Identity Politics and Policy Disputes in U.S.-Korea Relations

Political Science Quarterly

Anti-American sentiments and slogans swept South Korea during
its 2002 presidential campaign. These movements were not new for the coun-
try, but for the first time, they had a crucial impact on its alliance with the United
States. A second North Korean nuclear stand-off had just occurred, and candi-
date Roh Moo Hyunʼs vows to continue engagement with the North, despite
the crisis, were clearly at odds with the George W. Bush administrationʼs desire
to isolate Pyongyang. In the past, such a threat would have led the South to
consolidate its alliance with the United States for reasons of national security.
Also preceding the 2002 election, a massive wave of anti-American sentiment
had erupted in response to the handling of a U.S. military training accident that
killed two Korean schoolgirls: Catholic priests went on a hunger strike, and tens
of thousands of Koreansnot just activists but middle-class adultsprotested
against the United States.1 According to a 2003 Pew survey, aside from certain
Arab states, France, and Russia, South Korea was identified as one of the most
anti-American countries.2 A 2004 RAND report likewise showed that many
South Koreansʼ previously positive views of the United States had become
increasingly unfavorable.3 As new progressive, nationalist policy elites sought to reassess the U.S. role in inter-Korean relations and unification, the rationale for the alliance was being questioned and became a subject of intense debate
within the South.