In the late 1980s, Americans pointed to South Korea as the crowning achievement of their postwar strategy, combining cold war protection by troops that paid the greatest peacetime sacrifice of any U.S. forces, open-market modernization that tolerated the most protectionism of any U.S. trade partner, and, finally, democratization that set the most glaring contrast with a communist rival. If Japan had long been proclaimed the standard of U.S. success with an ally, and Taiwan, despite being shunted aside as a nonstate, was proving to a reforming China through its democratization that the U.S. model worked, South Korea captured the spotlight as the all-around tribute to American sacrifice. As defenders of freedom, an economic miracle, and a democracy, the Republic of Korea (ROK) presented few complications for U.S. foreign policy. This was as reliable an ally as the United States could have outside NATO: (1) dependent on the United States for its very
survival; (2) drawing its economic lifeblood from the U.S. market; (3) caught in a secure web of triangular economic ties with its old nemesis Japan that only tightened the U.S. embrace; and (4) sharing fundamental American values, amid three continental neighbors whose values seemed to offer no appeal.