The Korean War: An International History

Article excerpt

THE KOREAN WAR: An International History by William Stueck. 484 pages. Princeton University Press, NJ. 1997. $18.95.

William Stueck suggests that the "police action" in Korea between 1950 and 1953 served the earth as a surrogate for World War III. The world's two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, successfully avoided the potentially fatal error of facing each other directly on the battlefield by containing the conflict, in terms of geography, to Korea In terms of the physical act of war, the conflict included a relatively small number of nations and national forces because it was in the world's best interest not to replay World War II.

The Korea conflict was not the first war that featured international combatant coalitions aligned against one another. However, it was the first example of a conflict sponsored by an international organization such as the United Nations and the first, in America's experience, that included limited-objective warfare. In this case, the United States initially sought something less than total victory.

Stueck focuses on the war's international dimensions in an exceptionally effective way as he describes the seemingly constant friction between coalition members on both sides. The give and take of international diplomacy presented a pronounced challenge for the United States as it attempted to gain its geopolitical and military goals through the United Nations. At the same time, to take the actions they desired, Korean and Chinese leaders were forced to consult with, solicit material assistance from and sometimes request permission from Joseph Stalin.

Stueck's information is characterized by six interlocking themes:

* The war's multilateral nature.

* The UN's role in the conflict.

* Individual nations' reasons for participating in the war.

* The conflict's global impact. …