trying to decide which was more important is a fruitless endeavor.
The extent of American involvement in shaping Korean society in this period is just now
becoming apparent. That both the Korean and the U.S. government would have reasons not to
emphasize the intrusiveness of American involvement is plain. However, from a scholarly
standpoint, the failure to appreciate the extent to which events in Korea were shaped by the
strategic use of US aid results in a misleading and inaccurate understanding of the extent to
which other less developed countries are likely to replicate the economic and political
development trajectory observed in this case. This is so not only because contemporary aid
levels are quite unlikely to approach the volume expended on South Korea, but because domestic
differences between South Korea in the early 1960s and the situation of most other governments
of less developed countries conspire to make aid less effective.
Gustav Ranis and Syed Akhtar Mahmmood, The Political Economy of Development
Policy Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992), 14-15, note that the South Korean export-
GDP ratio changed from 3.3% in 1960 to 14.3% in 1970 and then 37.7% in 1980. Taiwan goes
from 11.1% to 29.6% and then 52.2%. No Latin American country changes that much, nor do
Thailand and Philippines. Likewise, in South Korea the proportion of exports that are
manufactured goes from 14% 1960 to 77% in1970 (in Taiwan 16% to 74%(!)).
Ranis and Mahmmood, 115.
See, for example, the overview of South Korea in Robert H. Bates and Anne O. Krueger,
“Introduction,” Bates and Krueger, eds., Political and Economic Interactions in Economic
Policy Reform: Evidence from Eight Countries (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1993).
Chae-jin Lee and Hideo Sato, U.S. Policy Toward Japan and Korea: A Changing Influence
Relationship (New York: Praeger, 1982), 37.
Telegram, Delegation to SEATO Council meeting to Dept. of State, 2/23/56, Foreign
Relations of the United States (FRUS )1955-57, XXI, 39; Report on Foreign Economic Policy
Discussion between United States Officials in the Far East and Clarence B. Randall and
Associates, Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Council on Foreign Economic Policy Papers,
Randall Series, Trips Sub-Series, Box 2, Far East Trip [Dec. 1956] Final Report (hereinafter
Randall Final Report); attachment to memo to Bob Komer from Chris Weeks, 7/26/62,
Declassified Document Reference System (DDRS) 1981: 405A, (hereinafter draft BoB memo).
The uniqueness is affirmed in Military Assistance Reappraisal, Office of the Asst Secretary
of Defense, (ISA), Vol I - draft report on Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Philippines, (6/65), NSF,
Agency, Box 20, MAP Reappraisal.
The Republic of Korea fiscal year coincided with the calendar year at this time.
Randall Final Report; Comments on Attached Table on Impact of Military Budget Support
on Host Government's Financial Position and US Aid to Far East Countries, 1/19/59, Dwight D.
Eisenhower Library, Draper Committee [Commission to Study the Military Assistance
Program], Box 50, Program of Economic and Technical assistance in the Far East.
Discussion, 171st NSC meeting, 11/20/53, DDRS 1986: 2180.
John Welfield, An Empire in Eclipse: Japan in the Postwar American Alliance System
(London: The Athlone Pres, 1988), 100.
Memorandum of luncheon conversation with Secretaries Humphrey and Wilson, 4/19/56,
Dwight D Eisenhower Library, JF Dulles, Gen'l Corresp., Box 1, Memcons, Gen'l, E-I .
Report of the Van Fleet Mission to the Far East, Summary of General and Policy Observa-
tions, Chapter 5 - United States position in the Far East: An Appreciation, Dwight D
Eisenhower Library, OSANSA, NSC: Briefings, Box 8, Far East '54 - '59.
Memo from Arthur Radford to Twining, Taylor, Burke and Shepherd 10/12/55, DDRS
Congressional Research Service foreign assistance machine-readable database.
Comments on Attached Table on Impact of Military Budget Support on Host
Government's Financial Position and US Aid to Far East Countries, 1/19/59, Dwight D.
Eisenhower Library, Draper Committee [Commission to Study the Military assistance Program],
Box 50, Program of Economic and Technical Assistance in the Far East.
Congressional Research Service, U.S. Foreign Assistance database; Report on Foreign
Economic Policy Discussion between United States Officials in the Far east and Clarence B.
Randall and Associates, Korea, Lowell J Chawner, Economic and Financial Policy Adviser,
Office of Economic Coordinator, UN Command; Council on Foreign Economic Policy, Randall
Series, Trips Sub-Series, Box 2, Far East Trip [Dec. 1956] Final Report (hereinafter Chawner-
Randall discussion); the BoB draft memorandum provides information on US forces in South
Korea since 1954.
MAP Reappraisal. South Korean views on their economic performance during 1955-1965
are now noticeably different than the American views discussed above. Data from the Bank of
Korea's Economic Statistical Yearbook show a GNP growth rate for 1955-57 of 5.4%; for 1958-
62, 4.0%; and for 1963-65, 8.2%. These latter data portray growth in earlier periods as being
noticeably stronger than did the earlier American assessments.
Summary and Revision of Recommendations of Task Force Report on Korea, 6/12/61,
JFKL, POF: CO: Korea - Security 1961-63, Box 120.
Discussion at the 269th Meeting of NSC, 12/8/55, DDRS 373: 1988.
Discussion, 171st NSC meeting, 11/20/53, Declassified Documents Reference System
BoB draft memorandum.
A 1955 review of the Mutual Security Program (NSC 5525, FRUS 1955-57 X, 22) opined
that “two issues of major and fundamental importance” were whether to concentrate in such
countries as Indochina, Korea and Pakistan on economic development and “social progress” or
on building up indigenous military forces, and second, deciding on the mission of these forces.
Report on Foreign Economic Policy Discussion between U.S. Officials in the Far East and
Clarence B. Randall and Associates, Korea, Walter C. Dowling, Ambassador; Council on
Foreign Economic Policy, Randall Series, Trips Sub-Series, Box 2, Far East Trip Final Report.
Randal Final Report.
Memo for Mr. Bundy from Robert Johnson 10/26/61, JFKL, NSF, Box 268, AID 1/61 -
12/61. Randall’s discussion of East Asian foreign trade written after his 1956 tour did not even
bother to mention South Korea. Randall Final Report
Seoul Embassy Despatch No. 111 - 10/10/56, Ambassador's Program Review, RG 469,
Ofc. Dep. Dir., Exec. Sec., Subj Files, Director, Box 13, Reports -- Embassy Evals.
301st meeting of NSC 10/26/56, DDRS 1987: 1633.
ICA report to NSC, "Status of Mutual Security Programs as of 6/30/57" DDRS 1984:
Robert McNamara identified this as a lost opportunity for force reductions in his letter to
Fowler Hamilton, Administrator of AID, 4/27/62, Document 258 FRUS 1961-63 XXII.
Memo for Gordon Gray from G. A. Lincoln, 7/7/59, DDEL, OSANSA, NSC: Briefing,
Box 8, Far East '54-'59, Attachment: Extracts from the President's Committee to Study the
United States Military Assistance Program Area Study -- Far East.
BoB draft memorandum.
Memo for Gordon Gray from Ralph WE Reid, n.d. but after 8/21/58, K 4-4, B 75, Ser.
The Transformation of Korea -- 1961-1965, Samuel D. Berger, n.d. but circa 6/66, HSTL,
Dean Acheson Papers, B 102, Far East, nuclear proliferation, gold (hereinafter Berger history).
Briefing note for NSC meeting of 12/19/60, U.S. policy toward Korea (NSC 5913/1 and
NSC 6018), DDEL, OSANSA, NSC; Briefing, Box 11, Korea, U.S. policy.
Memorandum for the record by R.W.Komer, 6/11/62, Document 262, FRUS 1961-63
Presidential task Force on Korea, report to the National Security Council, 6/5/61, JFKL,
POF: CO, Box 120, Korea - Security 61-63 (hereinafter Presidental Task Force report, 6/5 ver-
Dillon's letter and two annexes are in telegram 382 to Seoul, October 25, 1960,
Department of State, Central Files, 795B.5-MSP/10-2560, cited in footnote 3 to Telegram From
the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State , 4/11/61, Document 210, FRUS 1961-63
SNIE 42-61, Short-range Outlook in the Republic of Korea, Document 206, FRUS 1961-
Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Korea , 4/1/61, Document 207,
FRUS 1961-63 XXII.
Telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in Korea, 4/1/61; Record of
National Security Council Action No. 2430, 6/13/61, Document 230, Ibid. A third, brief list of
US objectives is in Memorandum, Robert H. Johnson to Rostow, 5/23/61, Document 221, Ibid.
Telegram from the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State, 4/11/61.
Memo for Mr. Rostow from Robert H. Johnson, 4/3/61, Declassified Documents
Reference System 1983: 656.
Presidential Task Force on Korea, report to the National Security Council, 6/5/61, JFKL,
POF: CO, Box 120, Korea - Security 61-63.
Memo, Komer to Bundy and Rostow, 11/3/61 DDRS 1991: 1643 (emphasis in original).
SNIE 42-2-61, Short-Term Prospects in South Korea, 5/31/61, DDRS 1983: 775.
Telegram From the Commander in Chief, United Nations Command (Magruder) to the
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Lemnitzer), 5/25/61, Document 223, FRUS 1961-63
On US knowledge of coup plotting, see memorandum from Allen Dulles to President
Kennedy 5/16/61, Document 217 FRUS 1961-63 XXII. On Washington’s assessment of the
South Korean government response to coup warnings, see telegram from the Department of
State to the Embassy in Korea , 5/16/61, Document 216, Ibid. “Irresolution of those officials
who have it in their power to deal with uprising and apparent indifference general public to fate
of Chang government provide poor foundation for exertion U.S. influence in behalf Chang
Myon.” On Army surveys, see telegram from the Commander in Chief, UN Command
(Magruder) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Lemnitzer), 5/17/61, Document 218
Memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to McNamara, JCSM-815-64, 9/21/64,
Document 22, FRUS 1964-68 XXIX.
Attachment to airgram from the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State, 2/5/64,
Document 3, Ibid.
SNIE 42-61, Short-range Outlook in The Republic of Korea, 3/21/61, Document 206
FRUS 1961-63 XXII. Telegram from the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State, 4/11/61
alludes to food shortages in January and February and the difficult political environment this
created for policy changes that mandated increases in the prices of imports and public utilities.
Memo for Mr. Rostow from Robert H. Johnson 4/3/61, DDRS 1983: 656.
Memorandum for Mr. Rostow from Robert H. Johnson, 10/9/61, JFKL, Mandatory
Review document NLK 94-17.
Telegram (drafted and approved by McConaughy) from the Department of State to the
Embassy in Korea, 5/24/61, Document 222, FRUS 1961-63 XXII.
Task Force report, 6/5 version.
Notes of the 485th Meeting of the National Security Council, 6/13/61, Document 229,
FRUS 1961-63 XXII.
Memorandum, Robert H. Johnson to Rostow, 6/28/61, Document 233, Ibid.
Memo, Robert H Johnson and George Weber to W. Rostow, 2/22/61 re: Tentative FY62
Mutual Security Program, DDRS 1991: 3419.
A memo from Robert Komer to McGeorge Bundy, 5/18/61 DDRS 1991: 1739, argued
that, “I can see adding on $100 million for Vietnam and Thailand. However, I cannot see the
same need for almost $100 million more to Korea and the GRC. Korea is already slated to be
the largest recipient of FY '62 MAP. . . . More important, I am convinced that with two US
divisions in place along the parallel the likelihood of renewed aggression is utterly marginal. In
any case, the real threat in Korea is political subversion, and the necessary counter is to build a
viable society. Our whole Korean policy has far too long been primarily military . . . and we are
now reaping the fruits. Why throw good money after bad?”
JCSM-512-61 to Secretary McNamara, 8/2/61, cited in note 4 of Robert H. Johnson to
Walt Rostow, 8/9/61, FRUS 1961-63 XXII, Document 240.
Memorandum From Robert Komer to McGeorge Bundy, 12/20/61, Document 250, Ibid.
Record of actions, 1/18/62 , 496th NSC meeting, Korea 1962, Box 1, Office of Politico-
Military Affairs, Subj Files of Office of Operations 1962-66, Lot 67D495, RG 59.
Memo to Fowler Hamilton from Walt Rostow, 6/9/62, JFKL, NSF, Box 265-9, AID 1/62
Memo for the President from Komer, 8/19/63, see note 67.
Memo, Robert H Johnson and George Weber to W. Rostow, 2/22/61, DDRS 1991: 3419.
Memo for the President from David E Bell, re: Clay Committee Report and the FY 64
Foreign Aid Program, NSF, Box 297a, Foreign Aid - Clay Committee.
Memorandum for the President from David Bell, 2/4/63, Korea 1962, Box 1, Office of
Politico-Military Affairs -- Subj Files of Office of Operations 1962-66, Lot 67D495, RG 59.
Letter from U Alexis Johnson to Maxwell Taylor, 5/28/63, Korea 1962, Box 1, Office of
Politico-Military Affairs -- Subj Files of Office of Operations 1962-66, Lot 67D495, RG 59.
Memo for the President from David Bell, Annex I, Background for Recommendations re
Korean and US Force Levels in Korea, and Military and Economic Aid Programs, FY 1963-68.
Memo, Komer to William Gaud, 2/26/64, Komer memos, Vol I, Box 5, Names, NSF,
The last mention I found is in AID Strategy for Korea, 1/27/64, Dept. of State, Agency for
International Development, Country Assistance Strategy Statements, 4/64, Far East, declassified
under Mandatory Review NLJ 93-91, LBJL. In February, 1964 a decision was made to leave
ROK and US force levels unchanged, but to review them at the end of the year. Airgram from
the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State, 2/13/64, Document 4, FRUS 1964-68 XXIX.
Memo by Robert H. Johnson, 6/13/61, Document 227, FRUS 1961-63 XXII. Nine years
earlier using Nationalist Chinese troops in Indochina had briefly been discussed. State-Joint
Chiefs of Staff Meeting 3/5/52, July '51 - Dec. '52, Box 777, PPS '47-'53, RG59.
AID Strategy for Korea.
Jung Ik Kim, “ROK’s Defense Policy in the 21st Century,” Conference on contemporary
South Korean national security, Seoul, 22 June 2001, 14.
Telegram From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State, 6/4/65, Document 54
FRUS 1964-68 XXIX. By 2001, 37,000 US troops were still in Korea, about 75% of the level
during the 1960s. Kim Kwang-Tae, Korea
Times, 18 June 2001, 1.
Telegram 1372 from Seoul to the Department of State, 6/24/65, cited in note 3 of
Document 54, Ibid.
SNIE 42-62, The Outlook for South Korea, 4/4/62, Document 253 FRUS 1961-63 XXII.
254. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara
JCSM-265-62, 4/10/62, Document 254, FRUS 1961-63XXII.
259. Robert Komer, Memorandum for the Record, 5/4/62, Document 259 FRUS 1961-63
Memorandum of Conversation re: the Korean Military Government, Washington, July 24,
1962, Document 269 FRUS 1961-63 XXII.
Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation, notes that in the early 1960s, the notion of such a split
was not generally accepted within the State Department.
Letter from President Johnson to President Pak, 3/23/67, Document 112 FRUS 1964-68
Editorial notes, Documents 5 and 32, FRUS 1964-68 XIX.
Telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in Korea, 1/27/66, Document 76,
FRUS 1964-68 XXIX.
Memorandum of conversation, n.d. but approx. 5/12/65, Document 43, FRUS 1964-68
Memorandum from James C. Thomson and McGeorge Bundy to President Johnson,
5/14/65, Document 44; memorandum from James C. Thomson to President Johnson, 5/17/65,
Document 47, FRUS 1964-68 XXIX.
Notes of the President's Meeting With Cyrus R. Vance, 2/15/68, Document 180, Ibid.
This is the title of a sub-heading in the original Task Force report.
Memo for the Director from Ralph W E Reid, 11/20/57, K 4-1 , Box 74, Ser. 52.1,
Maurice Stans to William H Draper, 2/4/59, K 4-4/2, B 76, Ser. 52.1, RG51.
449th NSC meeting 6/30/60 DDRS 1991: 2029.
April, 1965 National Policy Paper on South Korea, quoted in MAP Reappraisal.
Hoopes, MAP Reappraisal.
U.S. Policy toward Korea, 6/7/60, DDEL, OSANSA, NSC: Briefing, Box 11, Korea, US
Using supporting assistance for regime maintenance, while reserving development
assistance and some technical assistance for specific projects upon observation of Korean
performance is outlined in NSC Action 2430, implementing the Task Force Report.
Memo from Robert H. Johnson to Rostow, 8/9/61, Document 240, FRUS 1961-63 XXII.
Telegram from the Embassy in Japan to the Dept. of State, 3/18/62, Document 252, Ibid.
Memorandum to the President from Tom Dodd, 5/14/65, CO 151, Box 10, Conf. Files,
White House Central Files, LBJL.
Four “moderate” National Assembly candidates in the November 16, 1963, election each
were given $2,000 - $4,000. Editorial note, Document 27, FRUS 1964-68 XXIX.
Telegram from the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State, 6/3/64, Document 13,
FRUS 1964-68 XXIX. The State Department approved of the positions taken by Howze and
Berger and commented that the US wanted to prevent repression and further disorder while
urging the government to implement reforms to address grievances. Telegram 1109 to Seoul,
6/3/64, cited in Ibid.
Telegram From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State, 6/4/64, Document 14,
FRUS 1964-68 XXIX.
Telegram from the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State, 6/6/64, Document 15,
FRUS 1964-68 XXIX.
Haggard, Cooper and Moon, 315.