«KATHRYN WEATHERSBY Florida State University Working Paper No. 8 Cold War International History Project Woodrow Wilson International Center for ...»
SOVIET AIMS IN KOREA AND THE
ORIGINS OF THE KOREAN WAR, 1945-1950:
NEW EVIDENCE FROM RUSSIAN ARCHIVES
Florida State University
Working Paper No. 8
Cold War International History Project
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
THE COLD WAR INTERNATIONAL HISTORY PROJECT
WORKING PAPER SERIESCHRISTIAN F. OSTERMANN, Series Editor This paper is one of a series of Working Papers published by the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
Established in 1991 by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) disseminates new information and perspectives on the history of the Cold War as it emerges from previously inaccessible sources on “the other side” of the post-World War II superpower rivalry. The project supports the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War, and seeks to accelerate the process of integrating new sources, materials and perspectives from the former “Communist bloc” with the historiography of the Cold War which has been written over the past few decades largely by Western scholars reliant on Western archival sources. It also seeks to transcend barriers of language, geography, and regional specialization to create new links among scholars interested in Cold War history. Among the activities undertaken by the project to promote this aim are a periodic BULLETIN to disseminate new findings, views, and activities pertaining to Cold War history; a fellowship program for young historians from the former Communist bloc to conduct archival research and study Cold War history in the United States; international scholarly meetings, conferences, and seminars; and publications.
The CWIHP Working Paper Series is designed to provide a speedy publications outlet for historians associated with the project who have gained access to newly-available archives and sources and would like to share their results. We especially welcome submissions by junior scholars from the former Communist bloc who have done research in their countries’ archives and are looking to introduce their findings to a Western audience. As a non-partisan institute of scholarly study, the Woodrow Wilson Center takes no position on the historical interpretations and opinions offered by the authors.
Those interested in receiving copies of the BULLETIN or working papers should contact:
Christian F. Ostermann Director Cold War International History Project Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars 1 Woodrow Wilson Plaza 1300 Pennsylvania Ave, NW Washington, DC 20523 Telephone: (202) 691-4110 Fax: (202) 691-4001 Email: COLDWAR1@wwic.si.edu
#1 Chen Jian, “The Sino-Soviet Alliance and China’s Entry into the Korean War” #2 P.J. Simmons, “Archival Research on the Cold War Era: A Report from Budapest, Prague and Warsaw” #3 James Richter, “Reexamining Soviet Policy Towards Germany during the Beria Interregnum” #4 Vladislav M. Zubok, “Soviet Intelligence and the Cold War: The ‘Small’ Committee of Information, 1952-53” #5 Hope M. Harrison, “Ulbricht and the Concrete ‘Rose’: New Archival Evidence on the Dynamics of Soviet-East German Relations and the Berlin Crisis, 1958-61” #6 Vladislav M. Zubok, “Khrushchev and the Berlin Crisis (1958-62)” #7 Mark Bradley and Robert K. Brigham, “Vietnamese Archives and Scholarship on the Cold War Period: Two Reports” #8 Kathryn Weathersby, “Soviet Aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War, 1945-50: New Evidence From Russian Archives” #9 Scott D. Parrish and Mikhail M. Narinsky, “New Evidence on the Soviet Rejection of the Marshall Plan, 1947: Two Reports” #10 Norman M. Naimark, “’To Know Everything and To Report Everything Worth Knowing’:
Building the East German Police State, 1945-49” #11 Christian F. Ostermann, “The United States, the East German Uprising of 1953, and the Limits of Rollback” #12 Brian Murray, “Stalin, the Cold War, and the Division of China: A Multi-Archival Mystery” #13 Vladimir O. Pechatnov, “The Big Three After World War II: New Documents on Soviet Thinking about Post-War Relations with the United States and Great Britain” #14 Ruud van Dijk, “The 1952 Stalin Note Debate: Myth or Missed Opportunity for German Unification?” #15 Natalia I. Yegorova, “The ‘Iran Crisis’ of 1945-46: A View from the Russian Archives” #16 Csaba Békés, “The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and World Politics” #17 Leszek W. Gluchowski, “The Soviet-Polish Confrontation of October 1956: The Situation in the Polish Internal Security Corps” #18 Qiang Zhai, “Beijing and the Vienam Peace Talks, 1965-68: New Evidence from Chinese Sources” #19 Matthew Evangelista, “’Why Keep Such an Army?’ Khrushchev’s Troop Reductions” #20 Patricia K. Grimsted, “The Russian Archives Seven Years After: ‘Purveyors of Sensations’ or ‘Shadows Cast to the Past’?” #21 Andrzej Paczkowski and Andrzej Werblan, “On the Decision to Introduce Martial Law in Poland in 1981: Two Historians Report to the Commission on Constitutional Oversight of the SEJM of the Republic of Poland” #22 Odd Arne Westad, Chen Jiang, Stein Tonnesson, Nguyen Vu Tung, and James G. Hershberg, “77 Conversations Between Chinese and Foreign Leaders on the Wars in Indochina, 1964-77” #23 Vojtech Mastny, “The Soviet Non-Invasion of Poland in 1980-81 and the End of the Cold War” #24 John P. C. Matthews, “Majales: The Abortive Student Revolt in Czechoslovakia in 1956” The invasion of South Korea by forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on 25 June 1950 was one of the defining moments of the Cold War. The North Korean attack so alarmed Washington that President Truman abruptly reversed the meticulously considered policy recently formulated by both the Department of State and Department of Defense that had placed Korea outside the American defense perimeter, and instead committed U.S. armed forces to the defense of South Korea. Viewing the North Korean assault as a case of Soviet aggression, likely a probing action to test Western resolve, the Truman administration concluded that the conflict with the Soviet Union had entered a new and more dangerous stage. The United States, it believed, needed to respond by preparing itself militarily and politically to meet the next act of Soviet aggression. Consequently, the administration moved quickly to implement the massive rearmament plan drawn up earlier that year, to defend Taiwan and the French position in Indochina, to solidify NATO, and to rearm West Germany. The outbreak of war in Korea also led the United States to conclude a separate peace with Japan and maintain military forces in Okinawa and South Korea. The image of “naked Soviet aggression” in Korea remained a powerful force in the making of U.S. foreign policy for many years; Washington’s goal was to “prevent a Korea” in Europe or the Middle East.
On the surface it seems odd that the attack on South Korea should have elicited this farreaching response from the United States. It was not, after all, the Soviet army that moved across the 38th parallel, but the army of North Korea, which, though clearly armed by the Soviet Union, was nevertheless attempting to reunify its own country, not engage in aggression against a neighboring state.1 Moreover, it had been obvious for at least a year that war would break out in Korea; the bitterly opposing governments of the North and South were both determined to reunify the country under their own control. Indeed, the United States refused to supply South Korea with offensive weapons because it feared that Syngman Rhee would use them to march north.2 And finally, Korea had limited strategic importance to the United States. In the months preceding 1 The Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) had been established in 1948 as separate states. However, the division of the country had been the action of the US and USSR, not of Koreans themselves, who had never accepted the division as legitimate or permanent. Furthermore, the great powers officially regarded the establishment of independent states in the two occupation zones as a provisional measure; both occupying powers remained officially committed to the establishment of a unified government for Korea.
2 For a discussion of American military support to the ROK see Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, Volume II, The Roaring of the Cataract, 1947-1950 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 472-78.
June 1950, U.S. officials had stated publicly the administration’s decision not to intervene should North Korea attempt to reunify the peninsula by force.3 Then why did the outbreak of this widely anticipated civil war in a strategically marginal country convince Washington that America’s security was in danger? Following a logic that was to become characteristic of Cold War conflicts, it was not the objective significance of the attack but rather the perception of what this event signified about Soviet intentions that so galvanized the American government.
In early 1950, U.S. policymakers’ concerns about the danger to the United States and its allies from further Soviet territorial expansion had been heightened by two events of the previous year, the detonation of the first Soviet atomic bomb in August 1949 and the establishment that October of a revolutionary communist government in China. Those concerns were expressed most clearly and influentially in a far-reaching policy statement drawn up in the spring of 1950 by the State and Defense Departments, under the direction of Paul Nitze, who had recently replaced George F. Kennan as director of State’s Policy Planning Staff. The report, NSC-68, started from the assumption that the Kremlin sought “to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world.” Soviet efforts toward that end now aimed at gaining domination over the Eurasian land mass, the report concluded, and had recently grown bolder in response to America’s relative military weakness. NSC-68 argued that if the United States failed to move decisively to counter future Soviet aggression, U.S. allies in Western Europe would lose heart and drift into a dangerous neutrality. The report warned that any American failure to respond to Soviet aggression, which would more likely be “piecemeal” than total war, could lead to “a descending spiral of too little and too late... of ever narrower and more desperate alternatives... of gradual withdrawals under pressure until we discover one day that we have sacrificed positions of vital interest.”4 From the perspective of the schematic thinking represented in NSC-68, the sudden, massive assault on the American client state in South Korea by armed forces of the Soviet client state in North Korea clearly constituted a challenge the United States must answer. Indeed, the Truman administration responded immediately. Leading officials within the government concluded that the North Korean invasion of South Korea was the opening salvo in a broader 3 Most infamously, of course, was Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s speech to the National Press Club on 12 January 1950. But there were others as well, such as an interview with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tom Connally, published in U.S. News &World Report, 5 May 1950, 28-31.
4 For the report’s text, see “NSC-68, A Report to the National Security Council by the Executive Secretary on United States Objectives and Programs for National Security, April 14, 1950,” Naval War College Review 27 (May/June 1975), 51-108. For discussions of the relationship between NSC-68 and the Korean War see John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 89-126; and Marc Trachtenberg, “A ‘Wasting Asset’: American Strategy and the Shifting Nuclear Balance, 1949-1954,” International Security 13:3 (Winter 1988/89), 5-49.