I joined the County of London Yeomanry in 1967, a very callow youth indeed but many of the senior NCOs were Korean veterans. Most national servicemen at the time, Royal Ulster Rifles, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, Gloucesters, (Glorious Glosters) gunners, all the splendid old regiments were represented. They were part of a predominantly American United Nations force.
By the end of this nasty long forgotten war the combined allied force had suffered 100,000 casualties. Civilian casualties ran into millions yet the war was virtually forgotten even as it was being fought. The Korean Peninsular crops up periodically as a trouble spot, a sort of chronic festering sore on the face of the planet. As always with long term strategical geo political problems politicians try and solve them with tactical solutions. A bit like putting diesel fuel in a petrol engine.
Let me pause here to offer a definition of tactical and strategic, attributed to General Patton, l learned it at RMA Sandhurst many years ago.
“Strategy is how you get the girl into the back row of the cinema, tactics is what you do when you’ve got her there”. Probably a bit un PC but you get the drift.
I don’t intend to give a potted history of the conflict, easily found elsewhere. I want to offer what could be a long term solution.
When the Korean War finished in 1954 the final border wound up at the notorious 38th Parallel, where it started. Many deaths for nothing perhaps. The stalemate has continued for over fifty years. Much sabre rattling in the meanwhile. Now North Korea is a poor, ramshackle country but possesses a primitive nuclear capability. This is the joker in the strategic pack. The two main regional military powers are South Korea and Japan. South Korea has an army 650,000 strong, well equipped and trained. The Japanese have one of the world’s best equipped navies after the United States. What they don’t have is a tactical nuclear capability, which removes their ‘mutually assured destruction response’ which has kept the peace in Europe for seventy years. Both countries have delivery capacity, just no warheads. Hold that thought for a moment, I shall return to it.
South and North Korea are politically hostile to each other, that we know. But they are of one race. The ordinary Koreans are not hostile to each other. Dilemma number one. North Koreans hate Americans, that goes pretty deep. They also incidentally hate the Japanese, a post colonial hatred, the Japanese Empire was not the broadly benevolent Empire of the British. These ancient enmities must be addressed, not at the point of a gun, but through tough but pragmatic diplomacy. We must have a long term if imperfect solution, it worked for Europe and the Soviet Union.
Equip South Korea & Japan with independent tactical nuclear warheads. This enables America to be completely taken out of the equation. Japan & South Korea are very rich independent democratic nations, thanks to those old Korean veterans of yesteryear. Importantly it also takes China out of the equation.
The Korean War escalated because MacArthur’s response dragged them in. The problem can then be localised. Let the concept of mutually assured destruction be the answer to the Pacific in the same way it has proven successful in Europe. We must learn from the mistakes of the Great War that Armageddon follows when reluctant super powers are dragged in, isolate troubled areas from superpowers, no good ever comes of it.
The North Korean leadership is clearly unstable, but reflect for a moment on the inherent instability of the US Industrial, Military, Congressional Complex of which Eisenhower warned us.
America cannot continue, nor is there any need for them to be militarily engaged in every corner of the planet. I also suggest a lesson is learned from the Cuba experience, trade embargoes secure long term tenures for the very regimes the west tries to topple.
Take advice from the great French philosopher Frederick Bastiat, ‘when trade crosses borders, armies don’t’.
Godfrey Bloom is a holder of the Territorial Army decoration & bar & Armed Forces Parliamentary Medal. He is an associate member of the Royal College of Defence Studies & has lectured & given papers at The RCDS, Joint Services Staff College & Eisenhower Defense University Washington. He is a published military historian.
© Godfrey Bloom – website http://godfreybloom.uk/blogs/