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Usa As Korea's Big Brother

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Korean Government & Politics:

"USA As S. Korea's Big Brother"



Social Studies Department

The influence of the USA since the 19th century on the history of mankind has been far greater than any other nation. It has been the factor that has altered both the greatest war that has ever taken place on Earth, World War I and II. It is no surprise that the USA with such influence has influenced the fate of S. Korea as well.

Going through the Japanese Colonization from 1910 to 1945 and the three year Korean war from 1950, the situation for both Koreas, especially that of South Korea, was devastating. However, from the 1960's, S. Korea made a very rapid economic development that has enabled them to contain the 12th largest economy in the world. Some experts say that this was due to the dictatorial system S. Korea had from 1961 to 1979 under President Park Jung Hee.

Park is generally viewed as one who played a vital role in the development of South Korea's economy. When he came to power in 1961, South Korean per capita income was only US$7. During Park's tenure however, per capita income increased twentyfold, and South Korea's undeveloped economy was transformed into an industrial powerhouse. Park's individual leadership sought out the development of industries and rise in the standard of living of South Korean citizens during his presidency. Through the 1965 normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan which still remains as an extremely unpopular action, by normalizing relations with Japan, Park allowed Japanese capital to flow into the country. These aids and loans along with American aid, helped to restore the depleted capital of South Korea.

Another point of view on S. Korea's fast development is that it was only inevitable for S. Korea to develop because of the ground hitting spirits of S. Korea as a whole. The 36 year long occupation by the Japanese didn't only cut back on the economic development, but worse than that, it simply destroyed everything. Language, food, artifacts and culture it self, that S. Korea is still struggling to repair. The war cost the lives of 1.5 million people and the loss from damaged buildings, structures and equipments added up to about US$3.1billion, that was about 85% of S. Korea's GNP of 1953. The GDP per capita was only U$7, and adding on to the devastation was that the greater economic and military power slanted towards the North.

Some say all these added up, S. Korea simply hit rock-bottom, and it was only inevitable for them to start going up.

However, even though the reasons above did actually provide the basics to development, the factor that played the biggest role was the USA. As said above, the USA has had great influence in many parts of history including that of the two World Wars. There are probably very few that would deny that one of the outcomes that the USA has affected most greatly is that of S. Korea. S. Korea formerly an agricultural state was transformed only in a matter decades to and export oriented organization. Through assistance mainly in form of military aid and economic aid, the USA became the power source of S. Korea during it's development from the 1950's.

YearUSA's Economic AssistanceImport from the USA195058.70.21952161.31.31954326.787.01956382.9110.01958321.3209.01960245.4133.71962232.3220.31964149.3202.1USA S. Korea Economic Relations 1950~1964 (unit: million $)

As it can be seen from the chart above, the USA gave massive amounts of economical aid, at times more than 300million dollars. This figure, if it were to be recalculated today would add up to billions. Other than these statistics, the USA supported Rhee's regime of an overall sum of US$12 billion in a span of 20 years. During the 1950's Korea depended mainly on grant-in-aid and concessionary loans from the IMF, powered mainly by the USA, as their source of currency, and by the 1990's, S. Korea's GNP increased from US$2.3billion to US$480.2billion.

However, all these economic assistance from the USA was only made possible because of the military help of the USA. In October of 1949 the S. Korea - USA Mutual Defence Assistance Act was signed, along with an Aid Bill adding up to about US$300 million. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the USA carried out the Incheon Landing in September that was pivotal for the survival of the capitalist believers. Also, during the Rhee administration, the USA gave military aid of about US$15 billion, so that the 600 thousand-strong army could be maintained. If S. Korea was with out the military aid from the USA, the destiny of S. Korea may have been different from what is being seen right now.

Now, the real question lies in why the USA invested such large amounts of money in S. Korea. The answer to this question is the strategical value of S. Korea.


Looking at the picture above one thing that can be noticed is that, there is a large body of water putting a gap between Asia and America: the Pacific Ocean. Going back to the World War, the USA had the exact same problem they are faced with in Asia, their distance from Europe where the war was taking place was simply to great to make landings on the mainland. However, the USA having close ties with the UK was able to send troops to the UK then in to the mainland and also made friends with in Africa that allowed them to attack the mainland from the south as well.

For the USA from WWII to the post-Cold War, S. Korea was strategically important in the same way the UK was. To carry out military operations in Asia, the USA needed an ally that would help keep troops on mainland Asia. This would help increase their influence in Asia. Especially, during the Cold War because of the communist threat, also know as the "red scare", spreading through out Asia, including China and Korea, the USA could no longer sit on their shores and just watch Asia get taken by the USSR. Also, as it is in every continent the



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