S-Space 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)
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”
- Park, Myung Lim
- Issue Date
- Korean Social Sciences Review(KSSR), Vol.1 No.1, pp. 263-302
- National Agenda; Constitutional Change; Presidential Leadership; American Influence; National Founding Constitution; Post-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
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.