Analyzing Jimmy Carter's failed USFK withdrawal policy

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Analyzing Jimmy Carter's failed USFK withdrawal policy


U.S. President Jimmy Carter meets with Korean President Park Chung-hee in 1979. / Korea Times file

By Jon Dunbar

The South Korea-U.S. alliance, while mostly friendly, has been a tug-of-war for decades. But the two countries often find themselves stuck together, incapable of separating.

The 1970s were a time of change, as the U.S. reduced its forces on the Korean Peninsula and looked at ways to reduce more. In June 1971 Richard Nixon withdrew 20,000 troops stationed there, out of a total 61,000, aiming to make South Korea less dependent on U.S. military protection.

Later that decade, the 1977-81 Jimmy Carter administration sought to withdraw even more of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), but this time it didn't go so well.


Ph.D. candidate Clint Work will give a
lecture for the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch on Feb. 19 on Korea-U.S. relations during Carter's administration.

"Many within the U.S. foreign policy and national security bureaucracy viewed U.S. combat forces in South Korea as so deeply embedded within a wider hegemonic structure in East Asia that they could not be withdrawn without undoing that very structure," Work wrote on the RASKB website.

"Carter aimed to make more flexible the U.S. military presence in South Korea and pass a greater share of the defense burden onto Seoul, without at the same time undermining U.S. credibility and control. As it happened, Carter faced enormous opposition and ultimately failed to execute his policy."

Work will reveal his research, done through examination of previously unavailable documents from the U.S. and Korea, as well as oral history and field interviews.

Carter's policy was a failure, but it resulted in a "more mature if still hierarchical alliance relationship."

He points to three key changes resulting from the failed policy: changing from a patron-client relationship to a more equal and integrated one, enhancement of Korean defense capabilities and operational decision-making, and emergence of Korean nationalism and even anti-Americanism.

"These outcomes represented a key turning point in the alliance and remain salient today," he wrote.

Work received his Master's degree in 2013 from the University of Chicago's Committee on International Relations (CIR), where he studied modern U.S.-East Asia relations and South Korean political economy. Following this, he worked as a research assistant in the Seoul office of the International Crisis Group's (ICG). He is now completing his Ph.D. through the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, and working as lecturer at the University of Utah's Asia Campus in Incheon.

The lecture, titled "Shifting Hierarchy: Carter's Korean Troop Withdrawal and the Recasting of U.S. Hegemony and Korean Agency within the U.S.-ROK Alliance," starts at 7:30 p.m. in the second-floor lounge of Somerset Palace in downtown Seoul. All are welcome. Non-members pay 10,000 won and students pay 5,000 won. Visit raskb.com for more information.



U.S. President Jimmy Carter meets with Korean President Park Chung-hee in 1979. / Korea Times file

By Jon Dunbar

The South Korea-U.S. alliance, while mostly friendly, has been a tug-of-war for decades. But the two countries often find themselves stuck together, incapable of separating.

The 1970s were a time of change, as the U.S. reduced its forces on the Korean Peninsula and looked at ways to reduce more. In June 1971 Richard Nixon withdrew 20,000 troops stationed there, out of a total 61,000, aiming to make South Korea less dependent on U.S. military protection.

Later that decade, the 1977-81 Jimmy Carter administration sought to withdraw even more of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), but this time it didn't go so well.


Ph.D. candidate Clint Work will give a
lecture for the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch on Feb. 19 on Korea-U.S. relations during Carter's administration.

"Many within the U.S. foreign policy and national security bureaucracy viewed U.S. combat forces in South Korea as so deeply embedded within a wider hegemonic structure in East Asia that they could not be withdrawn without undoing that very structure," Work wrote on the RASKB website.

"Carter aimed to make more flexible the U.S. military presence in South Korea and pass a greater share of the defense burden onto Seoul, without at the same time undermining U.S. credibility and control. As it happened, Carter faced enormous opposition and ultimately failed to execute his policy."

Work will reveal his research, done through examination of previously unavailable documents from the U.S. and Korea, as well as oral history and field interviews.

Carter's policy was a failure, but it resulted in a "more mature if still hierarchical alliance relationship."

He points to three key changes resulting from the failed policy: changing from a patron-client relationship to a more equal and integrated one, enhancement of Korean defense capabilities and operational decision-making, and emergence of Korean nationalism and even anti-Americanism.

"These outcomes represented a key turning point in the alliance and remain salient today," he wrote.

Work received his Master's degree in 2013 from the University of Chicago's Committee on International Relations (CIR), where he studied modern U.S.-East Asia relations and South Korean political economy. Following this, he worked as a research assistant in the Seoul office of the International Crisis Group's (ICG). He is now completing his Ph.D. through the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, and working as lecturer at the University of Utah's Asia Campus in Incheon.

The lecture, titled "Shifting Hierarchy: Carter's Korean Troop Withdrawal and the Recasting of U.S. Hegemony and Korean Agency within the U.S.-ROK Alliance," starts at 7:30 p.m. in the second-floor lounge of Somerset Palace in downtown Seoul. All are welcome. Non-members pay 10,000 won and students pay 5,000 won. Visit raskb.com for more information.




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