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The Korean War

Analysis of Korean War

July 27, 2014 celebrated 61 years since the end of the Korean War. The conflict has lasted for three years and caused huge losses to all the parties involved. Despite such a long period after the end of the war, its story still contains numerous white spots, as many archives relating to the events that took place in Korea more than half a century ago were classified. As a result, the world community had to learn about the war from the other sources. The relevance of the selected topic is supported by the fact that the Korean War was one of the largest armed conflicts in the Cold War and had an effect on all the super powers of the period to a greater or lesser extent. Studying the processes that underlie the Korean crisis will help in understanding what steps the state must pass in its infancy and the effect of the external forces on this process. Moreover, the war between the South and North Korea was not stopped de jure; in such a manner, it is one of the many unresolved conflicts of the modern times. Therefore, the following research is focused on the prerequisites of the conflict, the analysis of military operations of 1950-1953, as well as the outcomes of the war for the parties involved.

The Prerequisites of the Conflict

Since 1910 and until 1945, Korea had been occupied by Japan, which officially announced the annexation of the peninsula. However, after the Japanese surrender in 1945, the US and the Soviet Union have signed an agreement, according to which Korea was divided on the 38th parallel as the demarcation line. According to the plan, the Japanese troops in the north would have to surrender to the Red Army, and in the south – to the American Army. Consequently, the peninsula was divided into northern (Soviet) and southern (American) parts. It was assumed that such separation is temporary.

In December, an agreement on the temporary administration of the country was signed, resulting in the creation of the governments in southern and northern parts of Korea. In the south of the peninsula, the United States conducted the elections, replacing the government convened in June 1945 with the one headed by Syngman Rhee. However, the left parties boycotted these elections. In the north, the power was transferred to the Communists led by Kim Il Sung. However, the South Korean President, Syngman Rhee, and the Secretary General of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, did not hide their intentions: both regimes sought to unify the peninsula under their headship. Being adopted in 1948, the Constitution of the two Korean states unequivocally declared that the purpose of each of the two governments is to extend their authority all over the country. It is significant that, in accordance with the 1948 Constitution, the North Korean capital was Seoul while Pyongyang was only a temporary capital of the country. By 1949, both Soviet and American troops were withdrawn from the territory of Korea.

The government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was concerned with the situation in Korea. Mao Zedong was convinced that the American intervention in Asia would destabilize the region and adversely affect his plans to split the Kuomintang forces of Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan. Moreover, since 1949, Kim Il Sung had resorted to the Soviet government for help in a full-scale invasion of South Korea. He emphasized that the government of Syngman Rhee had low support, and argued that the invasion would lead to a mass uprising, during which the South Koreans, interacting with the North Korean units, would depose the regime of Seoul.

However, Stalin, referring to the lack of readiness of the North Korean army and the possibility of intervention of the U.S. troops in the battle, did not satisfy the requests by Kim Il Sung. Most likely, he believed that the current situation might begin a new World War. Despite the refusal, the Soviet Union still provided North Korea’s with the significant military assistance. As a result, the country has continued to increase its military power, organizing the army on the Soviet model under the leadership of the Soviet military advisors. The ethnic Koreans from China, the Chinese Red Army veterans, who, with the consent of Beijing were transferred to serve in the North Korean armed forces, also played a crucial role. Therefore, by the beginning of 1950, the North Korean armed forces had surpassed those of South Korea in all the key elements. Finally, in January 1950, after much hesitation and yielding to the persistent assurances of Kim Il Sung, Stalin agreed to conduct a military operation. Its details were agreed during the visit of President Kim Il Sung to Moscow in April 1950 while the final plan of attack had been prepared by the end of May.

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On January 12, 1950, the U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, claimed that the American defense perimeter in the Pacific passed through the Aleutian Islands, the Japanese Ryukyu Islands, and the Philippines. This fact suggests that Korea was not included into the scope of the American interests. This fact has also contributed to the development of an armed conflict, and helped to convince Stalin that the American intervention in the Korean conflict was rather unlikely.

The Military Operations

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean troops crossed the border under the pretext of Syngman Rhee treacherously invading North Korea. The march of the North Korean army was successful in the early days of the war. On June 28, Seoul, the capital of South Korea, was captured. The main direction of impact also included Kaesong, Chuncheon, and Uijeongbu. However, the primary goal was not achieved – the lightning victory failed, and Syngman Rhee, together with a considerable part of the South Korean leadership, managed to escape from the city.

The attack on South Korea was a surprise to the United States and other Western countries. However, the Western powers sided with the US and provided assistance to the American troops that were sent to aid South Korea. However, by August, the U.S. forces had been made to retreat to the south; consequently, they could not break out of the bulge, known as the Pusan Perimeter. They were only able to hold the front line along the Nakdong River. However, in the autumn, the Allied forces managed to take the offensive. The counteroffensive began on September 15. Having ensured a reliable protection on the south, the coalition troops launched the Operation Chromite. As a result, the Americans landed in the port city of Incheon, located near Seoul. The next day, the paratroopers launched an offensive in the direction of Seoul. On the southern direction, the counteroffensive was made by the two South Korean army corps, seven American infantry divisions, and thirty-six battalions of artillery. Both groups advanced towards the Yesan County; they had surrounded the 1st Army Group of North Korea by September 27. The next day, the allied forces captured Seoul and reached the 38th parallel. To support the operations of taking the capital of North Korea, five thousand paratroopers landed 40-45 kilometers to the north of the city. The capital of North Korea fell.

In the autumn of 1950, the defeat of the North Korean Army became clear; the occupation of the whole territory of the Korean Peninsula by the Allied forces was only a matter of time. Therefore, the Soviet Union and PRC decided to send a part of the Chinese army to Korea. The Chinese offensive began on October 25, 1950. Taking the advantage of surprise, the Chinese army crushed the defense of the UN troops but then retreated to the mountains. The losses in the Chinese manpower were about 10,000 people. The 8th U.S. Army lost nearly 8,000 people (6,000 of whom were Koreans); it was forced to build a line of defense on the southern bank of the Han River. Despite the blow, the UN troops continued to advance towards the Yalu River.

On January 4, 1951, North Korea, in alliance with China, captured Seoul, forcing the U.S. Army Corps to retreat. However, as a result of the operation, which began on February 21, 1951, the UN forces were able to push the Chinese army back to the north. Finally, on March 7, the order to start the Operation Ripper was given. It was successfully developed; in mid-March, the coalition troops crossed the southern Han River and occupied Seoul. On May 16, the northern coalition troops started an offensive, which turned out to be quite unsuccessful. It was stopped on May 21, after which the UN troops launched a full-scale offensive on all fronts. The Army of the North Korea was thrown off over the 38th parallel.

In mid-1951, the conflict reached its critical point. The question of the use of the nuclear weapons was considered by the Americans repeatedly but was ultimately rejected. All the participants of the conflict understood the impossibility of achieving the victory without significant losses. The end of the war was characterized by relatively small changes in the front lines and a long period of negotiations, the first of which was held in Kaesong on July 8, 1951. However, even during the negotiations, the fighting continued. The main goal of the southern coalition was to restore South Korea in the pre-war boundaries. Dwight Eisenhower, elected as the U.S. President in 1953, traveled to Korea to find out what could be done to stop the war. However, the turning point of the conflict was the death of Stalin, on March 5, 1953, shortly after which the Politburo voted for ending the conflict. Having lost the support of the Soviet Union, China agreed to the repatriation of the prisoners of war. The fire was ceased by both sides on July 27, 1953; the border between the countries was declared a demilitarized zone. However, up to this day, the peace treaty that would end the war is not signed.

The Outcomes of the War

According to the estimates, about 600,000 of the Korean soldiers were killed during the war. South Korea had about a million losses in people, 85% of which were civilians. In sum, South and North Korea lost about 2.5 million people. More than 80% of industrial and transport infrastructure of both countries, three-quarters of the government agencies, and about half of the total housing stock were also destroyed. In consequence of the war, the peninsula was divided into zones of influence by the Soviet Union and the US. The American troops remained in South Korea as a peacekeeping force. Even today, the demilitarized zone bustles with mine and weapons explosions left after the conflict.

The US reported about 54,246 soldiers killed in the Korean War. In 1993, that number was specified; 33,686 people were killed in the fighting, 2,830 comprised non-combat losses, and 17,730 died in the accidents away from the Korean theater of operations during the same period, including 8,142 people missing in action. The U.S. losses were lower than during the Vietnam campaign, but it should be borne in mind that the Korean War had lasted for three years only against eight years of the war in Vietnam.

By the end of the Korean War, a lack of training of the U.S. military had become apparent. Therefore, right after the war, the U.S. military budget was increased to 50 billion dollars, the size of the Army and the Air Force was doubled, and the U.S. military bases were opened in Europe, on the Middle East, and some parts of Asia. The war also gave start for many projects in technical upgrading of the U.S. Army. As a result, the military received such weapons as M16 rifles, M79 40-mm grenade launchers, and F-4 Phantom aircrafts. The Korean War has changed the American views on the Third World countries, especially Indochina. Until the 1950s, the U.S. were critical about the attempts by France to restore its influence in the region by suppressing the local resistance. After the Korean War, however, the US supported France in its struggle against the Viet Minh and other nationalist-communist local parties, providing up to 80% of the French military budget in Vietnam. The Korean War has also marked the beginning of the racial equalization in the U.S. military. On July 26, 1948, President Truman signed the decree, according to which, the African-Americans could serve in the army on the same terms as the white Americans did.

The war has seriously deteriorated the Sino-Soviet relations. Although China’s decision to enter the war was largely dictated by its own strategic considerations, many of the Chinese leaders suspected that in order to achieve its geopolitical goals, the Soviet Union deliberately used the Chinese as the cannon fodder. Discontent was also caused by the fact that the military aid, contrary to the expectations of China, was not provided free of charge. The war has contributed to the development of the anti-Soviet sentiment in the leadership of the PRC and has become one of the prerequisites of the Sino-Soviet conflict.

For the Soviet Union, the war was unsuccessful, primarily in the political terms. The main goal of the unification of the Korean peninsula under the regime of Kim Il Sung was not achieved. Moreover, the boundaries of the two parts of Korea remained virtually unchanged. The war also seriously soured the relations with Communist China while the countries of the capitalist bloc rallied even more. The Korean War facilitated the establishment of peace between Japan and the US, the development of relations between Germany and other Western countries, and the creation of the military-political blocs.

Conclusion

The Korean War cannot be viewed in the isolation from the global processes that took place after the World War II; it should be considered in the light of the formation and adoption of a new bipolar world order, together with the local foundation, on which the conflict flared. The war has greatly influenced the international situation in the 1950s. It has shown the world the possible results of an inter-regional conflict, and the fact that any country can become a springboard for military action when the powerful states try to divide the world. The Korean War is important for several reasons. First of all, it was the first grand conflict in the nuclear age; thus, there was a possibility of the nuclear weaponry use. Moreover, this war was a struggle between the two ideologies; therefore, it was one of the factors to deepen the Cold War, stimulate the formation of the opposing military blocs, and provoke the new political and ideological conflicts. It pushed one superpower on the pass of ruthless suppression of democracy as a Trojan horse of the West, and the second on the pass of fierce opposition to the Communist movement in the countries of the Third World.