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The Invitation to Struggle: Executive and Legislative Competition over the U.S. Military Presence on the Korean Peninsula

Authored by Dr. William E. Berry Jr..

May 17, 1996

27 Pages

Brief Synopsis

This monograph was presented originally at the International Workshop on the U.S.-ROK Alliance held in Seoul, Korea, in October 1995. The Strategic Studies Institute co-hosted this workshop in collaboration with the Institute for Far Eastern Studies of Kyungnam University and in partnership with The Korea Society and the Defense Nuclear Agency. Dr. William E. Berry examines the history and the ongoing debate between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. Government regarding policy in Korea. The issue of troop presence has taken a back seat to concerns over the North Korean nuclear threat. Most of the current congressional criticism is focused on the effectiveness of the administration's counterproliferation policy with respect to North Korea. Dr. Berry concludes that, until the nuclear issue is resolved, U.S. forces will likely remain in South Korea because vital national security interests are involved.


The primary focus of this monograph is the ongoing debate between the executive and legislative branches of government in the United States concerning the American military presence in the Republic of Korea. It begins by examining the debate surrounding the ratification of the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1953, and the Senate's decision to attach an "understanding" to that treaty. The Nixon and Carter administrations are particularly important because major efforts occurred in each to reduce the U.S. presence. In the case of the Nixon administration, the Congress was a major impetus to this reduction, whereas in the Carter administration, the Congress worked hard to impede Carter's troop withdrawal initiative. The reasons for this role reversal are very informative.

The suspected North Korean nuclear weapons program has added another dimension to this debate. Much of the current debate between the Clinton administration and the Congress concentrates on whether the U.S. counter- proliferation policy has been successful in reducing the North Korean threat rather than on whether the United States should continue to station military forces in South Korea. The 1995 Defense Department security strategy makes a compelling case for this military presence and appears to be generally accepted in the Congress. The conclusion is that unless or until the nuclear issue is resolved, the U.S. troop presence will not be as controversial as in previous times. Provided the South Koreans desire these forces to remain, the United States will keep them there, at least in the short term, because they contribute to the achievement of the new critical counterproliferation objectives, as well as their original deterrent purpose.

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