Cold War diplomacy, strategy and security 1950–53

Coming just five years after the ravages of the Second World War, the Korean war was a deeply unsettling moment in post-war British history. This book is a study of Britain's diplomatic, military and security policy during the Korean War as seen from the perspective of the British Government. It explores the social and cultural impact of the Korean War (1950-53) on Britain. From allegations about American use of 'germ' warfare to anxiety over Communist use of 'brainwashing' and treachery at home, the Korean War precipitated a series of short-lived panics in 1950s Britain. The book charts the war's changing position in British popular imagination and asks how it became known as the 'Forgotten War'. The study presented argues that the British did have influence over American decision-making during the Korean War. Whereas the existing United Nations resolutions would permit 'swirling' across the 38th parallel operations of a politico-military nature would require further United Nations consideration. The British did not have a veto over American strategy in Korea - but under the Truman administration they came pretty close to one with respect to the widening of the war into China. The Attlee-Truman talks, in December 1950, secured for the British the watershed agreement of the right to be consulted on the use of the atomic bomb. The book also talks about General Douglas MacArthur, the 1951 Chinese capture of Seoul by communists, and the concept of a British 'Manchurian Candidate'-type figure indoctrinated by the Chinese in Korea.

Comparing the Sunningdale Agreement and the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement

This chapter compares and contrasts the 1973 and 1998 Agreements that, on the face of it, are remarkably similar: both involve power-sharing and an institutional link between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The phrase ‘Sunningdale for slow learners’, attributed to Seamus Mallon, masks a misunderstanding of the fundamental differences between the two Agreements. The former Agreement looked to establish a Council of Ireland with executive powers that had the potential to evolve into an embryonic all-Ireland government; the latter Agreement established a consultative North-South Ministerial Council with no executive powers that could not evolve into a united Ireland by incremental moves. This was the key to Unionist acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in comparison to Unionist rejection of the Sunningdale Agreement. In constitutional terms the GFA was a Unionist settlement that secured Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom, recognised British sovereignty in Northern Ireland and established that a united Ireland could only be achieved on the basis of the principle of consent. In contrast the Sunningdale Agreement was, in constitutional terms, a Nationalist settlement that did not recognise Northern Ireland was part of the UK and attempted to bypass the principle of consent by establishing powerful North-South bodies. The chapter argues that the only thing the two Agreements has in common was a power-sharing element for the government of Northern Ireland.

in Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers’ Council strike and the struggle for democracy in Northern Ireland
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This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book presents a study of Britain's diplomatic, military and security policy during the Korean War as seen from the perspective of the British Government. It argues that the British did have, albeit a limited, influence over American decision-making during the Korean War. The book describes Peter Lowe's assertion that Dwight D. Eisenhower, President from 1953, showed a 'balanced, sensible approach and normally concluded his assessments by rejecting dangerous courses of action.' Lowe argues that the United States was closer to using the bomb in November-December 1950, under Harry S. Truman, than in 1953 whereas the work of R. J. Foot illustrates how real was Eisenhower's claim that he was prepared to use atomic weapons.

in Britain’s Korean War
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By mid-1950 the Grand Alliance of Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union, that had defeated the Third Reich in 1945, had collapsed into two armed camps of East and West. As Soviet Russia feared the West, so the British and Americans feared the East. It appeared to the British that Joseph Stalin sought to supplement Communist dominance in Central and Eastern Europe with forays elsewhere in the world. The first news received in Britain of the invasion of South Korea came via the United States, the UN and the press. On 25 June 1950, His Majesty's Government (HMG) and the United States Government were agreed that the invasion of South Korea by North Korea should not go unpunished. The Security Council adopted a resolution recognising South Korea as 'a lawfully established government' and condemned the 'armed attack' from North Korea.

in Britain’s Korean War
The 38th parallel

In Korea, the initial deployment of under-trained US forces led to serious military setbacks for the UN. The Chiefs of Staff came up with a suggestion on 20 July. They suggested that the North Koreans should be informed that, 'we propose progressively to destroy by precision bombing, and after due warning to avoid loss of civilian life' everything of value in North Korea, factories, railways, docks and so on. This process would continue until the order was issued for North Korean troops to withdraw behind the 38th parallel. South Korean forces plus a small United Nations force could hold the 38th parallel. The Attorney and Solicitor-General, together with Kenneth Younger, agreed it might be possible for the UN Assembly as opposed to the UN Security Council to grant UN forces in Korea, an air of legitimacy in crossing the 38th parallel and unifying Korea.

in Britain’s Korean War
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China’s first intervention

On 6 November, the Cabinet held a preliminary discussion about the possible consequences of Chinese intervention in Korea. Ernest Bevin was anxious to avoid any extension of the area of such hostilities. Back in the Cabinet, Bevin, with some understatement, said that Chinese intervention, the extent of which was still uncertain, had led to 'great difficulties affecting our attitude' towards the People's Government of China. The most important difference between Bevin's proposals and a suggestion made by Sir Oliver Franks was that 'we omit' any reference to the territory lying north of the Yalu. Bevin also informed Franks that he proposed making a statement in the House of Commons designed to secure publicity in China. Bevin was aware that, under the American military system, it was customary to leave more latitude to the Commander in the field than under the British system.

in Britain’s Korean War

René Pleven and Robert Schuman came to London to inform Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin of the views of the French Government on matters which were likely to arise during Attlee's visit to Washington. In his opening remarks, President Harry S. Truman expressed his appreciation of the prime minister coming to the United States. Attlee added that the problem was to find out 'how best we could avoid playing the Russian game'. Attlee had seen a very great change in the orientation of leading Indians. It was not hopeless that the Chinese were not fully imbued with Soviet ideas. Attlee deemed it significant that the Americans 'implicitly and on occasion explicitly assumed that we are their principal ally and that we must be prepared in the last resort to continue the struggle together and alone'.

in Britain’s Korean War

In Korea, the Chinese launched another offensive, this time on New Year's Eve. As United Nations (UN) forces fell back to the 38th parallel, Seoul was captured for the second time by the Communists. The confirmation of an American desire for the condemnation, in the UN, of China as an aggressor duly arrived from Washington. As Kenneth Younger confided to his diary, on 7 January, that the international situation was peculiarly worrying and depressing at that moment. Younger was influenced by fears that the US resolution might lead to the Communist states leaving the UN, which would then become in effect an anti-Communist alliance 'pure & simple'. Presumably, Younger thought, the Americans would want to atom bomb Russia, but whatever that might do to Russia, it would not prevent the Red Army from reaching the Channel ports.

in Britain’s Korean War
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British unease over Douglas MacArthur's statement was not helped when press reports claimed that some South Korean forces had already proceeded beyond the 38th parallel. On 4th February, Joe Gascoigne called on MacArthur to bid him farewell after an 'association with him of four and a half years'. Unless some fresh political initiative was taken, there seemed to be some risk that MacArthur might again advance north of the 38th parallel and seek to justify that course on military grounds. To many, MacArthur's emphasis on Chinese weakness suggested that he was attempting to create a momentum for an extension of the war into China. Naturally, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) proposals rang alarm bells among their British counterparts, for this appeared to give MacArthur even greater latitude, even encouragement, to attack Chinese territory, with the consequent implications for world peace.

in Britain’s Korean War
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In October 1951, the Conservatives returned to power: Winston Churchill was once more the prime minister and Anthony Eden his foreign secretary. Eden suggested that, from a purely personal standpoint, he felt that bombing beyond the Yalu would be 'less difficult' for his government than the blockade. Consequently, Churchill was not concerned about the bombing of targets in Manchuria; as for the possibility of war with China, he considered it not a country 'against which one declared war, rather a country against which war was waged'. The British, however, did signal a clear shift from the previous Labour Government, with Churchill describing British diplomatic relations with Communist China as a 'fiction'. He added that had he been in power, he would have broken relations with China when the Chinese attacked the UN forces in Korea.

in Britain’s Korean War