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Korea and Containment in the 1950s

Korea and Containment in the 1950s. PO 482: American Foreign Policy. The Korean Conflict. Throughout late 1949 and early 1950, tension grows between North and South Korea along 38 th Parallel

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Korea and Containment in the 1950s

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  1. Korea and Containment in the 1950s PO 482: American Foreign Policy

  2. The Korean Conflict • Throughout late 1949 and early 1950, tension grows between North and South Korea along 38th Parallel • Washington: Ambivalent at the outset – seeks defensive perimeter against communism, but does not wish to make containment a primarily military doctrine • MacArthur: Advocates forceful action • On June 24, 1950, North Korean troops invade South Korea • US government quickly abandons diplomacy, resolves to stand fast against communist aggression by using force • UN involvement under American strategic and tactical direction

  3. The Korean Conflict • Progression of the War: • North Korean forces sweep south, pinning South Korean and existing US forces in area around Pusan • MacArthur advocates risky breakout counterattack on Inchon in September 1950; victory results in reconquest of the South • Washington, spurred by MacArthur and Republicans, seeks to use force to “liberate” North Korea • China, threatened, wishes to deter US action, but its implicit threat fails to stop US from moving north to Yalu (military optimism, hubris)

  4. The Korean Conflict • Progression of the War: • MacArthur divides forces, advances north – met and repelled by six Chinese armies; right flank collapses, and US retreats • By Christmas 1950, the 38th Parallel again become de facto border • Sporadic fighting continues along border for over two more years; ceasefire under Eisenhower in 1953 (actual truce yet to be declared)

  5. Korea and Truman’s Limited War Doctrine • From the late 1940s, Truman sought to implement containment based on economic recovery, the meeting of communist threats with strength, and the controlled threat of war • With Korea, we see the explicit “militarization of containment” • Communists (not just Soviets) are indeed aggressive; US should engage in limited wars to stem the tide of this aggression wherever it arose; ambiguous concept, but still based on reaction to communist aggression (not preemption) without using massive force or precipitating large-scale war with USSR • US has nuclear superiority at the time, but it is likely to be fleeting; thus, Truman further militarizes containment by engaging in rearmament with the goal of conventionally strengthening NATO in Europe (economically very costly)

  6. Domestic Politics, Containment, and MacArthur: Truman Under Fire • Containment as outlined by Truman was increasingly under attack at home throughout the Korean conflict, especially by Republicans in Congress • “Asia Firsters”: Fall of China, Korean aggression indicative of need for doctrine based not on passive containment (especially in Europe), but active global liberation; pressured Truman into advancing into NK • McCarthyism: Explicit repudiation of Truman foreign policy • Predicated on full-scale ideological conflict • Traitors in high places, including Acheson and Marshall; Democrats had catered to communists since Yalta and Potsdam • Bred hysteria, mistrust, opposition to Truman domestically

  7. Domestic Politics, Containment, and MacArthur: Truman Under Fire • The “MacArthur Problem” • Open insubordination to Washington in conduct of Korean war; based both on vanity and a different view of how USFP should be conducted (espoused by Republicans) • MacArthur sought to defeat NK and China via the threat and use of nuclear weapons (“no substitute for victory”); though considered by Truman, he sought to avoid their use • MacArthur makes threats against Chinese, promises to allies that Truman doesn’t wish to make • When MacArthur was removed, the reaction showed just how popular his approach was in comparison to Truman’s vision of containment

  8. Ike’s Turn From Limited War to Massive Retaliation • Truman decides against running in 1952; Eisenhower and Dulles take new approach to foreign policy • Though many felt the doctrine of containment should be fully discarded in favor of liberation, Eisenhower never did; instead, he sought to implement some fundamental changes in what Truman had established, while maintaining the spirit of NSC-68 and the perspective that the US was in a ideological battle for its survival • In doing so, Ike takes seriously some of the concerns of the “liberation” McCarthyites, but never allows their vision of foreign policy to come to fruition

  9. Ike’s Turn From Limited War to Massive Retaliation • Ike believed that a stable economy and balanced budget were at the heart of successful foreign policy; as such, he sought to translate America’s nuclear advantage into the basis for a financially cheaper form of pressure against USSR – GLOBAL DETERRENCE THROUGH THE THREAT OF MASSIVE NUCLEAR RETALIATION • Replaces limited war doctrine; relies upon credibility of “first use” threat • The credible threat of massive retaliation, absent under Truman, is probably what brought the Korean Conflict to a close

  10. Massive Retaliation in Action – Containment Through Brinkmanship • PRC shelling of Quemoy and Matsu Islands • Removal of 7th Fleet; Islands contested with Taiwan; Soviet support • US ambiguously threatens MR • Ike: “ I see no reason why [tactical nuclear weapons] shouldn’t be used just exactly as you would use a bullet” • Crisis ends (Soviets support weakens); Ike and Dulles see this as evidence of utility of MR

  11. Eisenhower and the Third World: Nationalism or Communism? • In the wake of decolonization, several independence/revolutionary movements – some of them explicitly anti-Western – gathered momentum in the 3rd World (Iran, Guatemala, Lebanon, Vietnam) • * Ike and Dulles viewed these developments in light of their impact on the global capitalist-communist security competition, not on the basis of self-determination (divergence from Wilsonianism) – shift from Kennan’s view of containment, and would become general US approach • “Domino Theory” • In line with his view of the economic necessities of containment, Ike sought to support pro-capitalist causes with aid rather than force • However, this attitude would change, and future limited war would be waged in the periphery to contain communism there

  12. Return to Limited War From Massive Retaliation • In the latter part of the 1950s, the USSR seemingly began to approach nuclear parity with the US, as Truman had predicted • Academics and analysts (including Kissinger) felt that the doctrine of massive retaliation was no longer applicable, and that limited wars must again be the main tool of containment • While Ike never truly turned away from the MR doctrine, the doctrine itself would largely be discarded in the future in favor of a hybrid of options (limited war, flexible response, etc.)

  13. Recap – Containment in the 1950s • The Korean Conflict, a limited war, shook America into a full realization of the monolithic, aggressive nature of communism; this caused heightened domestic sensitivity and the desire for a basic reevaluation of the containment doctrine (militarization and liberation) • Ike never discards containment, but militarizes it in an economical fashion through MR; becomes less useful as USSR develops more nuclear capabilities • Ike’s approach to new nationalist problems on the periphery, combined with the increasing inapplicability of MR, sets the stage for a renewed emphasis on limited war to prevent “dominoes” from falling (Vietnam)

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