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South Korea

South Korea Responds to the North Korean Military Buildup

Figure 13. Comparative Growth of the Armed Forces of South Korea and North Korea, 1950-90

In the 1960s, P'yongyang began a sustained expansion of its armed forces that continued without interruption through the 1980s (see fig. 13). Under presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee, the South Korean military remained largely dependent on the United States to deter a second North Korean invasion and to provide much of the training and equipment needed by the armed forces. When the First Republic (1948-60) fell, South Korea's military institutions were stronger relatively than most of its other government agencies. Each service had a well-established school system and adequate supplies of weapons, ships, and aircraft from World War II and the Korean War.

Because of internal politics and Syngman Rhee's policy of controlling the promotion and assignment of all general rank officers, the military leadership was already at the edge of involvement in the nation's politics. Park Chung Hee and the other military leaders who participated in the May 1961 coup d'état that brought down the Second Republic (1960-61) were motivated largely by dissatisfaction with their corrupt and ineffective military and civilian superiors (see The Democratic Interlude , ch. 1). They believed that South Korea's survival as a nation depended on the reestablishment of social and economic stability. They viewed the strength of the armed forces and the reinstitution of the National Security Act of 1960 and other laws intended to reduce civil disturbances as necessary means to restore order and promote sound economic development. By 1963 when Park won election to the presidency of the Third Republic (1963-72) as a civilian, he already had placed other former military leaders, mostly members of the eighth class of the Officer Candidate School who had graduated in 1949, in key government positions.

Two of Park's major objectives during the Third Republic were to improve defense cooperation with the United States and to modernize the armed forces (see South Korea Under Park Chung Hee, 1961-79 , ch. 1). In pursuit of these goals, Park devoted onethird of all government spending to defense in 1965. As a sign of support for United States policies in Southeast Asia and in exchange for the substantial financial and material contributions for modernizing the army, Park deployed units of the South Korean army and marine corps to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

In the early 1970s, the Park administration, with United States assistance through its Foreign Military Sales program, promoted the establishment of an indigenous defense industry. Park's military advisers were concerned that Kim Il Sung already had built a North Korean arms industry. The Nixon administration was calling for Washington's allies to assume more responsibility for their own defense. Nixon's national security advisors also feared that Seoul might be too weak to deter a North Korean invasion unless it began to manufacture some of its own weapons.

A Defense Industry Bureau was established in the Ministry of National Defense and planning, for a defense industry was incorporated into South Korea's first Force Improvement Plan (1971-76). Some of the weapons were assembled in government-owned plants. Licensed production of the United States-designed Colt M16 rifle was initiated in 1971, with select South Korean companies supplying the government assembly plant with most of the parts for the weapon. In other cases, coproduction responsibility was entirely delegated to civilian-managed companies, many of which already had produced nonmilitary items with technical assistance from various United States firms. The Tacoma Boatbuilding Company, for example, assisted a South Korean shipbuilding company based in Chinhae in constructing several classes of patrol boats, including the Paegu-class derived from the Asheville-class, which was equipped with Harpoon antiship missiles.

Park's assassination in 1979 did not obscure his regime's contributions to improving the armed forces during the eighteen years he was in power. He reorganized the Ministry of National Defense and each of the armed services to enhance the government's capability to manage any military contingency, including an all-out attack by North Korea across the DMZ, smallscale infiltrations along South Korea's extensive 8,640-kilometer coastline, and various types of low-intensity conflict, such as commando raids that targeted industrial, power, and communications facilities, or attempts by terrorists to assassinate key government officials.

President Chun Doo Hwan perpetuated the military's dominance over politics from December 1979 until Roh's inauguration in February 1988 and protected Park's legacy of simultaneously improving the country's economic and military capabilities. Chun continued Park's policy of devoting one-third of all government spending to the military, outstripping estimated North Korean military expenditures during most of the 1980s. Chun also continued Park's policy of promoting defense-related research and development and commercial agreements with the United States, Japan, and Western Europe--a policy that provided Seoul with access to more advanced defense technologies. Particular emphasis was placed on expanding the air force and establishing a modern air defense network.

Korean Air, then South Korea's only civil airline, began coproduction of Northrop F5-E/F fighter aircraft in 1982. At the end of Chun's term in office, Seoul was considering coproducing either the General Dynamics F-16 or the McDonnell Douglas FA-18. During Chun's administration, South Korean shipbuilders increased production of various types of frigates, missile-equipped fast attack craft, and other, smaller naval vessels. Civilian industries also became more involved in coproduction of defense ordnance, including armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, tanks, and communications equipment.

Data as of June 1990


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