Constitution, National Agenda, and Presidential Leadership: Focusing on a Comparison between the Articles on Economy in the “National Founding Constitution” and the “Post-Korean War Constitution”

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Park, Myung Lim
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Center for Social Sciences, Seoul National University
Korean Social Sciences Review(KSSR), Vol.1 No.1, pp. 263-302
National AgendaConstitutional ChangePresidential LeadershipAmerican InfluenceNational Founding ConstitutionPost-Korean War Constitutio
Translated from the published article in Korean Journal of International Relations 48(1): 429-454, 2008 with permission from the Korean Association of International Relations.
This paper analyzes the dynamism among Korea’s Constitution (institution), national

agenda (economic reform), and leadership (president) by comparing the 1948 National

Founding Constitution (NFC), which pursued an “equal economy” and a “market economy,”

with the 1954 Post-Korean War Constitution (PKWC).

First, under the condition of the postcolonial agenda on land reform, the NFC promoted

a socialist market economy that stipulated strong involvement by the state in the economy or

an equal economic system of social democracy and not a liberal market economy. This was in

line with the republican tradition that had existed since the Korean Provisional Government.

Second, through the active use of the NFC, the South Korean government and President

Syngman Rhee (Yi Sŭngman) executed a policy of land reform—the biggest national agenda

at the time—which led to the downfall of the radical left and had a decisive influence on

the expansion of farmer support for the government. The landlord class and the Korean

Democratic Party were also weakened. These outcomes were a result of a combination

of a key national agenda (land reform), the principles of the Constitution, and Korea’s

presidential leadership.

Third, Korea’s Constitution was transformed to promote a market economic system after

the Korean War. The change in the spirit of the Constitution was due to the achievements

of postcolonial reform through the success of land reform and the collapse of the left along

with the emergence of a new national agenda to support postwar reconstruction and secure

foreign aid. The constitutional basis for a market economy system was not laid out in the NFC but in the PKWC.

Fourth, the amendment of the articles on the economy in the PKWC was done

as a consequence of American demands. The US regarded the NFC as a Constitution

that promoted ‘state socialism.’ As a result of the socialist orientation of the NFC and

Washington’s strong objection to it, a tense confrontation regarding the matters of the state’s

role in the constitutional articles and in the economy emerged. However, due to the need to

secure American aid, Korea was obliged to amend the articles on the economy to support

the US-backed market economy system. Washington felt the need to block the South Korean

government’s excessive involvement in the economy unless it was aimed at a market economy

system and tried to establish this through a constitutional amendment.

Fifth, Syngman Rhee, who had been opposed to the amendment in the face of American

pressure, used a strategy of exchange with regard to both Korean politics and the economy

as well its power structure and economic system to ensure his third consecutive run for the

presidency and to secure aid from the US. From a state development point of view, Rhee’s

strategy was a combination of “the regression of democracy, [and the] development of the

market economy.” Regarding the effects and consequences of the amendment, the PKWC

led to a change in the Korean economic system and Korea’s entry into the market economy

system, an increase in American aid and changes in the aid package, the success of post-war

reconstruction, and the establishment of the basis of the Korean market economy.

More than anything else, the constitutional amendment heavily influenced the quantity

and quality of American aid and thus provided a legal and institutional tool for Korea’s

postwar economic development. In addition, the constitutional amendment provided

enabling conditions as well as confining conditions in the trajectory of the development of

Korean society as seen in the fact that the norms and spirit of the Constitution at the time of

the amendment are still maintained without fundamental changes in Korea even today.

Through a comparison of the NFC and the PKWC, the success in mutual correspondence

and relational dynamics among South Korea’s early national agenda, the Constitution, and

national leadership is clearly shown. In other words, there is a very strong correlation among

the national agendas as regards land reform and post-war reconstruction, the principle and

articles of the Constitution, and Korean leadership.
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College of Social Sciences (사회과학대학)Center for Social Sciences (사회과학연구원)Korean Social Sciences Review (KSSR)Korean Social Sciences Review (KSSR) Vol.01, No.01 (2011)
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