“More a series of separate regional conflicts than a single global war.” How far do you agree with this view of the Korean War and the Cuban Missile Crisis?
This statement implies that the Korean War and the Cuban Missile Crisis both came about primarily because of conflicting local agendas, rather than because they were part of the larger, globalised Cold War. It also implies that the two were wholly unrelated, instead of being part of the continuing conflict between the two Cold War parties. However, I disagree with the statement because in actual fact, the Korean War and the Cuban Missile crisis were both Cold War conflicts to varying degrees and neither was more a local conflict than part of the Cold War.
In Korea, the conflict was initiated by the ambitions of the two Korean leaders, and the Cold War powers were both initially reluctant to actively endorse their military agendas. In early 1950, Kim Il Sung said to Soviet ambassador Shytkov, “I can’t sleep at night because I am thinking of the unification of the whole country. If the cause…is postponed, then I may lose the confidence of the Korean people.” Syngman Rhee, on his part, tried to rally American support for the South Korean cause. In the autumn of 1949 Rhee stated, “I am sure that we could take Pyongyang…in three days. And an all-Korean border with Manchuria would be easier to defend than the 38th parallel.” In 1950, when John Foster Dulles visited Korea, Rhee dwelled on the topics of a North Korean attack and US protection. Refusing to allow Dulles to evade the topic, Rhee kept asking, “But what if there is an attack?” The evasive stance Dulles took towards Rhee was characteristic of the initial American attitude towards Korean talk of war. In 1949 the US reduced aid and pulled their troops out of South Korea in an attempt to restrain Rhee from mobilizing forces against the North. This reticent attitude towards Korean conflict was mirrored on the part of the Soviets. In March 1949, Stalin said, “The 38th parallel must be peaceful. It is very important.” He also rejected requests for permission to attack the South on at least two occasions in the same year. It follows, then, that in the beginning the initiative for the Korean War came from the North and South, straining at the leashes by which the two Cold War superpowers held them.
Once it became clear, however, to America and Russia, that there was something at stake (in Cold War terms), they both became active and willing participants in the war. Russia, needing to recover from the fiasco of the Berlin Blockade, realized that there was a political victory to be gained in Korea. With the newfound confidence lent by the atomic bomb (developed in 1949), and the assurance of a communist ally in the Chinese, Stalin opportunistically seized the opening Kim presented to him. If this venture in Korea succeeded, the Russians would gain a strategic hold in East Asia, closer to the US’ principal ally in the region, Japan. It would also allow them to test NATO and see how strong the commitment of the US’ allies would be. Very importantly, even though the North Koreans initiated the move towards war, Stalin was ultimately the one who gave the go-ahead for it to take place. On 30 January 1950, Stalin said, “I understand the unhappiness of comrade Kim Il Sung, but he must understand that such a huge matter regarding South Korea…requires thorough preparation. It has to be organized in such a way that there will not be a large risk. If he wants to talk to me on this issue, then I’ll always be ready to receive him and talk to him…I am prepared to help him in this matter.” The war only began when Stalin was ready for it to begin.
America entered the Korean War because, in the zero sum game of the Cold War, to not match their opponent’s move would be to lose. As Byrne says, “The US viewed events strictly through the lens of the Cold War.” Soon after the invasion of June 28th, 1950, Truman...
Bibliography: Walker, M. (1993) The Cold War and the making of the modern world. London: Vintage.
Ball, S.J. (1997) The Cold War: An International History, 1947-1991. London: A Hodder Arnold Publication.
Mason, J.W. (1996) The Cold War: 1945-1991. New York: Routledge.
Brenner, P. (1990, October) Cuba and the Missile Crisis. Journal of Latin American Studies, 22, 125-152.
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