Korean War and its Aftermath for U.S. Foreign Policy

The end of the World War II was marked with the fundamental change of the world order where the United States began to play the key role on the world scene - Korean War and its Aftermath for U.S. Foreign Policy introduction. No one doubted the amazing extent of U.S. power. Americans dominated world trade, alone held the secret of the atomic bomb, and controlled the oceans with their fleets, while much of the rest of the world, including the Soviet Union, shoveled away the rubble that had once been towns and cities. However the SU remained in central and Eastern Europe, while, the U.S. had to establish its military and economic prevalence so that not to allow further spread of Bolshevism in Europe.

 

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All seemed well in that summer of 1949. Truman was emerging as the winner in the Cold War. Then, however, North Americans found themselves in new and possibly greater danger than ever before. Communists had completed their conquest of China; the Soviets exploded their own atomic bomb. An era of the confrontation of two world political systems had begun.

 

The first military confrontation of the capitalist and communist systems occurred during the Korean War[1] (1950-1953), in which the USA took direct participation. This war was in the post-war history a precedent of U.S. invasion into other country and had considerable implications for US foreign policy. The aim of this work is to find out whether the war in Korea agreed with the mainstream of the US foreign policy and how strong was its influence on further policy of the USA.

 

Truman Doctrine

 

The conflict between the Soviet Union and the USA followed the end of the World War II. The Soviet Union actively expanded its spheres of influence and the USA could not help but immediately respond to the situation. The result was the so-called Truman Doctrine, based mainly on the views of State Department adviser George F. Kennan, which was enunciated by President Harry S. Truman in a speech to a joint session of the US Congress on 12 March 1947.

 

In his speech Truman noticed, that they needed “the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures…. we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way” (Jones, 272). In his speech Truman denounced the oppressive nature of the communist system of government and warned against the possibility that campaigns of subversion might bring even more countries under that system. He sought, and was given, Congressional authority to provide assistance to threatened regimes — initially those in Greece and Turkey. The “Doctrine” was thus the starting point for the strategy of containment of communism developed by successive US Presidents during the Cold War. It is obvious that according to Truman’s Doctrine the USA reserved the right to assist other governments in their struggle against the communists even to the extent of military intervention.

 

The containment doctrine was always controversial. Kennan himself soon came to regret the universalist and militaristic twist his formulation received. The influential columnist Walter Lippmann criticized Truman’s excessively open-ended promises to strengthen regimes against communism. Left-wing politicians, beginning with former vice president Henry A. Wallace, typically saw it as provocative or as a cover for capitalist exploitation, while the right (most memorably in the Republican Party’s 1952 call for the “liberation” of countries behind the Iron Curtain) frequently condemned it as too passive.

 

Receiving an enlarged definition in the National Security Council’s April 1950 document (NSC-68), containment underpinned the globalization of American diplomacy that began with the Korean War in 1950 and continued with bilateral treaties and regional pacts like the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, established in 1954, and the Central Treaty Organization, established in 1959. The NSC-68 (National Security Council paper 68) is the fundamental paper that governed American policy for several decades. Many of its ideas became firmly fixed in the American mind.

 

There are reasons to assert that it was aggression of communist North Korea in its attitude against South Korea that weighted the scales on behalf of NSC-68’s advocates. This war played a crucial role in implementation of NSC-68 as everybody understood at that time that the North Korean invasion could not have taken place without some kind of Soviet authorization. This view could be supported by the fact  that President Truman had not formally approved NSC-68 at the time the fighting broke out in Korea, that his advisers had foreseen difficulties in getting Congress to fund it, and that the attack across the 38th parallel greatly simplified that task.

 

This happened in large part because of the remarkable manner in which the Korean War appeared to validate several of NSC-68’s most important conclusions. One of these was the argument that all interests had become equally vital; that any further shift in the balance of power, no matter how small, could upset the entire structure of postwar international relations. There was almost immediate agreement in Washington that Korea, hitherto regarded as a peripheral interest, had by the nature of the attack on it become vital if American credibility elsewhere was not to be questioned. “To sit by while Korea is overrun by unprovoked armed attack,” John Foster Dulles warned, “would start [a] disastrous chain of events leading most probably to world war.” (Gaddis, 109) Almost the same words were told by President Truman to a national radio and television audience: “If aggression were allowed to succeed in Korea, it would be an open invitation to new acts of aggression elsewhere…. We cannot hope to maintain our own freedom if freedom elsewhere is wiped out.” (Lafeber, 514)

 

The North Korean attack also confirmed with a vengeance NSC-68’s assumption that the Soviet Union might well resort to war by proxy, even in the face of American nuclear superiority. Finally, the fighting in Korea reinforced NSC-68’s argument that existing U.S. forces were inadequate: atomic weapons alone would not deter limited aggression, and Washington lacked the conventional means necessary to cover all contingencies.

 

Legal issues of the American Invasion

 

Thus it is understood that from the foreign policy point of view U.S. intrusion into Korea was firmly grounded. However, interesting is the question whether all procedures required for legalization of such intrusion were adhered. Truman vastly increased presidential power by sending U.S. troops to fight in Korea without following the Constitution’s requirement that Congress declare war. The president justified his action by referring to his commander-in-chief powers (that is, his constitutional authority as the commander of U.S. military forces). He also used the United Nations resolutions as justification for sending U.S. troops. Other presidents had used their commander-in-chief authority to deploy forces without consulting Congress, but none had involved Americans in such a long-term, costly war simply on the basis of this authority[2].

 

The action raises two principal questions: Did Truman act contrary to constitutional and statutory law? Is his action, supposedly grounded on UN Security Council resolutions, a valid precedent for contemporary presidential decisions? Is UN machinery a legal substitute for congressional action? It is difficult to give an unequivocal answer to any of these questions. According to Louis Fisher:

 

“If that were possible, the President and the Senate could rely on the treaty process to strip from the House of Representatives its constitutional role in deciding and participating in questions of war. Following that same logic, the President and the Senate, through the treaty process, could rely on the United Nations to determine trade and tariff matters, again bypassing the prerogatives of the House of Representatives. The history of the United Nations makes it very clear that all parties in the legislative and executive branches understood that the decision to use military force through the United Nations required prior approval from both Houses of Congress.” (Fisher, p22)

 

 

However, if one takes a position of illegality of American intrusion even in this case Truman’s actions could be justified. Truman decided not to ask Congress to declare war because, they feared, such a declaration could easily lead to an all-out effort resembling World War II. They, instead, hoped to keep the conflict limited and short. The president accepted a reporter’s suggestion that it was only a ‘police action,’ not a war. Truman also said that U.S. force merely had to defeat ‘a bandit raid.’ His confidence grew in early July 1950, when the Soviets defined the struggle as a civil war between the two Koreas. The great powers, Moscow urged, should stay out of it. Clearly, Stalin had no intention of becoming directly involved. But that raised a greater danger in Truman’s mind: Korea was perhaps a trap to draw in U.S. forces while the Soviets struck in the most vital areas of Europe or the Middle East. “‘We are fighting the second team,” Acheson warned, “whereas the real enemy is the Soviet Union.” (Rearden, p.30) Thus, he and the president wanted no congressional declaration of war on North Korea because the real war might soon erupt elsewhere. In that case, Truman told a reporter privately, the United States would abandon Korea because he wanted any showdown to come in western Europe, “where we can use the bomb.” (Rearden, p.30)

 

Meanwhile, Congress, at Truman’s request, created ever-larger power for the president’s use. During the summer of 1950, U.S. ground forces rose from 630,000 to 1 million. A volunteer army disappeared, and a military draft began to call up eighteen-year-olds. Congress did all this with remarkably little complaint. Only the Republican Senate leader, Robert Taft of Ohio, repeatedly declared that if Truman got away with sending troops to Korea without Congress’s approval, the president “could send troops to Tibet … or to Indo-China or anywhere else in the world, without the slightest voice of Congress in the matter.” (Taft, p.41) Until the war began to go bad in late 1950, however, most of Congress did not want to challenge the president’s powers.

 

Taft also blasted Truman’s use of the UN resolutions as a justification for sending Americans to faraway Korea. But the president and Acheson moved to increase the UN’s authority. They knew that when the next crisis arose, the Soviets would probably be back in the Security Council to veto any attempt to stop a Communist invasion. The United States, therefore, proposed that if, in the future, the Security Council could not act, the General Assembly (where no veto power existed) could pass resolutions asking UN members to take collective action, including the use of force. This “Uniting for Peace” resolution passed in October 1950. It changed the UN. In the future, the organization could be mobilized by the United States regardless of the Soviet veto— if, that is, U.S. officials controlled a majority of the vote. They did enjoy such support in 1950. But what might occur if that majority turned neutral or even favored the Soviet case, the Americans apparently did not worry enough about in 1950.

 

The Korean War had the influence upon the further development of American foreign policy. Its main consequence was that America’s traditional ideological trilogy of anti-militarism, isolationism, and antistatism was forever buried. The United States began their active policy of involvement into the domestic conflicts of other nations and very often they preferred to apply military force. It had been difficult to decide to what extent such policy could be justified, however, the fact remains that the USA were the winners in the Cold War.

 

 

Works Cited List

 

Donaldson, Gary A. America at War since 1945: Politics and Diplomacy in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996

 

Fisher, Louis. “The Korean War: on What Legal Basis Did Truman Act?” American Journal of International Law. 89 (1), 1995

 

Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

 

Jones, Joseph M. The Fifteen Weeks (February 21-June 5, 1947). New York: Viking Press, 1955.

 

Lafeber, Walter. The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad. New York: W. W. Norton, 1994.

 

Rearden, Steven L. The Evolution of American Strategic Doctrine: Paul H. Nitze and the Soviet Challenge.  Boulder, Col., 1984.

 

Robert A. Taft, A Foreign Policy for Americans New York, 1957

 

 

 

 

 

[1]              At the end of the Second World War Korea, a former colony of Japan, was divided into Russian and US zones of influence with the 38th parallel as the dividing line. In the northern half of the peninsula, the Soviets established a Communist government headed by Kim-il Sung. In the southern half, the Americans sponsored a nationalist and anti-Communist government led by Syngman Rhee. On 25 June 1950, Kim’s Soviet-equipped and -trained military, accompanied by Russian advisers, launched a surprise attack across the 38th parallel with the aim of unifying the peninsula by force. The southern forces, the ROK (Republic of Korea) army, virtually collapsed. Much weaker militarily than the North and with very limited US aid, the ROK army retreated south in great haste, abandoning Seoul, the capital city.
[2]              These questions have contemporary value because of the effort by President George Bush Senior to rely on Security Council resolutions for an offensive operation against Iraq in 1990‑1991 and President Bill Clinton’s reliance on Security Council resolutions for air strikes in Bosnia and a threatened military invasion of Haiti in 1994.

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