Assess the Significance of the Korean War in Relation to the Cold War

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The Korean War was the first major ‘proxy war’ of the Cold War, and was relatively significant to the development of the Cold War due to a number of factors. Overall it can be seen as a clear example of the United States’ policy of containment in action, leading to the vast growth of America’s military capability, as well as the globalisation of the Cold War due to the military alliances constructed by the US. Along with this, the Korean War ended with the emergence of China as the frontrunner of communism in Asia, due to the stalemate reached in the war.

The Korean War was significant in terms of the Cold War, as it had long term affects on America’s foreign policy. The expansion of the USSR and the ideology of communism shaped America’s commitment to the policy of the global containment of communism, and dictated its foreign policy for the next twenty years. In particular, the Korean War was a major factor of the implementation of National Security Council Paper No. 68 (NSC-68), which was said to be ‘a policy of calculated and gradual coercion’ whilst rejecting the ‘concept of isolation’, showing a large shift in America’s foreign policy due to its previous isolationist tendencies, instead letting America reinvent itself as a ‘superpower with a global reach.’

The Korean War was also important to NSC-68 in particular as it was the direct reason why it was able to go be implemented. In the political circumstances of the time, the policies of U.S Security of State Dean Acheson were deemed too expensive, and that it could ‘bankrupt the country’, due to the remarkably ‘quiet and contained’ Soviet Union at the time. This view is supported by Dobson who states that the Korean War gave NSC-68 the ‘stamp of legitimacy’ and without the Korean War, it was unlikely that the Congress would have financed NSC-68 due to vast expenses involved. Through the implementation and the funding of NSC-68, America developed a vastly militarised way of combatting communism, and this militarised policy of containment was supplemented with the development of a vast military-industrial complex, contributing to the idea of deterrence.

The Korean War had a significant impact on a global scale, as it impacted on America’s relationship with its West European Allies as well as furthering the progress of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), resulting in the revival and strengthening of American military alliances around the world. NATO had been established to protect democratic countries from communist aggression, and the Korean War posed a threat to the democratic, capitalist nations due to the invasion of South Korea by the North. This was mainly due to the misconception of the communist countries as a united force, although Stalin was not willing to become directly involved, and as a result of this, NATO attempted to develop plans for military action. The combination of NATO and America’s policy of containment as earlier stated pushed America into the forefront of capitalism, with the US leading the ‘resistance against the red menace’. This view is supported by Leffler who argues that NATO was a useful way of integrating Western Europe and England under ‘American leadership’. Along with this, America encouraged the formation of alliances with former enemies such as Italy, Germany and Japan. In particular, it has been suggested that a communist South Korea would cause Japan to adapt a neutral position, as seen through the statement made by U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson stating that neutralism was a ‘shortcut to suicide.’ However, Japan had been seen by the USSR and China as a potential obstacle of communism in the region of Asia, and that if North Korea was successful in unifying Korea, a militarised, Westernised Japan would be less of a threat. Due to the views of the US on Japan, the two countries organised a trading of reparation claims against Japan from a collective of countries in order to attain a Japanese alliance...
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