1970s: Mounting Arms and Myopic
Push for Economic Growth
By the turn of the 1970s, North Korea had become a bristling fortress commandeering supplies from a stunted economy in its territory. The stagnant agriculture and the tiny consumer-goods sector made for a tenuous supply base for the fortress and its ordnance plants. From an objective standpoint, one would have expected to see a movement toward resource reallocation to ease the imbalance, if only to sustain the militarization program for the long pull. There was another reality that called for Pyongyang to desist in its shortsighted push for arms buildup and pursue more of a balance in military-economic strength for the long run. South Korea was gaining economic strength in the context of U.S. troops committed to staying there, and the South did not seem headed toward an impending revolutionary phrase that would invite the North’s military might to march in and take over.
The Republic of Korea (ROK) had been a surprise success story of the 1960s in the world economy. A determined military regime improved both the living conditions for the people and the industrial base of the economy. The construction of the soon-to-be renowned Pohang Steel Corporation was launched in December 1969. One year later, there was a joint commissioning ceremony for a naphtha cracking plant and its eight allied factories at Ulsan, signaling the advent of a modern petrochemical complex in the South.1 Taking off from these two key projects of the Second Five-Year Plan (1967–1971), Seoul officially launched a major push for heavy industry in the Third Five-Year Plan (1972–1976). In introducing the third plan, President Park Chung Hee wrote, “Em-