The United States and South Korean Democratization

Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 114, No. 2, pp. 265-288, Summer 1999

56 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2007  

James H. Fowler

UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences; UC San Diego School of Medicine

Abstract

In 1987 South Korea initiated a successful transition to democracy, while previous attempts in 1979 and 1980 failed. This paper distinguishes two cycles of liberalization in South Korea and then develops a conceptual understanding that is used to test two common schools of thought. One school asserts that the United States had little impact on democratization in Korea and that domestic factors explain the delayed transition. The other school implies that the U.S. could have improved prospects for democratization by not approving Chun Doo Hwan's request to use Combined Forces Command troops to repress demonstrations in 1980. Finding both sets of explanations unsatisfactory, this paper draws on recently declassified documents and interviews with State Department officials to advance the hypothesis that it was U.S. public pressure which played a critical role in determining the timing of South Korea's transition to democracy. Finally, the use of public pressure is found to have been greatly affected by unrelated foreign policy crises in Iran and the Philippines, illuminating the process whereby conflicts in other countries that had no direct bearing on South Korea ultimately affected the outcome of its own domestic political process.

Suggested Citation

Fowler, James H., The United States and South Korean Democratization. Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 114, No. 2, pp. 265-288, Summer 1999. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1007989

James H. Fowler (Contact Author)

UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Code 0521
La Jolla, CA 92093-0521
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

UC San Diego School of Medicine ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
MC 0507
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

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