Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Roh Tae Woo (1932–)

South Korean general, politician, and president of the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea) during 1988–1993. Born in Taegu on 4 December 1932, Roh Tae Woo graduated in 1955 from the Korea Military Academy with his close friend Chun Doo Hwan, future South Korean president. Woo became a lieutenant colonel in June 1968 and went to Vietnam as a battalion commander in September of that year. He was promoted to colonel in November 1971 and brigadier general in October 1974. After advancing to major general in 1978, he took command of the 9th Infantry Division in January 1979. When Huan seized control of the South Korean armed forces in a bloody coup on 12 December 1979, Woo played an essential supporting role in bringing his 9th Infantry Division to Seoul. Advanced to lieutenant general in August 1980, he headed the Defense Security Command, the South Korean military intelligence agency. In July 1981 he retired from active service with the rank of full general.

Woo then plunged into politics and was elected president of South Korea in December 1987, defeating longtime opposition leaders Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung, who split the opposition vote. Woo took office in early 1988. In foreign affairs, he vigorously pursued a Nordpolitik that called for rapprochement with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea), the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China (PRC). This policy led to the normalization of relations with the Soviet Union in 1990, and by 1992 South Korea had established diplomatic ties with all of the East European nations and the PRC.

Meanwhile, in September 1990 South Korean Prime Minister Kang Young Hun met in Seoul with his North Korean counterpart Yon Hyong Muk in the first such meeting of leaders of the two Koreas. It resulted in the December 1991 Basic Agreement on North-South Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchange, and Cooperation and the Agreement on the Non-Nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Earlier that same year, North and South Korea were admitted simultaneously to the United Nations (UN). Woo retired from the presidency in February 1993.

In 1995 Woo was tried, convicted, and sentenced to seventeen years' imprisonment for his part in the 1979 military mutiny and coup and for corruption while in office. He was released under a special amnesty in December 1997.

Jinwung Kim


Further Reading
Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. Revised and updated ed. New York: Basic Books, 2002.; Yu-hsin Wang. Taetongnyong Roh Tae-woo Chon [The Biography of President Roh Tae Woo]. Translated by Kang Chung-hee. Seoul: Usin-sa, 1993.
 

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