Different Dreams in One Bed: Technocratic Developmental Visions of Nuclear Reprocessing Technology in 1970s South Korea

Lee, Mina, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hitchcock, William

This paper revisits South Korea’s attempt to acquire nuclear reprocessing technology from France in the early 1970s. The previous historical analysis of this episode agrees with the Ford administration’s diagnosis: it was an attempt at nuclear proliferation by a president whose country was waging a never-ending Cold War. Under the context of America’s weakening military commitment in Asia as a result of the Vietnam War, national security became all the more urgent to South Korea. It was also studied as an example of American diplomacy successfully knocking “fence-straddlers” off the path of nuclear proliferation. While those are valid, this paper draws upon recent critical reflections in the field of international history and modern South Korean history to illuminate another layer of this incident by asking who and why pushed this deal again.
This paper focuses on the controversy surrounding a particular set of nuclear technology that could be used for multiple purposes and the way that this technology meant different things. By revisiting the French negotiation based on documents from the archives in Korea and published memoirs, this paper argues that it was the South Korean technocrats, not the president, who pushed for it; it was a particular developmental vision of self-sufficiency and independence, not quite weapons production, that was the motivation; and lastly, it was not the Cold War imperative of war, but rather the post-colonial imperative of advancement that was in the minds of the technocrats. While the Cold War imperatives were of great importance, those weren’t the only considerations that drove this deal and thus addressed a deeper strand of Korean developmentalism.

MA (Master of Arts)
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