Korean conflict

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The Korean conflict is based on the division between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south, both of which claim to be the government of the whole country. Historically, North Korea has been backed by the Soviet Union and China, and South Korea has been backed by the United States and its allies. The division of Korea occurred at the end of World War Two in 1945. Tensions erupted into the Korean War in 1950. When the war ended, the country was devastated, but the division remained. North and South Korea continued a military standoff with periodic clashes. Originally associated with the Cold War, the conflict has survived the end of that confrontation and continues to be seen as an international flashpoint. In 1997, US President Bill Clinton described the division of Korea as the "Cold War's last divide".[1] In 2002, US President George W Bush described North Korea as a member of an "Axis of Evil".[2][3]

Background[edit]

The Korean DMZ, viewed from the north

Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan in 1910, and the Korean king Gojong was removed. In the following decades, nationalist and radical groups emerged, mostly in exile, to struggle for independence. Divergent in their outlooks and approaches, these groups failed to unite in one national movement.[4][5] The Korean Provisional Government in China failed to obtain widespread recognition.[6] Among the many leaders were the conservative Syngman Rhee, who lobbied the government in the US, and the Communist Kim Il-sung, who fought a guerrilla war against the Japanese from neighboring Manchuria.[7] Koreans who remained in their homeland were subject to harsh political repression and forced to assimilate to Japanese culture. Subsequently, many high-ranking Koreans were accused of collaborating with Japanese imperialism.[8] After Japan's defeat, there was an intense struggle between aspiring leaders, and many were assassinated or repressed.[9]

Division of Korea[edit]

Main article: Division of Korea

On August 9, 1945, in the closing days of World War Two, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and advanced into Korea. Though the Soviet declaration of war had been agreed by the Allies at the Yalta Conference, the US government became concerned at the prospect of all of Korea falling under Soviet control. The US government therefore requested Soviet forces halt their advance at the 38th parallel north, leaving the south of the peninsula, including the capital, Seoul, to be occupied by the US. This was incorporated into General Order No. 1 to Japanese forces after the Surrender of Japan on August 15. On August 24, the Red Army entered Pyongyang and established a military government over Korea north of the parallel. American forces landed in the south on September 8 and established the United States Army Military Government in Korea.[10]

The Allies had originally envisaged a joint trusteeship which would usher Korea towards independence, but most Korean nationalists wanted independence immediately.[11] Meanwhile, the wartime co-operation between the Soviet Union and the US deteriorated as the Cold War took hold. Both occupying powers began promoting into positions of authority Koreans aligned with their side of politics and marginalizing their opponents. Many of these emerging political leaders were returning exiles with little popular support.[12][13] In North Korea, the Soviet Union supported Korean Communists. Kim Il-sung, who from 1941 had served in the Soviet Army, became the major political figure.[14] Society was centralized and collectivized, following the Soviet model.[15] Politics in the South was more tumultuous, but the strongly anti-Communist Syngman Rhee emerged as the most prominent politician.[16]

As a result, two antagonistic states emerged, with diametrically opposed political, economic, and social systems. In South Korea, a general election was held on May 10, 1948. The Republic of Korea was established with Syngman Rhee as President, and formally replaced the US military occupation on August 15. In North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was declared on September 9, with Kim Il-sung, as prime minister. Soviet occupation forces left the North on December 10, 1948. US forces left the South the following year, though the US Korean Military Advisory Group remained to train the Republic of Korea Army.[17] The new regimes even adopted different names for Korea: the North choosing Choson, and the South Hanguk.[18]

Both opposing governments considered themselves to be the government of the whole of Korea, and both saw the division as temporary.[19][20] Kim Il-sung lobbied Stalin and Mao for support in a war of reunification. Syngman Rhee repeatedly expressed his desire to conquer the North.[21][22] In 1948 North Korea, which had almost all of the generators, turned off the electricity supply to the South.[23] In the lead-up to the outbreak of war, there were frequent clashes along the 38th parallel, especially at Kaesong and Ongjin, initiated by both sides.[24][25]

Throughout this period there were uprisings in the South, such as the Jeju Uprising and the Yeosu–Suncheon Rebellion, that were brutally suppressed. In all, over one hundred thousand lives were lost in fighting across Korea before the Korean War began.[26]

Korean War[edit]

Main article: Korean War
Korean War Monument, Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korea had clear military superiority over the South. The Soviet occupiers had armed it with surplus weaponry and provided training. Many troops were battle-hardened from participation in the Chinese Civil War, which had just ended.[27][28] Kim Il-sung expected a quick victory, predicting that there would be pro-Communist uprisings in the South and that the US would not intervene.[29] Rather than perceiving the conflict as a civil war, however, the West saw it in Cold War terms as Communist aggression, related to recent events in China and Eastern Europe.[30]

North Korea invaded the South on June 25, 1950, and swiftly overran most of the country. In September 1950 United Nations force, led by the United States, intervened to defend the South, and rapidly advanced into North Korea. As they neared the border with China, Chinese forces intervened on behalf of North Korea, shifting the balance of the war again. Fighting ended on July 27, 1953, with an armistice that approximately restored the original boundaries between North and South Korea.[31]

Korea was devastated. More than one million civilians and soldiers had been killed. Seoul was in ruins, having changed hands four times.[32] Almost every substantial building in North Korea had been destroyed.[33][34] As a result, North Koreans developed a deep-seated enmity towards the US.[35]

Armistice[edit]

Negotiations for an armistice began on July 10, 1951, as the war continued. The main issues were the establishment of a new demarcation line and the exchange of prisoners. After Stalin died, the Soviet Union brokered concessions which led to an agreement on July 27, 1953.[36]

Syngman Rhee opposed the armistice because it left Korea divided. As negotiations drew to a close, he attempted to sabotage the arrangements for the release of prisoners, and led mass rallies against the armistice.[37] He refused to sign the agreement, but reluctantly agreed to abide by it.[38]

The armistice inaugurated an official ceasefire but did not lead to a peace treaty.[39] It established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a buffer zone between the two sides, that intersected the 38th parallel but did not follow it.[40] Despite its name, the border was, and continues to be, one of the most militarized in the world.[41]

North Korea has announced that it will no longer abide by the armistice at least six times, in the years 1994, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2013.[42][43]

Conflict after the war[edit]

The captured USS Pueblo being visited by tourists in Pyongyang

After the war, the Chinese forces left, but US forces remained in the South. Sporadic conflict continued between North and South Korea. On October 1, 1953, the United States and South Korea signed a defense treaty.[44] In 1958, the United States stationed nuclear weapons in South Korea.[45] In 1961, North Korea signed mutual defense treaties with the USSR and China.[46] During this period, North Korea was described by former CIA director Robert Gates to be the "toughest intelligence target in the world".[47]

The opposing regimes aligned themselves with opposing sides in the Cold War. Both sides received recognition as the legitimate government of Korea from the opposing blocs.[48][49]

North Korea presented itself as a champion of orthodox Communism, distinct from the Soviet Union and China. The regime developed the doctrine of Juche or self-reliance, which included extreme military mobilization.[50] In response to the threat of nuclear war, it constructed extensive facilities underground and in the mountains.[51][52] The Pyongyang Metro opened in the 1970s, with capacity to double as bomb shelter.[53] Until the early 1970s, North Korea was economically the equal of the South.[54]

South Korea became a strongly anti-Communist military dictatorship and was heavily involved in the Vietnam War.[55] North Korea's occupation left behind a guerrilla movement that persisted in Cholla provinces.[56]

Tensions between North and South escalated in the late 1960s with a series of low-level armed clashes known as the Korean DMZ Conflict. In 1966, Kim declared "liberation of the south" to be a "national duty".[57] In 1968, North Korean commandos launched the Blue House Raid, an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the South Korean President Park Chung-hee. Shortly after, the US spy ship Pueblo was captured by the North Korean navy.[58] The Americans saw the crisis in terms of the global confrontation with Communism, but rather than orchestrating the incident the Soviet government was concerned by it.[59] Kim was, however, inspired by Communist successes in the Vietnam War.[60]

In 1969, North Korea shot down a US EC-121 spy plane over the Sea of Japan, killing all 31 crew on board, which constitutes the largest single loss of US aircrew during the Cold War.[61] In 1969, Korean Air Lines YS-11 was hijacked and flown to North Korea. Similarly, in 1970, the hijackers of Japan Airlines Flight 351 were given asylum in North Korea.[62] In response to the Blue House Raid, the South Korean government set up a special unit to assassinate Kim Il-sung, but the mission was aborted in 1972.[63]

In 1974 a North Korean sympathizer attempted to assassinate President Park and killed his wife, Yuk Young-soo.[64] In 1976, the axe murder incident led to the death of two US Army officers in the DMZ and threatened to trigger a wider war.[65][66] In the 1970s, North Korea kidnapped a number of Japanese citizens.[67]

In 1976, in now-declassified minutes, US Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements told Henry Kissinger that there had been 200 raids or incursions into North Korea from the South, though not by the U.S. military.[68] Details of only a few of these incursions have become public, including raids by South Korean forces in 1967 that had sabotaged about 50 North Korean facilities.[69]

In the 1970s, both North and South began building up their military capacity.[70] It was discovered that North Korea had dug tunnels under the DMZ which could accommodate thousands of troops.[71] Alarmed at the prospect of US disengagement, South Korea began a secret nuclear weapons program which was strongly opposed by Washington.[72]

In 1977, US President Jimmy Carter proposed the withdrawal of troops from South Korea. There was a widespread backlash in America and in South Korea, and critics argued that this would allow the North to capture Seoul. Carter postponed the move, and his successor Ronald Reagan reversed the policy, increasing troop numbers to forty-three thousand.[73] After Reagan supplied the South with F-16 fighters, and after Kim Il-sung visited Moscow in 1984, the USSR recommenced military aid and co-operation with the North.[74]

Unrest in the South came to a head with the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. The dictatorship equated dissent with North Korean subversion. On the other hand, some young protesters viewed the US as complicit in political repression and identified with the North's nationalist propaganda.[75][76]

In the 1980s, two bombings were blamed on North Korea: the Rangoon bombing in 1983, a failed assassination attempt against South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during a visit to Burma,[77] and the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987.[78] As a result of the airliner bombing, the US government placed North Korea on its list of terrorist countries.[79]

After the Cold War[edit]

As the Cold War ended, North Korea lost the support of the Soviet Union and plunged into economic crisis. At the same time Kim Il-sung died.[80] There were expectations that the North Korean government would collapse and the peninsula would be reunified.[81][82]

In 1998, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung initiated the Sunshine Policy which aimed to foster better relations with the North.[83] US President George W Bush did not support the policy and in 2002 branded North Korea as a member of an "Axis of Evil".[84][85] The Sunshine Policy was formally abandoned by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak after his election in 2007.[86]

Meanwhile, in response to its increased isolation, North Korea redoubled its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. In 1994, US President Bill Clinton considered bombing the Yongbyon nuclear reactor. He was advised that if war broke out, it could cost 52,000 US and 490,000 South Korean military casualties in the first three months, as well as a large number of civilian casualties.[87][88] Six-party talks involving North and South Korea, the United States, Russia, Japan, and China commenced in 2003 but failed to resolve the issue. In 2006, North Korea announced it had successfully conducted its first nuclear test.[89]

At the start of the twenty first century, it was estimated that the concentration of firepower in the area between Pyongyang and Seoul was greater than that in central Europe during the Cold War.[90] The North's Korean People's Army was numerically twice the size of South Korea's military and had the capacity to devastate Seoul with artillery and missile bombardment. South Korea's military, however, was assessed as being technically superior in many ways.[91][92] US forces remained in South Korea and carried out annual military exercises with South Korean forces, including Key Resolve, Foal Eagle, and Ulchi-Freedom Guardian. These have been routinely denounced by North Korea as acts of aggression.[93][94][95] Analysts have described the US garrison as a tripwire ensuring American military involvement, but some have queried whether sufficient reinforcements would be forthcoming.[96]

During this period, two North Korean submarines were captured after being stranded on the South Korean coast, one near Gangneung in 1996 and one near Sokcho in 1998. In December 1998, the South Korean navy sank a North Korean semi-submersible in the Battle of Yeosu. In 2001, the Japanese Coast Guard sank a North Korean spy ship in the Battle of Amami-Ōshima.

Conflict intensified near the disputed maritime boundary known as the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea. In 1999 and 2002, there were clashes between the navies of North and South Korea, known as the First and Second battle of Yeonpyeong. On March 26, 2010, a South Korean naval vessel, the ROKS Cheonan, sank, near Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea and a North Korean torpedo was blamed. On November 23, 2010, in response to a joint military exercise, North Korea fired artillery at South Korea's Greater Yeonpyeong island in the Yellow Sea, and South Korea returned fire.

In 2013, amid tensions about North Korea's missile program, North Korea temporarily forced the shutdown of the jointly operated industrial park in the Kaesong Industrial Region.[97]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hyung Gu Lynn (2007). Bipolar Orders: The Two Koreas since 1989. Zed Books. p. 3. 
  2. ^ Cumings, Bruce (2005). Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 504. ISBN 0-393-32702-7. 
  3. ^ Bluth, Christoph (2008). Korea. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-07456-3357-2. 
  4. ^ Buzo, Adrian (2002). The Making of Modern Korea. London: Routledge. pp. 31–37. ISBN 0-415-23749-1. 
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