Sixty Years after the San Francisco Treaty: Its Legacy on Territorial and Security Issues in East Asia

By Bong, Youngshik D. | Asian Perspective, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Sixty Years after the San Francisco Treaty: Its Legacy on Territorial and Security Issues in East Asia


Bong, Youngshik D., Asian Perspective


The three articles that follow use the insights of historical institutionalism to analyze the complex nature of the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty and examine its legacy for East Asian regional security. The perceived and actual imbalance between the capacity of regional security arrangements and the growing challenges of new threats has prompted calls for a new "San Francisco system." Identifying the historical roots that have hampered the adaptive transformation of the San Francisco system is a sensible basis for research in search of alternatives, as the three articles on the subject richly and persuasively illustrate. KEYWORDS: San Francisco Peace Treaty, regional security in East Asia, historical institutionalism.

IN REQUIEM FOR A NUN,WILLIAM FAULKNER DECLARED THAT "THE PAST is never dead. It's not even past" (1951). During September 5-8, 1951, fifty-one delegations from all over the world gathered at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco to deliberate on this greatAmerican writer's wisdom.All but three of them concluded that Faulkner was wrong: Forty-eight of the fifty-one delegations signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan as the principal legal instrument to officially end the Pacific War and terminate Japan's position as an imperial power. They believed that the treaty would prevent the crimes of the past from haunting the present. They would only look forward to a better future.

Euphoric optimism was rampant and widely shared. The prime minister of Japan, Yoshida Shigeru, welcomed the treaty as "fair and generous." He said it

contains no punitive or retaliatory clauses; nor does it impose upon Japan any permanent restrictions or disabilities. It will restore the Japanese people to full sovereignty, equality, and freedom, and re- instate us as a free and equal member in the community of nations. It is not a treaty of vengeance, but an instrument of reconciliation. (Yoshida 1951)

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles likewise praised the treaty as the work of the peacemakers, "a step toward breaking the vicious cycle of war-victory-peace-war. The nations will here make a peace of justice, not a peace of vengeance" (Dulles 1951).

The San Francisco Peace Treaty came into force on April 28, 1952. It marked the official ending of World War II in the Pacific. However, its status as an originally conceived foundational system of territorial order, political justice, and regional reconciliation in East Asia has quickly been abandoned in the midst of major geopolitical changes. In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party unified the entire country by prevailing in the civil war. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea), under the leadership of Kim Il-sung, launched the Korean War in June 1950. With the spread of communism inAsia, the United States began committing itself to a regional balance of power through a web of security alliances and experimentation with multilateral security arrangements.With the onset of the ColdWar inAsia, the San Francisco Peace Treaty morphed into what some would call a system-the deep involvement of the United States in East Asian regional security.

The three articles that follow were born out of a research project sponsored by the Northeast Asian History Foundation of Korea that sought to explore the influence of the past on current and future regional order in East Asia. The articles were presented at a major research workshop titled Sixty Years After the San Francisco Treaty: Its Legacy on Territorial and Security Issues in East Asia, held in Seoul, Korea, on August 2, 2010. At the event, contributors and participants from diverse intellectual traditions and disciplines reflected on the legacy of the so-called San Francisco system that East Asian countries have adopted in their pursuit of historical understanding, resolution of territorial disputes, and promotion of cooperation.

The articles in this special issue distinguish themselves from other scholarly work on the same subject in two ways. …

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