The Korean War occurred during the earliest years of the Cold War, involving the joint occupation of two major opposing powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, together with the regional influence of China. The conflict started on June 25, 1950 with the North Korean Communist army’s invasion of non-communist South Korea that crossed the boundary line of 38th parallel between North and South Korea. The opposing sides were provided with lethal military technology, and they both were concerned about the alliance’s interrelations. The American intervention in the Korean War was facilitated by several reasons and goals on the part of the United States based upon President Truman’s strategy of uniting the Korean peninsula and preventing the communism expansion.
Reasons for the United States to be Involved
The emergence of the Korean armed conflict forced the United States to intervene to prevent the communist’s success that might have a threatening power towards vital American interests. It is important to note that prior to the outbreak, the strategic political reasons of the United States excluded any military engagement in Korea. However, the Truman administration chose to participate in the war on the side of South Korea, together with the United Nations. The American intervention was implemented by the presidential government since the North Korean attack was perceived as akin to the cases of Japanese, Italian, and German aggression before World War II. Moreover, in the case of the United States containment, there could be a risk of communists’ actions that would eventually lead to the war between Americans and Russians.
The external intervention by the United States was as well caused by the social and economic impact of the Korean War upon the United States. According to Wada, the critical point of the American policy in the Far East region aimed at the prevention of the possible dissemination of Communist influence in the east from the Asian mainland into the Pacific (p. 12). Therefore, the United States continued to count on its bastions in the Philippines, the Ryukyus, and Japan to meet this target. With regard to South Korea, American strategy kept providing economic, military, and technical assistance. Such a policy before the Korean conflict partly explains Truman’s reluctance to the immediate military response since the restraint on the Korean peninsula emphasized the formation of South Korea’s native potential for self-defense.
Political Goals of the United States in the Korean War
Korean Peninsula was always a subject of interest for neighboring countries over the course of history, although, in 1950, it became an interaction point of two great powers. As the United States accepted the surrender of the bottom line of the 38th parallel, South Korea, the government aimed to restore Korea’s national independence eventually (Kur, p. 28). The initial objective of the American side was to restore South Korea’s 38th parallel borderline and prevent it from North Korean occupation. Thus, the main purpose was to keep the bottom line of the 38th parallel a free and independent territory.
Furthermore, after World War II, the political arena was controlled by the powerful alliance of the Soviet Union and the United States that, at the same time, was highly hostile. The main reason for this was the substantial difference in the political goals, governmental regimes and strategies. With that said, during the Korean War, the Soviet Union aimed at spreading Communism, while the United States were upholding the policy of preventing this dissemination. Such a strategy was known as the Containment Policy. However, as described by Kur, the Korean conflict intensified the reinforcement of critical position in the containment, which was perceived by the American officials as the global Communist aggression (p. 28). Hence, the focus of the American side was on South Korea since Korea’s integration would only be possible under the communist regime.
Considering Soviet aggression, one of the possible reasons to be involved in the Korean War was the avoidance of further major conflict and World War III. President Truman agreed with the conflict characterization as the “police action” sponsored by the United Nations, which was not fully supported by America’s military leaders. From their point of view, this course should be implemented with the “complete cooperation and full participation by other member nations” (Wilz, p. 178). The United States as well aimed at protecting Japan, the neighboring country to Korea that was considered a key element of stability in Asia and American trade. Ultimately, to resolve the stalemate in the Korean War, the defense policy of the new Eisenhower administration was implemented to contain the Soviet Union through nuclear threat. In addition, the weakening of the Communist invasion was caused by the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953.
Results of the Conflict
The Korean War was an unfamiliar experience for the Americans; it was the first war Americans fought under the aegis of the United Nations. Such a turning point in the world’s history was an indirect confrontation of two great powers after World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States (Kur, p. 53). Each of the authorities, however, were functioning enemies and had their interests and political goals. Hence, the American intervention in the Korean War referred to the great power rivalry and concerns of the individual nation-state. Concerning the American forces, the Korean War had a significant impact on the USAF (United States Air Force). As such, one of the vital tasks for President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the reassessment of the military forces and strategy policies. Therefore, specific strategies were developed concerning armed-force mobility, professional corps, industrial base, and continental defense.
The United States contributed to South Korea with significant aid led by the United Nations Korea Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA). Eisenhower provided the national defense budget to Congress, which involves the expansion in airpower for the Air Force and Navy, as well as the further advancement of land and sea forces, but at a lesser extent. Ultimately, on July 27, 1953, the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed, which reshaped the international border by setting a demilitarized zone (DMZ) 2.4 miles (4 km) wide and 145 miles (241 km) long (Schafer 98). Such a division allocated 55 % of the peninsula to the North, with the rest of the territory claimed by the South.
To conclude, the Korean War was a challenging task for the American officials to test the nation’s capacity to address Soviet aggression. As the war ended, both nations were exposed to major economic and infrastructural damages. However, the concerns that forced the military intervention of the United States were successfully averted. As a result, the armistice agreement was signed that transformed Korea’s division with additional territory for South Korea. Following this, the zone between the two countries, North and South Korea, was demilitarized. With the massive loss of the lives of millions, it was a frustrating experience for the US, which could turn into the World War III but, fortunately, such a dramatic outcome was prevented. The Korean conflict was a crucial aspect of the Cold War development that demonstrated the combat between the Soviet Union and the United States in a third country.
- Kur, Caner. “The Historical Role of the United Nations on the Korean Peninsula: The Case of the Korean War and the South Korea.” The United Nations and Its Conflict Resolution Role, edited by Muharrem Hilmi Özev and Aydın Erdoğan, Istanbul University Press, 2019, pp. 27–55.
- Schafer, Elizabeth. “Demilitarized Zone.” The Korean War. An Encyclopedia, edited by Stanley Sandler, Taylor and Francis, 2014, pp. 98–100.
- Wada, Haruki. The Korean War: An International History. Translated by Frank Baldwin, Rowman and Littlefield, 2018.
- Wilz, John Edward. “Korea and the United States, 1945-1950.” The Korean War. An Encyclopedia, edited by Stanley Sandler, Taylor and Francis, 2014, pp. 172–179.