How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
I believe it will be possible to withdraw our ground forces from South Korea on a phased basis over a time span to be determined after consultation with both South Korea and Japan. At the same time, it should be made clear to the South Korean government that its internal oppression is repugnant to our people and undermines the support for our commitment there.
- Jimmy Carter, June 23, 1976
When President Carter made this statement, he was still very much a candidate. He repeated it in the course of his campaign and had obviously given it a great deal of thought. Early this spring, after informing (if not quite "consulting") the governments of South Korea and Japan, he announced the phased withdrawal as one of the first major foreign policy moves in his Administration.
On its face the withdrawal is a prudent one. It will be staged over a five-year period for the laudable purpose of getting American troops out of an exposed overseas position. Given the general and persisting American disenchantment after Vietnam, a pullout from Korea would seem logical and necessary. After 30 years of American troops manning its borders, one might say, it is time for a nation to start defending itself. President Park Chung Hee's government, in addition, is objectionable to most Americans. Park has crudely abused the freedoms of many Koreans and persecuted and jailed leaders of the political opposition. Of late his regime's monumentally ham-handed attempts to win friends and influence Congressmen in Washington have had wide notoriety in the American press. So a pullout of troops, well-advertised, should be a good warning to him and his men.
At that, the troops to be withdrawn are only the 27,000 combat soldiers of the Second Infantry Division. Air Force and logistics units will remain. The armed forces of the Republic of Korea, 625,000 strong, are generally competent and well trained, larger than the communist armies of Kim Il Sung, the North Korean dictator, which oppose them on the truce-line border. If the South Koreans lack quantities of modern weapons - notably tanks and aircraft - these can be supplied in the form of new American equipment. And Administration spokesmen pointed out at the time of the announcement that the pace of the withdrawal could be slowed or even stopped if a threat of war seemed imminent. As The New York Times said in an approving editorial: "So the South Koreans will begin to kick their American habit . . . . But it won't be cold turkey . . . ." Any announced withdrawal of troops, it is argued, means an automatic lessening of tensions in an area - another sign, doubtless, that the bad days of the cold war are forever past.
So runs the persuasive logic of what we might call "The View from Here" - or at least, from Washington; and it is a perspective that many Americans would seem to share. But is the logic and rationality of this pullout announcement only superficial? Does it raise more questions than it settles? Does it, in fact, disturb a precarious political equilibrium far more than it solves a problem in military disposition? Even granting our national concern for human rights, now a policy matter, and a correct desire to cut foreign involvements where we can, are there not larger issues at stake here, which transcend the maintenance of one U.S. division across the invasion route north of Seoul?
I believe there are. We should consider them. We should consider Korea's position and its history. We should consider the Korean economic - and, yes - social achievement of the past 15 years, which makes it possibly the world's most striking case of an underdeveloped country working hard and making good. We should consider also the ripple effect of a round, shiny pebble from Washington suddenly tossed into a still Asian pond, causing undulations far beyond the point of impact. No one expects that the North Korean Army will now begin gassing up its tanks, prepared to head for the border tomorrow or the next day or the next year. But for a variety of reasons, the announcement of a new American pullout has increased tension instead of alleviating it. It has disturbed a balance of power which, however curious and offhand in its construction, has hitherto been quite secure in this area. That is "The View from There" - the view from Asia, where, in this case, the action is.
Let us start with an obvious parallel. In Western Europe the United States maintains some 300,000 troops because we believe they are a necessary shield against Soviet pressure. The Seventh Army forces are tactical troops. The basis for their commitment is that the presence of American units in the immediate path of any incursion, able to defend in force, would presumably bring on war with the United States. Even though the Soviet Union, our adversary-partner in détente and arms control negotiations, has shown a sophisticated awareness of war risk and demonstrated a desire to avoid it, the presence of U.S. troops, on the ground and ready, is regarded in Washington as the only sure guarantor of the European status quo.
A mere token force we would regard as inadequate. There is a matter of public commitment and European morale, as we Americans sense it. There are the Germans to be considered. There is NATO. There is, we believe, the integrity of all Western Europe at stake.
In Korea, the total American troop commitment is little more than one-tenth of the American divisions in Europe. Yet, there has been almost a complete consensus about their value to the security of Asia as a whole. The people of South Korea, as the party most intimately affected, want American combat troops stationed north of Seoul, the vital, bursting capital of seven million people only 30 miles from the North Korean border. This goes for opposition partisans as well as government spokesmen. Koreans are disturbed as a people, not merely as a regime, by the pullout announcement, and in the light of past history, intensely worried by its implications.
The Japanese have always wanted an American presence in South Korea to continue, as a safeguard both against North Korean aggression, which they see as possible, and against rash political behavior on the border or within it, by the South Korean government of Park Chung Hee. If the American presence is withdrawn, the Japanese might have to think about backing up the Koreans militarily themselves. This they would be reluctant to do - Japan's military forces are small and under constant fire politically, even with their present limited defense missions. And the Koreans, still recalling vividly past Japanese rule and oppression, would surely be even more reluctant to permit it. Thus there arises the worst possible specter in the calculations of Japanese defense experts - a Republic of Korea worried, isolated and truculent enough to produce nuclear armaments on its own, the nonproliferation treaty notwithstanding. That is the one development that would surely drive Japan to do the same.
The same extrapolation may have been made in Peking, which may partially account for several significant invitations to Japanese Self-Defense Force officials to visit Peking in recent months, where they have been entertained most handsomely by the same bureaucracy that not so many years ago was denouncing Japanese militarist revanchist tendencies. Peking has been quite happy about the presence of the Second Division and nervous at its announced withdrawal. Concern about Kim Il Sung, the unpredictable Stalinist dictator of North Korea, is a prime factor. After oscillating between Peking and Moscow for many years, Kim has, since the death of Mao Tse-tung, tended to favor the Soviet Union. To the Chinese, who are almost paranoid on the subject of the Soviet threat, any removal of the American presence is a temptation to their old Russian allies to break the peace.
It does not follow, however, that the Russians are pleased by the prospect of an American withdrawal in Korea. On the contrary, the Soviet Union, as a veteran Japanese Russia-watcher put it, has been "not at all unhappy" over the continued presence of American troops. In an area where Russian and Chinese influence has been so closely balanced, an active American presence in Korea has kept the whole precarious house of cards in place. The Russians were certainly satisfied. One Korean War was enough for everybody and if there is anything the Brezhnev regime dislikes it is surprises. There have been notably few cries of joy in the Moscow press about the American withdrawal.
The only voice in favor of the American pullout in Korea comes from the North Korean regime in Pyongyang - whose proven irrationality is what the American military presence was supposed to nullify. Surely this is an odd situation. It is one thing to intervene where only a few oppose intervention or to pull out when many advise a pullout. In Korea we are announcing a removal of our presence from the one spot - in the invasion corridor north of Seoul - where all the Asian neighbors of Korea, not to mention other Asian countries farther south, wish us to remain.
It is true that the withdrawal is a "phased" one. This spring's announcement fell short of the original crisp intention set forth in President Carter's campaign, and since then it has been decided that only 6,000 men will be withdrawn in 1978; two combat brigades and the Second Division headquarters will not leave till 1981-82. Moreover, since the announcement was first made, explanation has followed upon explanation that the "military balance" will be kept up by additional tanks, aircraft and other useful staples for President Park's army. A program of two billion dollars worth of arms deliveries, mostly through sales, has been put before Congress. Looking at the world from Washington, one might wonder what the fuss was all about.
Perhaps in concrete military terms President Carter's advisors are right. But, of course, the problem is only secondarily a military one. Primarily it is political. It is not so much a question of military capability, to use the old Pentagon phrase, as it is a matter of political intention, of national will.
Here Asia is suspicious of us. It is ironic that a country whose dealings with Europe show generally constant consultation and feedback has shown in its Asian diplomacy a spasmodic jump-in and pull-back syndrome, a gross parody of Toynbee's classic challenge and response. Only months before the original North Korean invasion in 1950, both Dean Acheson and Douglas MacArthur, those antipodal spokesmen for U.S. policy, had omitted the Republic of Korea when stating the perimeter of American responsibility. Yet, we wondered why Stalin let his Korean surrogate Kim Il Sung make the quick armored gamble. After so many years of commitment to the engagement in Vietnam - our own voluntary re-creation of Athens' disastrous Sicilian expedition - the final American withdrawal in 1973, and then the debacle in 1975, had the shock of both the unexpected and the irresponsible. Before that an Administration led by the man who made his reputation abetting Senator Joseph McCarthy's persecution of, among others, the courageous American diplomats who had called it right on China, signaled its new relationship with the People's Republic of China by crudely bypassing its closest Asian ally, Japan, on the way to Peking. And the 1970s decade opened with the Nixon "shocks" visited on Japan and Korea in the form of sudden trade embargo threats, the hallmark of an economic adversary diplomacy. Although economic peace, with Japan at least, was declared during the Ford Administration, the image of the unpredictable American remained green.
Thus, however calm and reasoned the planning for the Carter pullback from Korea had been, to Asians the announcement was the thing. Here, at a vital point of potential trouble, the U.S. government was saying: no change in the commitment, just a few infantry troops taken out so the South Koreans can assume their own defense. But did this not really mean, in the context of past American performance: "We are getting out of Korea because we got out of Vietnam and because we don't like Park's government anyway. You had all better start working out your own arrangements"? Why else would a unilateral withdrawal be announced, with no concessions from the other side, by a country that had hitherto shown a great proclivity for tit-for-tat negotiations with the Soviet Union and its allies?
It is understandable that the Vietnam experience has colored American thinking so thoroughly that, having finally extricated ourselves from that war, a disaster almost solely of our own making, we now feel that any withdrawal of American troops anywhere in Asia is automatically a good thing. It may be, in the long run. But as I have tried to demonstrate, it is not so regarded by most Asians.
Let us look again at the Japanese, and at the roots of their reaction. In Japan today the Security Treaty with the United States, so long the focus of riots, protest marches, literary denunciations and steady opposition from the Left, is now almost universally accepted as part of the local furniture - a bit unsightly in spots, but better to have than not. Discouraged, among other things, by China's evident satisfaction with the American military presence in Japan, even the hard-line Marxists in the Socialist Party have ceased to use the Treaty as a big campaign issue. In private, communists too admit they are content with the status quo. Of the 46,000 members of the U.S. military stationed in Japan, 21,000 comprise the two-thirds of a Marine division, with an accompanying air wing, camping on some choice land in the crowded, poverty-ridden island of Okinawa. Agitation against removal of the American base there, once the talking-point that elected successive socialist-communist governors there, has died down.
To my own mind a pullback of the Marine regiments on Okinawa might have been a good substitute for withdrawal of the Second Division from Korea. A virtual division of troops is hardly necessary to provide backup for the contingency of occasional rescue operations in Asia, like that of the Mayaguez. I have heard very few Japanese, however, who shared this view. After Vietnam, the general feeling is that any further pullouts of American military force might be upsetting. The Marines are rightly regarded as backup for the force remaining in South Korea, another safeguard against trouble in Japan's closest neighbor.
But, perhaps most important, the Japanese have had more dealings than most with the government of Kim Il Sung in North Korea. Kim's unpredictability is well known to them.
There is no doubt that détente between the Soviet Union and the United States, as it has developed, has been worrisome to Kim's regime. The Chinese rapprochement with the Americans, as that progresses, causes Kim even greater concern. His suspicions of his two communist senior partners seem to have been reciprocated in recent years. There is comparatively little supportive action for Pyongyang coming from either Russia or China; and one suspects that Kim had to work hard to arrange his last fraternal visit to Peking.
The announcement of an American withdrawal, however, has probably given Kim's personal rule a new lease on life. This is, after all, the moment he had been waiting for and predicting since the end of the Korean War, the first stage in his announced reunification of the Korean peninsula.
Kim, his ambitions and the vise in which he holds North Korea's 16 million people, were and are the best military argument for a continued American military presence in South Korea, on the ground. To Koreans especially, the promise of constant air and sea support is unconvincing. They remember that American air and sea power failed to deter the North in 1950 - and that neither was used in the Pueblo incident of 1968.
The real nightmare - to which South Koreans return over and over again in conversation - is a North Korean lightning thrust directed against Seoul. Even granting that the South Korean Army is or could soon be superior to the North Koreans in arms as well as in numbers, a capital city just 30 miles from the border is a difficult commodity to insure. There is always the risk that it could be captured - or at least entered in a single surprise rush. With Seoul captured or in ruins, even a South Korean victory in a long drawn-out war would be worse than pyrrhic. South Korea would have to negotiate, and a cease-fire would probably be imposed. The odds would favor its being backed by the strength of China and the Soviet Union, with predictable results for a then-truncated South Korea.
The second best reason for keeping an American division on the ground in South Korea is President Park Chung Hee. Since he abrogated the Korean constitution in 1972 - tailoring a new model to allow himself continued autocratic rule - Park has been increasingly hard to deal with, increasingly less receptive to advice in political, as opposed to economic, matters. Able, ruthless and incorruptible himself, he is a zealot and a driver who sets little store by democratic debate. Although surrounded by cronies and yesmen - many of the bright people around him in Seoul's presidential Blue House have long since excused themselves and gone elsewhere - he is probably too smart and too concerned with long-range goals for the economy to think of adventuring north himself. On this issue at least, he is a far different breed from Syngman Rhee, the old revolutionary patriot whose increasing bent for dictatorial rule in the late 1950s gave Park a recent, if unfortunate, precedent for assuming semi-dictatorial powers.
Park keeps his own counsel and runs his own country. Under the present arrangement, where U.S. troops are deployed north of Seoul, he does not, however, command his own armed forces in the event of conflict. An American four-star general is in charge, as U.N. commander in chief, a holdover from the Korean War days when the war was sanctioned as a United Nations effort. The value of such cautionary control is obvious. It is doubtful, however, whether this command function can be maintained, once we withdraw most of the combat troops. That is a fact that makes Asians extremely nervous. The Japanese, especially, understand and sympathize with Park's problem, facing an unpredictable and avowedly aggressive power on his frontiers. But they would sleep a bit easier if he were not left to handle it by himself.
The news about human rights in South Korea is not good. One cannot quarrel with President Carter's campaign statement that "the internal oppression" of the Korean people is repugnant. There should have been more support for political freedoms in Korea by past administrations, either publicly or in the form of pressure applied directly from Washington. The Korean people are watched; they are arrested; they are constantly called in for questioning by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, which has degenerated under Park's leadership into a combination Praetorian Guard and secret police. KCIA officers and agents have systematically harassed and intimidated Korean opponents of the Park regime, not only in Japan, but also in the United States and in Europe. And in 1973 the KCIA even abducted Kim Dae Jung, the opposition candidate in Korea's last free election, from his hotel in Tokyo, back to constant house arrest in Seoul.
It has not always been so. After leading the group of officers who took over the government in 1961, Park was elected in 1963. For most of his first two terms, he governed and was governed by democratic processes. In his earlier writings, he took pride in restoring a working democracy to Korea after the chaos and factionalism that accompanied Syngman Rhee's fall from power in 1960.
His own instincts, however, were and are authoritarian. When he came to power he set out with the intensity of a Puritan to modernize his country through sweeping economic development, putting his plans into effect the way an engineer works from blueprints. The more power Park acquired, the less he tolerated opposition, especially after Kim Dae Jung, then a relatively obscure young lawyer, almost beat him in the 1967 presidential election. Park suppressed demonstrations, closed down universities and harassed his opponents, manipulating the constitution to secure his election to a third term in 1971. And in the fall of 1972, he imposed martial law and drastically altered the constitution to make the Assembly a rubber stamp for his personal Executive. After his wife, one of the few softening "human" influences around him, was killed in 1974 in an assassination attempt on him, Park became even more inflexible.
Yet, for all the harassment, it must be said that some of the rubrics of democracy persist in the Republic of Korea. The forms have not been emptied of all their content. Most coercion continues to be backhanded, if effective - like the tactic of putting government pressure on business firms not to advertise in Dong-A Il-Bo, the respected Seoul newspaper, when its editors criticize the government overmuch. The bulk of Korea's citizens go about their business in freedom and are protected by the law. People criticize the government and discussions take place that would not be tolerated in a fully totalitarian country. In comparison to most socialist countries, including the shining lights of revisionism like Yugoslavia - and to the newly rightist countries like Chile - the degree of repression in Korea is small. The U.S. government could do a great deal by putting private pressure on Park, not to mention the business leaders and the strong Korean bureaucracy, which are developing independent power centers of their own.
While the Kennedy Administration did apply such pressures, much less was done during the Kissinger years. That period witnessed almost a public cynicism about human rights, which could only have served to confirm Park in his drift toward absolutism.
President Carter has changed all this. However much the announcement of troop withdrawal is pictured as a purely military decision, it clearly shows Washington's public concern over a bad human rights situation, which, in the President's words during his campaign, "undermines the support for our commitment." He has chosen to work from outside, rather than from within. Park Chung Hee has been put on public warning, so to speak. If he wants the support of the American people - and this is a people's government - he had better behave. This, at least, is "The View from Here."
How clear is that view? Looking at Korea again from an Asian perspective, it would seem to be defective in several ways. The withdrawal announcement has hardly fostered self-confidence among the Korean people, most of whom, rightly or wrongly, see the word "abandonment" written in the fine print behind "withdrawal." Nor can we expect Park to heed the warning and to mitigate the severities of his rule as a reflex action. He may, but the opposite may also happen. Driven into a position of isolation, real or fancied, Park is likely to tighten his grip on authority, not loosen it. He and his government are still amenable to American influence. They must be. But much of this influence was squandered needlessly by publicly announcing that we are pulling out. In a sense, we have given away much of our bargaining power with Park and given it away in advance. In return we have done nothing yet for human rights in Korea but preach about them.
The realities of Korea are complicated - "this free, authoritarian, democratic dictatorship," as wits in Seoul are wont to describe their country. In appraising the Koreans and their modern situation, we must remember that modern nations, despite the world's superficial unities of 747s, common communications networks, satellite TV and shared technology, continue to live in different historical time zones. Developing nations, in particular, are finding this truth a poignant one. The rush into modernity goes slower when you must carry your own past on your back.
Japan, Korea's close geographical and racial neighbor, was fortunate in accomplishing its modernization during the Meiji century, so-called, which began with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The Meiji modernization was not without pain, but in the end, civil war, industrial revolution, democracy, socialism, colonialism, militarism, big business, mass education and a disastrous major war were all somehow digested to form the liberal affluent society of today. But the Japanese needed all the time they could get to synthesize the conflicting demands loosed by the Meiji reformers. Their history until the fatal China adventure and Pearl Harbor was one of constant conflict between authority, variously benevolent or ruthless, and an aroused sense of popular rights. At times, in the 1920s, democracy seemed to be winning. In the 1930s democracy lost. It took the shock of a disastrous war and the utterly unexpected beneficence of American military occupation to graft on to the roots of the Meiji reforms the vigorous and workable - if sui generis - democracy in Japan today.
In Korea, this century-plus of modernization has been squeezed into roughly 30 years' time, with just about everything happening at once. Park and his fellow officers of the 1961 military revolution are rough parallels to the young Meiji samurai of a century ago. Like them, they have found that goals of strength, democracy, popular education, prosperity and national self-respect often conflict - particularly if you have to achieve them all in a hurry. Worse off than the Meiji reformers, the Korean leadership has had the legacy of Japanese colonialism to deal with, not to mention the destruction of the Korean War. National leadership was stunted and suppressed for generations. Until liberation after World War II, there was no tradition of political democracy to build on. Few Koreans had ever really voted.
The concentration on economic growth and military strength that so impresses the visitor to Korea today is the product of necessity - like the Fukoku Kyohei syndrome ("a prosperous country and a strong army"), which the Meiji reformers turned into a slogan. But unlike the Meiji, the Korean reformers include people out of two eras, working in one. The generation of Korean technocrats in their forties, who are responsible for the extraordinary national growth rate, are justly compared to the Japanese 40-year-olds of the 1950s (accidentally thrust into power by the Occupation purge of their elders) who created the economic miracle. But their seniors, notably Park himself, seem spiritually closer to the original Meiji reformers of a century ago.
Park has made his own study of the world's contemporary national revolutions. In one of his widely circulated memoirs, The Country, The Revolution and I (copies of which can be found on every prudent businessman's office bookshelf), Park cites the Meiji Restoration, Sun Yat-sen's revolution in China, the Turkey of Atatürk and Nasser's Egypt as examples, each useful in a different way. Not surprisingly, in a man with a sophisticated grasp of modern industry and economics, he reserves most of his admiration for the "miracle on the Rhine" of postwar Germany.
Yet, business and economics aside, he runs his government in such a way as to justify the jibes of Japanese commentators that he is, politically speaking, a "born-again Confucianist." To justify his maddening paternalism, which is again far closer to the attitudes of the Japanese Meiji leaders than to those of most modern authoritarian leaders, he continually stresses the political weaknesses of Koreans, their almost incurable political factionalism and their consequent need for strong leadership. Many of his countrymen would agree with the thesis, but are nervous about Park's evident desire to stay with the job until he finishes it. "We need strong leadership," a prominent lawyer said to me recently, "at the moment, even a dictator. But when someone thinks he is the one indispensable man, that is dangerous."
As yet Park's internal oppression has been selective and relatively sparing. Although it worries many Koreans, the prevailing mood in the country is the optimism of a business boom. The lot of the average citizen is vastly better than it was ten or even five years ago. The government is associated with the good times. Except for the city of Seoul, Park could probably carry most of the vote if a free election were held tomorrow. The realities of Seoul and the countryside around it, in fact, are different from the picture of tension generally given newspaper readers outside Korea. The military is in evidence, but hardly ubiquitous. The streets of Seoul are packed and traffic-ridden, with Korean-made cars now strikingly in evidence. New housing units are being built with great speed, but not fast enough to overtake demand. Seoul is a city of paradoxes and growing pains. In the city's central square a man walks precariously among the whizzing cars, seven fancy suitcases wrapped in cellophane stacked on an A-frame on his back. Even in a boom economy, A-frames and cars must coexist.
The disordered clatter of Seoul, the new power lines in the countryside, the rough-cut version of a Japanese or American freeway linking the capital with Pusan (a road which manages to serve almost two-thirds of Korea's concentrated, 60-percent urban population), the steel mills at Ulsan, the new technology villages of scientists and engineers pulled back to Korea on the brink of brain-drain to Europe or the United States, the saemul or new village movement in the subsidized countryside, the assembly lines of low-paid workers turning out calculators cheaper than Japan and shoes and tennis shirts cheaper than Hong Kong - all this, despite the apparent disorder of Korean living patterns, is part of a closely fitted economic plan for growth and national prosperity, which should be a model for every underdeveloped country.
In fact, South Korea can no longer be classed as such. The country, which counted itself lucky enough to export $41 million worth of merchandise in 1961, sent out to the world $7.8 billion worth in 1976 - an annual increase of 35 percent per annum. Per capita income, less than $100 in 1961, now stands at more than $800. In the teeth of a worldwide recession, the economy has continued to grow by nine percent yearly. A country that had to import most of its staples in the early postwar years is now self-sufficient in rice and barley, symptoms of a newly healthy and balanced agricultural sector. As the report of a World Bank investigating mission summarized its conclusions earlier this year:
The sustained high rate of expansion in incomes over 15 years has transformed Korea from one of the poorest developing countries, with heavy dependence on agriculture and a weak balance of payments, financed almost entirely by foreign grants, to a semi-industrialized middle-income nation with an increasingly strong external payments position and the prospect of eliminating the current deficit in the next 5-10 years.
Part of the explanation for this success lies in the impressive abilities of the Koreans themselves. Widely regarded in both East and West as less disciplined reverse-images of their Japanese racial cousins, with an objectionable facility for saturating food with garlic, they are in fact just as competent and emotionally more relaxed. The Koreans are driven by the same urge to educate their children at all costs as the Japanese "education mamas" who drive their sons into tutoring schools and universities in Osaka and Tokyo on the other side of the Tsushima Straits. Both high school and university-level education have expanded spectacularly since their release from colonialism. (One-half of Korea's children now attend high school, while the literacy rate has risen to 92 percent.) Koreans are moved by a combination of patriotism and survival. They have lived with the same economy of scarcity as the Japanese.
Starting from scratch as an industrial power, Koreans have nothing but new plants. Their labor force works long and cheaply. The growth of labor unions has been rigidly suppressed under the Park government. And thanks to the bloodbath of 1950-53, which no one ever wants to repeat, the life of a garrison state is tolerated. Besides, benefits are seeping down to the people. Electrification, plumbing, housing are coming. The appetite for rising expectations, if growing, can still be controlled. So the labor productivity rate remains astonishingly high.
And the control of industry, since the first of the four Five-Year Plans began in 1962, has been openly coercive. Park himself is in personal control. He has set out to leave behind a healthy country, agriculturally and industrially sound. He does not brook slacking. The President's personal integrity has rarely been questioned. He has kept the machinery of the economy running remarkably straight and smooth. His economic and financial bureaucrats, many of them American-trained, have cheerfully taken leaves from Japan's book and guided Korea's new bumptious capitalists into efficient channels. At the same time, the Korean Finance Ministry has managed a swinging, high-risk game of international borrowing that might easily have led to disaster, but so far has not.
Against a background of boom times, internal oppression, and considerable nervousness inside Korea and among its neighbors about a slide in the American commitment, the Carter Administration must now consider the consequences of its pullout announcement and learn to live with them. One must assume that the announcement itself is irreversible, in the absence of drastic new developments. By pledging American troops to a front-line position there, we had established a political quiet zone. We have endangered that. To restabilize matters, even partially, we must maintain an active, visible front-line diplomacy.
First, along with Japan, the United States should do everything within its power to assist and to help secure South Korea's extraordinary economic growth. This involves the welfare of the Korean people. It is also a necessary - though not a sufficient - condition for any easing of the regime's authoritarianism. To minimize economic pressures and to help young Korean managers bring on the consumer society of the 1980s can only help.
On the human rights front, it is doubtful if public denunciations of abuses will turn Park around and make him repent. Americans have rarely been successful with this tactic. It is far better to increase cultural and educational influences on Korea, on which this country has hitherto lavished little care, while applying constant, not sporadic pressure - firmly but privately - to expand political freedoms, with a promise, at least, of some return to a parliamentary government. Such unpublicized actions may have some effect. But we cannot win this game from the outside, any more than we can turn the Koreans overnight into responsible partisans and sophisticated independent voters.
The actual troop withdrawal should be slowed, as Washington has already indicated. And now that we have made the basic announcement, we must be careful that any subsequent incident from the North is met with more than normal vigor and severity. Kim Il Sung and his regime do not have a good record in reading American intentions accurately. Nor can we expect Kim to start his own little détente, in the hope of speeding the U. S. withdrawal. Pyongyang, to put it mildly, lacks the sophistication of Moscow and Peking. The fact that the North Koreans were almost civil when they returned the bodies of American airmen they had shot down recently over the demilitarized zone hardly seems a sufficient premise for predicting a new era of good feeling.
In Japan, however unconcerned the leadership may appear, the urge to examine the rearmament options will grow stronger. It already has. To the Japanese, Korea is within their defense perimeter. Although the possibility of a substantial Japanese rearmament is still not immediate, the withdrawal from Korea has certainly opened the question, and many thoughtful politicians and bureaucrats in Tokyo will start reviewing their options. Already, a consensus may be forming.
Finally, there is the critical issue of stabilizing the Korean situation on a more lasting basis. Given the vast differences that 30 years of Kim Il Sung's brand of communism have created between the 16 million North Koreans and their 35 million relatives in the South, it is hard to see any true modus vivendi yet in prospect, and still less any reunification of the country. But talks between North and South, aborted since 1971, could open up personal and economic contacts over time. Tensions could also be eased if the Soviet Union and China were to recognize Seoul in return for American recognition of Pyongyang. Ultimately there must be some guarantee of the Korean situation by the four great powers most concerned: Japan, China, the Soviet Union and the United States. The very similar case of the two Germanies shows fairly precisely what might be done under all three headings.
It is in this diplomatic area that one must especially regret the unilateral character of the American withdrawal announcement, and the failure to make use of it, in private discussions, as leverage toward one or another of these three objectives. Perhaps the later decision not to withdraw most of the combat ground forces until 1981-82 still leaves the way open for some moves of this sort, although they will be less effective than if the situation had been dealt with as a whole from the outset. At any rate the prospect of American withdrawal now makes it more than ever urgent that all six interested parties - but especially the United States as the one with most effective contact among them - seek to break the present deadlock in the next year or two. Geography and ideology have combined to make Korea one of the major danger points in the world. It demands the most imaginative diplomacy that can be brought to bear.