The end of the second World War saw a Korea,newly liberated from Japanese occupation, be split midway along the 38thparallel while the United States (US) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics(USSR) decided what to do with the state.
Upheaval grew as political partiesbattled to form Korea’s new government. This unrest sparked a war in 1950 forthe governing of the nation between a communist USSR backed north, under leaderKim Il-Sung and a US backed authoritarian south, under Syngman Rhee. Afterthree years, in 1953 an armistice was signed by all parties involved,officially ending the conflict in Korea. The war ended with an immense loss oflife, according to the European Journal of Population, the total number ofmilitary deaths was just over 1.2 million (Lacina & Gleditsch, 2005).Ultimately, neither North or South Korea would be able to annex the other andeventually this led to the formation of two separate states.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea(DPRK) would take claim of the north half of the peninsula and the Republic ofKorea (ROK) would control the south. Tensions are still high between the twostates and power has shifted back and forth through out the years.The war for Korea was started as tensionsarose within the nation, having been split in half civil conflict was on therise. The Soviets and US were in the heat of the Cold War and vying for globalinfluence.
The US was under control of President Harry S. Truman, who hadrecently created their domino theory and thus were mindful of any Sovietexpansion. With the very newly created UN and Truman’s heavy investment theywere looking to prevent any further spread of communism. Meanwhile the USSR wasbolstering support for their puppet leader Kim Il-Sung. The communist leader wasbent on the unification of Korea with the help of Soviet (and later Chinese) intervention.After pressing for Soviet and Chinese support Kim Il-Sung’s troops invaded theROK on the 25 June, 1950 (Flaum, 2018). DPRK and Russian leaders hoped that theUS would provide minimal support to the ROK. They were wrong in this thinkingand the whole of the UN quickly intervened.
Sixteen countries of the UN senttroops to support South Korea in the conflict, with the US constituting a vastmajority. Humanitarian aid was sent by both the UN and the Red Cross. Theopening months of the conflict saw a near defeat of the south, until the USbacked offensive launched a counter attack.
Once DPRK forces had been pushedback north across the 38th parallel, South Korea continued to pushtheir attack, exploiting the disorientation of the north and their UN backing.Facing poor opposition, UN troops reached the Chinese border. US troops soclose to Chinese and Russian lands unnerved these states and China sent a forceof nearly half a million to support the DPRK. Their attacks were successful andthe South was once again forced back the unofficial border at the 38thparallel.
The armies on both ‘dug in’ at this point and the conflict stagnated.For the next two years it would turn into a war of attrition until thearmistice be signed, ending hostilities (Millett, 2017).The Korean War is could be argued as thefirst ‘hot war’ in the bipolar international system of powers between the USSRand the US.
It was a conflict of realist intentions at multiple levels and frommultiple parties. It was really a war within a war, on one hand the Koreansfought for the future of their people and to decide who would govern. The US,USSR and China on the other hand, believed it to be part of a bigger conflictof global influence and proof of doctrines. The USSR and China wanted to seethe spread of Communism for a larger base of political influence and access tonatural resources. The UN’s, and particularly US’ intentions, although similarto their opponents where on the defence of the influence that they had alreadyprocured in the region and feared that communism would not stop in Korea, butinstead spread into neighbouring Japan and other Asian states. Kim Il-Sung andSyngman Rhee were both dictators and riled up protests and civil dismay, bothmen shared a desire for a free and independent Korea.Parmar states in his journal, Racialand Imperial Thinking in International Theory and Politics: Truman, Attlee andthe Korean War, thatsome scholars argue that the conflict at least for the West would lean towardsliberal internationalism.
Many would argue that the western powers intervenedto ‘police’ the situation and meant to avoid conflict. Parmar argues that viewsof the conflict are seen to rather spread influence by force than a peacefulsolution. Forceful influence was present on both sides of the conflict, and theUSSR’s motives were clearly realist as they began the conflict with the intentof annexing the ROK. The West’s goals were unnecessarily complex, they arguedthat they wanted to protect the Korean people from the perceived Soviet threatin the north. Parmar, however stresses that their goals were symbolic and thatthey needed to uphold the idea of security for their global allies and thenewly instated UN states. They also believed that if Korea fell into communism,other states would be sure to follow (2016). Following the armistice, the borderstayed generally the same as it was three years prior.
The change that hadoccurred, was that two new states had arisen out of one nation. These new statesshared the same culture and people but were political and economic opposites. DPRK,having the majority of the populace and resources in the country became a largelyself-dependant, isolationist dictatorship.
ROK started with nearly nothing andhad to build up their economy, within 30 years they would grow from near-total dependenceon Western imports to becoming the 12th largest trading state in 1990. (Kim,1991).