The infamous Korean War began in 1950 after the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel. This was the existing boundary between South Korea and North Korea. This invasion triggered the first major confrontation after the end of the Second World War in 1945. Due to the ongoing Cold War, the United States joined the conflict to protect South Korea from external influences while China and the Soviet Union supported North Korea. During the same period, the US was keen to promote or pursue some form of armistice since the war could result in a wider confrontation with the Soviet. Such an upheaval could have triggered a possible Third World War. The purpose of this paper is to explain why the Korean War is a classic example of an international conflict characterized by the combination of balance of power and collective security. Each of these two theories reshaped the course of this upheaval and dictated how different countries responded to it.
Between June 1950 and July 1953, the Koreans engaged in an upheaval that attracted different nations and the United States in an attempt to ensure that it did not result in a major global conflict. Many historians and political analysts have acknowledged that this was a war against the notions of communism that the Soviet Union was populated at the time. The events associated with the Second World War were still fresh in the minds of many global leaders.1 This meant that such stakeholders were willing to utilize their national resources and bring the confrontation to an end. The ongoing Cold War between the Soviets and the US was also a major source of concern during this time.
The separation of the Korean peninsula along the 38th line or parallel in August 1945 created a new scenario whereby the United States settled in the south while the Russian occupied the north. After the end of the Second World War, a new form of struggle emerged between the forces of communism and capitalism. The invasion of South Korea by North Korea forced many Americans and the United Nations to believe that the Soviet Union was planning to take full control of the world.2 Consequently, many countries in different regions were ready to intervene. According to a report released by the National Security Council, there was a need for the United States to apply its military strength to prevent the spread of communism to other parts of the world.
Within the first two months, the fighters in South Korea were forced downwards to the Pusan Perimeter. However, the UN launched an amphibious assault from Incheon in an attempt to prevent North Korea’s soldiers from capturing more territories. By October 1950, many North Koreans had been forced to the North. The entry of Chinese soldiers prolonged this confrontation.3 This upheaval continued until in the year 1953 when the two sides signed an armistice. This agreement led to the establishment of the infamous demilitarized zone (DMZ) which separates these two nations till this present day.
From the above analysis, it is notable that the Korean War was fought for a short period. Unfortunately, the confrontation claimed around 5 million lives.4 Statistics also indicate that over 40,000 Americans lost died during this period.5 The number of wounded Americans was more than one hundred thousand.6 This conflict affected the lives and experiences of many civilians in the two countries. It should also be observed that a peace treaty is yet to be signed between North Korea and South Korea. This gap explains why the two countries have always been engaged in what experts and scholars call “frozen conflict”.
The Korean War: Balance of Power and Collective Security at Play
After the end of the Second World War, numerous ideas emerged that reshaped the relationships existing between different countries across the world. One of the outstanding concepts is that of realism. Scholars define it as a political or foreign policy theory that indicates that states will always act depending on the nature of their interests.7 This school of thought supports the use of force when necessary to deal with foreign threats and eventually protect national resources. In order to achieve security objectives, countries and regions tend to partner in an attempt to increase their bargaining power and deal with every potential threat. The best examples of such concepts include collective security and balance of power. Such theories make it possible for states to pursue their aims while at the same time being ready to support or sponsor their threatened partners.
According to the collective security model, different countries form a unique arrangement that allows them to focus on the welfare and strength of each member. This means all countries in the targeted political or regional formation will always be ready to respond to any intimidation a given state faces.8 The ultimate objective of this model is to ensure that all countries in the identified region collaborate to address the potential threats affecting them and eventually realize their potential.
Within the realm of international politics and relations, the balance of power has emerged as a powerful theory that dictates the way countries develop and control their military capabilities. According to this model, national security can only be achieved when states in a given formation or region distribute their resources proportionately in order to ensure that no one is capable of dominating the other members. According to this model, countries that amass military equipment might decide to take advantage of the existing strength and decide to attack their neighbors.9 The model goes further to reveal that the threatened nations might identify any form of danger from a superior state and unite by establishing a powerful coalition. When countries appear to have equal resources and military capabilities, chances are high that the levels of aggression would become unattractive.
The balance of power model is essential since it maintains or promotes peace by ensuring that none of the member states pursue hegemony. Such countries can collaborate, pursue common threats, and ensure that they all remain supportive.10 This model means that none of the countries will become a threat to others. Through the notion of power balancing, the governments involved will partner in an attempt to defeat the identified and prevailing threat.
A detailed analysis of the Korean War reveals that both the balance of power and collective security models influenced the actions of different countries, thereby dictating how they resolved it. This conflict did not result in a winner due to the issues and developments that existed during the time. The war was a balance of power between two nations that were willing to establish hegemonies. The ongoing Cold War was also an upheaval with similar intentions.11 The signing of an armistice agreement was a clear indication that all countries in the region, the US, and the Soviet Union were ready to sacrifice their resources and ensure that none of them oppressed others or achieved hegemonic objectives. This kind of approach or effort reveals that the balance of power theory played a critical role throughout this upheaval.
The Soviet Union and the United States engaged in a new conflict after the end of World War II whose aim was not to suffer increased negative consequences or costs. Instead, each of these two countries was willing to avert any form of upheaval and avoid another global war.12 These nations were also ready to use their resources and ensure that regional stability was attained. From this analysis, it becomes quite clear that some nations will always be seeking power and strength. At the same time, other states will be ready to block such decisions or hegemonic pursuits.
The US and its allies were willing to intervene and ensure that North Korea did not assert its strength or power over South Korea throughout this period. Through the lens of the balance of power, such nations intervened to prevent the Russians from spreading the notions of communism across the world. The leaders of such countries were also convinced that the time had gone when one state or empire could be allowed to become stronger than its neighbours. This was true since such a development would result in negative outcomes since such governments would threaten their weaker counterparts. After the outbreak of the Korean War, many countries decided to become part of the conflict and unite in an attempt to ensure that neither North Korea nor the Soviet Union achieved its goals.13 With such initiatives, it was possible for the global society to realize that no one state could amass military power and colonize its immediate neighbors. These action plans and achievements resonate with the balance of power theory.
The initiatives different countries undertook throughout the period indicate conclusively that the collective security model is an evidence-based theory for defining and analyzing the Korean War. Firstly, it is evident that several countries were willing to collaborate and support the security agenda of either North Korea or South Korea. For instance, the Soviet Union and China had established a new partnership in Asia to support each other and continue promoting the communism economic model across the world. Since North Korea was also part of this arrangement, its conflict with the south was viewed as a major challenge that could undermine the security of the region. The ongoing war in the Korean peninsula, therefore, encouraged all these countries to focus on the security challenges facing North Korea.14 These states decided to engage their military units and ensure that North Korea emerged victories over South Korea. This achievement means that the collective security model made it possible for the countries in the targeted region to realize their main objective of ensuring that North Korea remained a sovereign state. Similarly, South Korea’s allies partnered in accordance with the collective security framework to protect it from the forces of communism.
It is agreeable that the United States and other member states of the United Nations considered such a concept to fight against the ongoing invasion. This was something necessary since it was also identified as a capitalist state. Many countries treated the ongoing conflict as a form of threat against global peace. Some theorists have gone further to indicate that the entry of more regions and states would have prolonged this war for more years.15 These developments would have occurred in an attempt to get rid of a common enemy or country that appeared to terrorize one of their partners. This means that any form of threat to the peace of either North Korea or South Korea would be viewed as a problem for other colleagues within the collective security model. This ambition transformed the Korean War by attracting more countries to join hands and fight against a common enemy and its allies. Unfortunately, the Korean War ended without a specific winner. This outcome reveals that the collective security model managed to support the needs of both North Korea and South Korea.
Throughout the Korean War period, different countries chose to intervene and ensure that none of them proved their strength or worth over the others. For the United States, this war was a new opportunity to send a clear message to the Soviet Union and prove that the time for global hegemony was over.16 While these countries could have been acting in accordance with the dictates of the collective security theory, what comes out clearly is that none of them emerged victorious. Additionally, China decided to intrude and ensure that the fighting nations acknowledged that it was still a major military power to reckon with in the region.17 The UN was also interested in this war in an attempt to prevent the spread of communism across the world and ensure that Russia did not take full control of the Korean peninsula.
The entry of China into this war forced the US to declare its position regarding the possibility of deploying nuclear bombs. With the deaths and experiences recorded in Nagasaki and Hiroshima still in the minds of many people, such an issue raised numerous concerns regarding the potential future of the ongoing war. Nonetheless, the Chinese remained unmoved and continued to repel UN-led forces in the north.18 The US country would later avoid the use of nuclear weapons because such a decision could have forced the Soviet to attack other countries, thereby spreading the war to Japan, America, and Europe. Such developments would have triggered another disastrous global conflict.
The above discussions reveal that the establishment of partnership among countries to fight an identified enemy was a common practice throughout the war period. This is something that is informed by the collective security model. Most of the nations involved in this upheaval focused on the best ways to ensure that the sovereignty of one of their own remained uncompromised. This is a clear indication that the collective security model is a powerful theory for analyzing and studying the Korean War. Similarly, the balance of power framework is also critical since it describes how the involvement of other states in this upheaval prevented both Russia and the United States from dominating the world and spreading the conflict to other regions. Consequently, the security of the region was enhanced since the participants realized that there was a need for them to support the distribution of military power and ensure that no country was strong enough to colonize others. This assertion supports the idea that both the balance of power and collective security theories are applicable and capable of analyzing the Korean War.19 This description, therefore, indicates that these two frameworks will continue to dictate and guide future relationships between nations across the world.
In conclusion, the Korean War is the only upheaval that can explain how and why the balance of power and collective security models are essential for studying and analyzing foreign policies and international relations. It is evident that different countries collaborated to support the security of one of their own during this upheaval while preventing the emergence of a dominant state. Such outcomes are also in accordance with the realism model since it supports the idea that countries should pursue their interests by fighting groups or states that appear to threaten their existence. This development explains why the concepts of balance of power and collective security have managed to support the distribution of global military capabilities, thereby promoting international security.
Beamish, Thomas D. Community at Risk: Biodefense and the Collective Search for Security. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015.
De Keersmaeker, Goedele. Polarity, Balance of Power and International Relations Theory: Post-Cold War and the 19th Century Compared. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
Hall, Kevin, and R. Conrad Stein. The Korean War. New York: Enslow Publishing, LLC, 2017.
Huxford, Grace. The Korean War in Britain: Citizenship, Selfhood and Forgetting. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018.
Hwang, Su-kyoung. Korea’s Grievous War. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
Kim, Monica. The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War. Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2019.
Parent, Joseph M., and Sebastian Rosato. “Balancing in Neorealism.” International Security 40, no. 2 (2015): 51-86.
Shih, Chih-Yu. China and International Theory: The Balance of Relationships. New York: Routledge, 2019.
Vanhullebusch, Matthias. Global Governance, Conflict and China. Leiden: Brill Sense and Hotei Publishing, 2018.
Ziff, John. The Korean War. Broomall: Mason Crest, 2015.
- Grace Huxford, The Korean War in Britain: Citizenship, Selfhood and Forgetting (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018), 22.
- John Ziff, The Korean War (Broomall: Mason Crest, 2015), 76.
- Monica Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2019), 22.
- Kim, The Interrogation Rooms, 24.
- Ibid., 26.
- Ibid., 29.
- Matthias Vanhullebusch, Global Governance, Conflict and China (Leiden: Brill Sense and Hotei Publishing, 2018), 49.
- Matthias, Global Governance, 52.
- Chih-Yu Shih, China and International Theory: The Balance of Relationships (New York: Routledge, 2019), 102.
- Joseph M. Parent and Sebastian Rosato, “Balancing in Neorealism,” International Security 40, no. 2 (2015): 56.
- Kim, The Interrogation Rooms, 22.
- Su-kyoung Hwang, Korea’s Grievous War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 54.
- Huxford, The Korean War, 87.
- Kevin Hall and R. Conrad Stein, The Korean War (New York: Enslow Publishing, LLC, 2017), 87.
- Goedele De Keersmaeker, Polarity, Balance of Power and International Relations Theory: Post-Cold War and the 19th Century Compared (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 41.
- Thomas D. Beamish, Community at Risk: Biodefense and the Collective Search for Security (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), 27.
- Beamish, Community at Risk, 43.
- Ibid., 46.
- Hwang, The Interrogation Rooms, 28.