Cold War Confrontation: Korea

The Start of the Korean War

The start of the Korean War in the early 1950s is when relations between the two giants, the United States of America and the Soviet Union, began to deteriorate. Korea was liberated from Japanese control at the end of the Second World War. By swiftly occupying the Korean land, the Soviet Union moved to expand its dominance in the Far East. Additionally, the US began populating South Korea. Following these events, Korea was split between a communist government in the north and a patriotic government in the south. This paper looks into the events that led to the beginning of Korean War using several correspondences between Russian officials and North Korean officials in the years 1949 and 1950 and a report filed by National Security Council in 1948. The US was preparing to establish in South Korea a democratic government. However, the provocation by the South Korea led to the beginning of the Korean War. The cold was then inevitably incited further by the events leading up to the Korean War. This paper based on two sources, The Korean War Documents and The Position of the US to Korea, in examining the primary motivation of the US and USSR in Korea after the second world war and the influence of local pressure towards its development.

The US-USSR Joint Force

After the Second World War, Japanese forces surrendered, and Korea was under the Soviet rule to the north and US rule to the south. This event was following the declaration that one of the aims from the end of the Pacific conflict was to establish a liberated and free Korea (Souers). Later in the year 1945, it was agreed upon that, a US-USSR joint force was to create a provisional Korean independent administration. However, further talks after this date failed to bring upon an agreement concerning how to establish the democratic Korea and when to withdraw the troops. A new commission of the UN was formed to oversee the whole transfer of powers. The delegation met further resistance when North Korea denied it access to the northern Korea. In light of this event, the interim committee gave directed the US to then occupy as much of the regions of the north as accessible (Souers). The US intentions after that were to nurture the South Korean economy and political strength to a point where the country could sufficiently run itself democratically.

The Thick Mistrust

Perhaps the failure of the talks between the two superpowers was because of the thick mistrust they had between each other. Each superpower could not trust the other to follow through on the decisions made. The evidence of the high suspicion and how the two powers viewed each other is through the secret intelligence information gathered by the US primarily on the number of troops available in the north as reported in the NSC document (Souers). Similarly, the Soviet also kept secret tabs on American forces strength as shown in the Korean War documents (Wilson Center). Further proof of tension between the two superpowers is expressed from the statement, "a drawn-out war in Korea could be used by the Americans for purposes of agitation against the Soviet Union for further inflaming war hysteria" (Wilson Center). This statement shows that there were existing tensions already, and each country tried to avoid unnecessary provocation. According to the NSC document, the reasons for the constant refusal of the Soviet Union to cooperate with the US was because the Soviet Union intended a complete domination of the whole country as evidenced by the erection of a puppet regime in North Korea. The regime's intentions, according to the document, were to manifest the Soviet's agenda and to dominate the whole country eventually (Souers).

Priorities and Perspectives

The U.S had failed to establish much influence on China. China had become a communistic regime due to the significant impact by the Soviet Union. Therefore, to the Soviets, maintaining primary control was a priority to the US. According to the NSC document, the loss of South Korea would have had dire consequences for the US. First, it would mean that the Soviet would attain a much superior political and strategic position about Japan and China and put the US in a disadvantageous situation in most of the Far East region. Second, the US exit from South Korea would signify a betrayal to its Far East friends. Third, the loss of South Korea would mean a failure of the prestige of the UN and its valuable influence in the Far East. This position of the US influenced the Soviets' earlier decision not to encourage war on South Korea by North Korea, "after their lack of success in China, the Americans probably will intervene in Korean affairs more decisively than they did in China" (Wilson Center).

The Priorities of the US and USSR

The priorities elicited for the US by the NSC document were the next courses of action the US government needed to take owing to the state of affairs in South Korea at that time. First, the US government was to affect a feasible plan to solve the Korean issue to ensure the prompt withdrawal of the troops. Second, the government had to complete programs of training and equipping the South Korean forces to ensure they could adequately defend the country and provide funds to salvage the state's deteriorating economy. Third, upon the formation of a democratic government, the withdrawal of forces was to be phased in the order of attainment of objectives set. Fourth, a diplomatic mission was to be established in South Korea to ensure a smooth transition and to represent the interests of the US. Fifth, the US was to provide that the UN had an integral role in solving the Korean problem. Finally, the US was to keep the channels for negotiation with the Soviet Union open in case a chance to unify Korea as a whole became available (Souers).

The Soviet Union's Intentions

The Soviet Union, however, had different priorities. They did not wish to provide a democratic government for the North Korean people but instead to dominate the whole of Korea themselves as evidenced by the Korean War documents. Kim Il Sung, the appointed leader of North Korea, wished to instigate an offensive attack toward South Korea in response to information that South Korea was planning to seize part of the Ongjin Peninsula and bomb a cement factory (Wilson Center). Kim proceeded to ask for permission from Stalin, the then-president of the Soviet Union. The Soviet government gradually interpreted the North Korean situation and then set an ingenious plot to ensure that they benefited entirely in the end.

The Soviet Union's Plan

First, they discouraged Kim Il Sung from beginning the war by sighting several shortcomings on their part. This advice was a ploy to show that they had the best intentions for the people of Korea. Second, among the weaknesses they mentioned, the Soviet Union pointed out that they had an insufficiency in ships, heavy caliber artillery, and military provisions. Third, they offered an alternative that the war was feasible only if the attack had adequate preparation with minimum risks (Wilson Center). With this choice, Stalin expressed his enthusiasm to meet Kim for deliberation and also requested a lot of lead and, in exchange, for the provision of technical support and specialists to help North Korea. From the later events, the Soviet Union cleverly leveraged the northerners, maintaining an excellent political relationship and obtaining a great deal of lead. This action was just the beginning. Later, in exchange for a great deal of gold and silver, North Korea received military technical gear. And these events, in the end, led to the Korean War that was begun by North Korea. The Soviet Union's intentions were to use the whole situation to acquire a lot of Korean resources, maintain a favorable political standing by not taking part in the war actively, and finally to later rule the rest of Korea in case North Korea won the war, using the same satellite regime.

Agreement on Unification

Both superpowers, however, agreed on the unification of both portions of Korea. This fact evidenced priorities relayed by the NSC document in which it requested the government to maintain a provision for further negotiation toward the unification and liberation of the whole Korea. The Soviet Union also fostered the unification of Korea for funding the war that would have unified Korea.

Influence of Local Conditions

Some of the conditions in Korea that influenced the superpower opinion were as follows: The poor economic conditions of South Korea changed the U.S resolve to establish a sound financial and political framework before withdrawing its forces. Second, "the political immaturity of the Korean people" (Souers) led to violent revolts due to extremist views held by some of the groups, making it difficult for the US to further its agenda of establishing a democratic rule. The presence of partisan groups in South Korea and the decision by Kim Il Sung to begin the war on the southerners influenced the Soviet's ultimate support for the Korean War by funding Kim Il Sung (Wilson Center).


In conclusion, one of the primary motivations of the US in Korea was to establish a democratic and independent Korea with a stable economic and political framework. Also, the US wanted to maintain a strategic position in the Far East by preserving control in Korea. The primary motivation of the Soviet Union was to establish a dominant rule over Korea, to gain a strategic position concerning China and Japan, and to obtain mineral resources from Korea. The local conditions that influenced the superpowers' actions, as mentioned were the economic and political conditions in South Korea, North Korea's decision to attack South Korea, the presence of partisan groups in South Korea, political immaturity in the Korean people, and the presence of minerals like gold, lead, and silver in Korea.

Works Cited

Souers, Sydney W. The Position of the United States with Respect to Korea. Washington: National Security Council, 1948.

Wilson Center. Wilson Center: Digital Archive. n.d. 6 November 2017 .

Deadline is approaching?

Wait no more. Let us write you an essay from scratch

Receive Paper In 3 Hours
Calculate the Price
275 words
First order 15%
Total Price:
$38.07 $38.07
Calculating ellipsis
Hire an expert
This discount is valid only for orders of new customer and with the total more than 25$
This sample could have been used by your fellow student... Get your own unique essay on any topic and submit it by the deadline.

Find Out the Cost of Your Paper

Get Price