Shifting Hierarchy: Carter’s Korean Troop Withdrawal and the Recasting of U.S. Hegemony and Korean Agency within the US-ROK Alliance

Clint Work, Ph.D. candidate
Tuesday, February 19, 2019 -
7:30pm to 9:00pm
Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace
W10,000 for non-members; W5,000 for student non-members; free for members

Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch lecture series

Shifting Hierarchy: Carter’s Korea Troop Withdrawal
and the Recasting of U.S. Hegemony

and Korean Agency within the US-ROK Alliance

Venue:          Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace,
                      Gwanghwamun (near Anguk Station, across street from
                      Japanese Embassy)

During the long 1970s, the U.S.-ROK alliance underwent a highly contested process of reassessment and restructuring. President Jimmy Carter’s troop withdrawal policy was an important episode during which this larger process crescendoed, resulting in a more mature if still hierarchical alliance relationship. Emerging out of the earlier Nixon Doctrine and Vietnam withdrawals, 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.

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forces in South Korea as so deeply embedded within a wider hegemonic structure in East Asia that they could not be withdrawn without undoing that very structure. Despite the ultimate cancelation of the policy, examination of previously unavailable U.S. and Korean documents and oral history and field interviews, reveals that the policy processes itself produced several important outcomes, namely: the reconstitution of a patron-client relationship into a more relatively equal and integrated one; enhancement of ROK defense capabilities and operational decision-making within a new alliance command architecture; and emergence of a more assertive nationalism and even anti-Americanism among both conservative and opposition elements within South Korea. These outcomes represented a key turning point in the alliance and remain salient today.

Clint Work received his M.A. 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 International Crisis Group’s (ICG) Seoul office. Currently, he is 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, South Korea.

His research focuses on Northeast Asian international relations, South Korea’s foreign and national security policy, Korean political culture, U.S.-Korean relations, and U.S. foreign policy. His doctoral research centers on U.S.-Korean relations under President Jimmy Carter and Carter’s abortive troop withdrawal from South Korea. He has several academic publications and also writes for more popular, non-academic outlets, such as The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, The Diplomat, 38 North, The Peterson Institute for International Economics’ North Korea: Witness to Transformation page, and Sino-NK. He was formerly the foreign policy writer for The Diplomat’s Koreas Page.


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