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NEWPORT, R.I. (Jan. 7, 2013) Professor Colin Jackson of the Strategy and Policy department discusses a “Strategic and Operational Overview” for the Korean War case study in the ongoing strategy and war course.  (Photo by Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Ohl)
NEWPORT, R.I. (Jan. 7, 2013) Professor Colin Jackson of the Strategy and Policy department discusses a “Strategic and Operational Overview” for the Korean War case study in the ongoing strategy and war course.  (Photo by Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Ohl)

From Strategy and Policy department
Jan. 9, 2013

NEWPORT, R.I. -- The Strategy and Policy department examined the Korean War and its lasting significance on U.S. strategic thought, Jan. 7-10.  This limited war, fought at the dawn of the atomic age, holds potential insights for current military and civilian decision makers as they prepare for various contingencies in contemporary East Asia.

The department’s four lectures on the Korean War highlighted various aspects of the conflict.  Professor Charles Edel’s lecture explored the origins of the Cold War and its impact on Soviet and American decision making in the period leading up to the.  Professor Colin Jackson’s lecture examined both the neglected period of occupation and insurgency that preceded the North Korean invasion of 1950 and the decisions surrounding the end of the war of movement in 1951.  Professor Andrew Wilson analyzed China’s role as an adversary in the Korean War, highlighting the role of ideology and domestic politics on Chinese strategy in the conflict.  Finally, Professor Marc Genest discussed the problems surrounding war termination and their connection with questions of strategic communications and the broader Cold War.

The lectures and seminars highlighted two essential problems in the conduct of limited war: war termination and civil-military relations. The process of war termination in Korea was obviously frustrating to American statesmen and commanders alike and left a legacy that directly affected U.S. conduct of the Vietnam War and the Gulf War of 1990-1991.

While the United States ultimately realized its aim of preserving an independent South Korea, China’s intervention and the protracted negotiations with the communists greatly increased the costs of the war. Why this occurred and what it reveals about the problems of trying to fight while negotiating are yet more valuable lessons to be drawn from this case.

The conflict between President Truman and General MacArthur provides a fascinating look at civil-military relations in the American context and illuminates issues that continue to resonate in present-day operations, including the problem of friction and disagreement between the White House and the theater commander on objectives, strategy, and the proper employment of multi-national forces, notably troops from South Korea and Taiwan.

This case study analyzes a famous example of poor civil-military relations and underscores the adverse strategic consequences that can result from a breakdown in the relationship between the statesman and the military commander.


Posted by Cmdr. Carla M. McCarthy