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Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace (Part IV. The international conflict helix)
With the end of the Cold War and democratization of South Korea, this 1987 conference paper is no longer relevant to the probability of war in Korea. It is, however, presented here for two reasons. I wrote virtually all my basic theoretical publications on a typewriter in the 70s and early 80s, and they are thus not easily available for this web site. This paper is the exception. It was one of the first I did on a computer and fully explicates the conflict helix, the theoretical dynamics of my social field theory. I have, of course, tested and applied the theory to democide, as reported in Power Kills. But given that the conflict helix is fully developed in prior work, in Power Kills and other subsequent work, I presented the theory only in summary form.
Second, this paper also shows how to apply the conflict helix and the associated findings of my Understanding Conflict and War: Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace to an important policy question. In 1987 there was great fear about another war in Korea. There were frequent military incidents and provocations by North Korea and sabre rattling, and an imbalance in favor of the North in military capability. Moreover, the Soviet-American balance of power had changed such that either a Soviet-American war crisis (which Korea might create) or a revolutionary change in Soviet will and intentions were likely. As everyone now knows, within a few years of this writing, the Soviet Union collapsed.
The appendix is not included. It consisted of a variety of statistical analyses, the results of which, as noted, are no longer policy relevant. They provided the empirical basis for my assertions here about actual dimensions or factors, trends, correlations, and the global. regional, and local balance of powers.
An historical and quantitative analysis of the Big Powers, their relationship to the Koreas, and the Korean conflict since 1948, implies that the probability of a new Korean war is low. The major factors in this are a potentially strong South Korea; the clear American commitment to defend South Korea, backed up by a significant military presence; and a desire in Moscow and Beijing to maintain peace and stability in Korea. Moreover, there is little likelihood of a global or regional war that would envelope the Koreas.
The Big Power relationship with the greatest impact on the course of the Korean conflict is that of the United States and North Korea. The second most important is between China and South Korea. A warming of this relationship suggests a lessening of the Korea conflict.
While American troops evidence the American commitment and act thereby as a deterrent, the change in troop levels over the years has had little effect on the course of North-South conflict and cooperation, and shows little relationship to their changing military capabilities and balance. American troop levels have their greatest correlation with Big Power relations, particularly the Sino-Soviet conflict, and secondarily Soviet-American detente.
In overall capability and relative potential, the South has clearly surpassed the North; however in actual relative military strength and military investment the North has a growing superiority. While this is not a dominant or decisive superiority, the weapons disparity and the North's concentration of forces along the DMZ and capability for a blitzkrieg attack enables her to seriously threaten, if not take, Seoul. Moreover, it is the North's relative military effort, defined by military expenditures as a ratio of GNP, that is the most important military factor for predicting the ups and downs of the Korean conflict.
While the probability of a new Korean war is low, were such a war to occur the resulting Korean holocaust demands that the utmost effort be devoted to reducing this probability to insignificance. To this end, three lines of S. Korean action are suggested: foster detente with China, determine a stable democratic solution to Korea's periodical political crises, and buildup military forces in order to strengthen deterrence.
In structure the conflict helix theory (model) is largely mathematical (Rummel, 1987a), the data to be used is quantitative (event data), and the methodology is mainly statistical (factor analysis [on which, see "Understanding Factor Analysis"; time-series polynomial regression; and multivariate regression analysis). In other words, the approach here is theoretical and quantitative. Unfortunately, this could make this paper opaque to the policy analyst and general reader. To make this paper most useful and intelligible to those interested in the question, results, and conclusions, though uninterested in the technical material, all the quantitative analyses and methodological discussion have been put in the appendix [not shown]. The body of this paper will then focus on the conceptual aspects of the theory and on relating the quantitative results and findings given in the appendices (and in quantitative analyses elsewhere) to the question of war between the Koreas.
The social contract that is an outcome of such conflict is initially congruent with the balance of powers established between them and defines their social order: it establishes and permits cooperation between them and delineates for them an oasis of peace. Unfortunately, what states want, can, and will get changes in time and causes the balance of powers to shift away from the structure of expectations. As the balance becomes less congruent with expectations a gap is formed between the social contract and the underlying balance of powers. As the gap gets larger it becomes an increasing source of tension until some trigger event surfaces the disparity between power and expectations; new conflict then erupts, as it did in the late 1960s between the Koreas, and the structure of expectations--social contract--is disrupted. This new conflict establishes a more realistic balance of powers and associated social contract; a new phase of cooperation and peace is determined. And eventually, this peace will likewise breakdown into conflict as for this structure of expectations a gap between power and expectations also develops.
Although this process seems cyclic--conflict to cooperation to conflict to cooperation, and so on--and unending, conflict actually can become less intense and frequent. As the two parties learn more about each other through successive conflicts and periods of peace and cooperation, and assuming no change in the fundamental conditions of their relationship, their conflict becomes less intense and shorter, their periods of cooperation more friendly and durable. Thus the helix: an upward spiral in learning as the relationship between two states cycle through conflict and cooperation.
Now, to detail some of the elements of this process specific to states, and those involved in Korea in particular.
Power is given direction by a state's interests, as in Kim Il-sung's clear interest in unifying Korea under his or his son's rule. As an absolute ruler, his wants, purposes and goals, his strength and vitality, point and energize North Korea's power; North Korea, as does any state, thus exercises power to some end. Power also has a particular base, such as threats for coercion, promises for bargaining. But all such bases utilize and depend on a state's capabilities. These are its skills, abilities, and resources, but most important its military establishment, which together enable it to exercise power.
But, except for the use of raw force, these powers are directed towards the minds of the leaders of other states to affect their decisions, will, interests, needs, and so on. They are primarily psychological: they depend on the operation of another leader's perceptions and expectations in his mental field. The appearance of power is as important, therefore, as its substance.
While a state's interests direct its power (and its capabilities, including the ability to appear powerful, give power strength), it is a state's determination that gives power reality. And determination depends on will. There should be little doubt that it is the clear determination to unify Korea, the strength of will of Kim Il-sung, that makes North Korea's capability most dangerous. Exercising power--producing effects--is therefore largely an equation. It can be put simply:
Power = Interests X Capability X Will
If a South Korea's interests, or its capability, or its will were zero, for example, then its power would be zero.
For a conflict helix this all means that the outcome of such conflict is a simultaneous solution to two equations of power; it is a mutually satisfactory outcome in which neither side has the further determination, purpose, or capacity to do what is necessary to further improve it. Conflict therefore achieves a new balance of powers, such as the post Korean War balance between the Koreas or that of the Sino-Soviet balance achieved through their border clashes and confrontations of the 60s. And these balances are the basis of new structures of expectations determined by their conflicts.
As for South Korea and the United States, some expectations involve their economic relations, some their defensive alliance, some their political relationship (such as South Korea's political "progress"), some their scientific and cultural relations, and so on. Each pattern of expectations may be a different set of understandings, agreements, and rules that they have mutually worked out. Some are achieved through minor balancing; some through major conflicts and confrontations, as at the political level for South Korea and the United States; some through a recognition of a common interest. Each pattern is a mutual structure of expectations--a structure in that the expectations fit together and usually remain relatively unchanged over months, or sometimes, years. A structure of expectations defines what states will do in a particular situation. It is an implicit and sometimes explicit international contract governing the behavior between states.
At the core of any structure of expectations is a status quo defining the mutual rights, obligations, and duties among the parties. It defines what a state owns, its property--those things it has absolute command over and at its whim can exclude other's from using. The DMZ, their internationally defined borders, and their 1953 Armistice Agreement, mainly define the status quo between North and South Korea. Rights, obligations, duties, and property are the most important expectations to determine between states (as will be noted, violence is caused by a breakdown in this status quo).
Cooperation, collaboration, partnership, association, mutual aid, and the like, then take place within--indeed, require--mutually reliable expectations. For a conflict helix, mutual cooperation assumes some agreement, some common basis for mutually predicting behavior. It assumes that states know when they are right or wrong (North Korea surely knows that it is violating the status quo in sending infiltration squads across the DMZ), helpful or unhelpful, correct or incorrect with regard to each other. And this assumes shared expectations based upon a balance of powers.
In other words, change in the balance of powers usually creates a gap between the structure of expectations and its underlying interests, capabilities, and will. It is a gap caused by two different rates of change: the slow evolution of expectations versus the possibly rapid change in what states want, can, and will do.
Now, as a result of this gap, strain, friction, a pressure towards readjustment of power or expectations, builds up. Alarming tension and hostility may appear, as it did in 1948-1949 between the Koreas before the North's invasion. Suddenly, some event, often underrated at the time, occurs and triggers a breakdown of expectations. Such apparently was the clear exclusion of South Korea from the American security zone by the Truman Administration in early 1950. The trigger is simply the "final straw"; the excuse for "having it out." It is the immediate cause of conflict.
Figure 1 pictures this process. At the center is a structure of expectations and its supporting balance of powers formed out of the conflict between two states. From left to right is illustrated the change in the structure and the balance of powers. Both may change at different rates and in different directions, causing a gap between what a state expects of another and their mutually supporting interests, capabilities and will. As this gap gets larger the probability increases that some trigger event will eventually occur to persuade one or the other state that things cannot go on--to stimulate or provoke a willful decision to have it out or change the order of things. Expectations are thus disrupted, as shown in the figure. And the resulting conflict renegotiates a new structure of expectations and supporting balance of powers.
Conflicts end in cooperation; but cooperation ends in conflict. Are states caught in a vicious cycle? No, even states as hostile as North and South Korea learn from their mutual conflict and cooperation. Each round of conflict and cooperation makes the subjective gulf between them easier to bridge. Each round requires less adjustment. And each round of peace lasts longer; harmony becomes more durable, cooperation more enduring. In line with this, there has in fact been a gradual growth of cooperation and decrease in conflict between North and South Korea, and also between the United States and North Korea.
A conflict helix, therefore, is a process of iteration towards harmony and peace. The previous conflict and expectations are input to the current conflict; this and the consequent expectations will be input to the next. And because of this learning and continual process of communication, the mutual adjustments and expectations between states come closer and closer to truly reflecting their diverse interests, capabilities, and wills.
The helix assumes that the framework within which states interact remains fairly constant. Of course, within this framework change will always occur. But presumably, for example, the leadership remains the same, the same interests are supported at more or less the same level, and no radical change in military effort is undertaken. Presumably there is no new revolutionary government, no reconsideration of aid commitments, no major shift in alliances, or no withdrawal from foreign commitments. Any such dramatic changes are shocks to the structure of expectations and may require a whole new series of adjustments, a new rephasing of a conflict helix. Of course, states will not have forgotten the previous conflicts and expectations, but the changed situation may stimulate a radically different set of interests and demand capabilities that were dormant before. Simply consider the effect on China's bilateral relations of a democratic revolution overthrowing its communist system; or of Kim Il-sung being overthrown by a North Korean version of Mikhail Gorbashev. Or to consider actual events, note the impact on Southeast Asian international relations of America's Vietnam defeat.
Note first that there are necessary and aggravating forces.
There are six of these necessary forces. One is the existence of a Revolutionary state that is dissatisfied with the status quo and whose primary foreign policy goal is to change it. This may concern a border, a regional sphere of interest, control over or absorption of a neighboring state, or the political system or religion of another state. The historical list of revolutionary aims is long. Relevant to Korea, there are two revolutionary states: The soviet Union at the global level and North Korea locally.
The Capability to achieve a revolutionary goal is a second force. This not only involves military power, but also other means and resources for exercising power in international relations, such as leadership, national unity, wealth, energy production, population, and geography.
A Will-to war, without which interest and capability are impotent, is a third force. A revolutionary state must have the will to fight against the status quo, a resolution to undergo the sacrifices necessary and to brave the risks and uncertainty inherent in any war. As mentioned above, will, interests, capability, form a triad; together they define the power of a state.
A fourth force results from the interlocking of mutual interests and capability and will into a balance of powers, and the relationship of this balance to its associated structure of expectations. If a balance of powers shifts such that the relevant status quo expectations are no longer supported by what a Status Quo State can or will defend, or by what a Revolutionary State can or will accept or forego, a Power/expectations gap exists. Expectations hang in the air. The more so, the greater the force toward war.
Even were this gap large, however, and an "act of war" befall a state, such as an assassination, the sinking of its ship or sacking of its embassy, it must be confident of success to go to war. This is the fifth force. Given the other necessary forces, war begins when both sides believe their war aims (a punishing defense, forcing negotiations over a border, conquering neighboring territory, revenge, etc.) will be successful. War ends when this inconsistency is resolved--one side no longer believes in success.
In any case, one final force must be present. This is dictatorial-authoritarian or coercive power: at least one party must be an authoritarian or totalitarian state. Open, pluralistic and democratic states--libertarian states--do not make war on each other. Therefore, the involvement of nonlibertarian actors in a hostile conflict is a necessary force towards war.
Now to focus on the aggravating forces shown in Table 1, war may occur without one or another or several of these forces, or even if some are reversed, working to inhibit war. They only make war more or less probable once the necessary forces for war are present. As relevant to Korea, nine such forces are listed in the table. All these cannot be discussed in detail, but should at least be made clear.
Dissimilarity means the difference in cultural meanings and values and norms (e.g., spiritual versus material culture), in social structure (e.g., economically developed versus underdeveloped societies), and in political systems.
A Cognitive imbalance is a relationship between two states that is not consistent with their relationship to a third (e.g., a friend of my friend is an enemy), thus creating a strain towards their altering either their relationship toward each other or to the third party. For example, the current United States-South Korea-China triangular relationship is cognitively unbalanced: while South Korea has friendly relations with the United States and formally antagonistic (although warming) relations with China, the United States and China are currently friendly. For South Korea there is thus a force towards being either less friendly with the United States or more friendly with China.
Another aggravator is status difference, particularly if one party is wealthy and weak while the other is poor and powerful.
Then there is state power alone. The more coercive power a state has, the more likely it will try to defend or change the international status quo beyond its immediate borders. And superpowers thus engage the global status quo.
Weakness of the status quo power clearly aggravates a conflict over the status quo. If the chief defender of a status quo shows a confused interest in it, or a weakening of capability or will to protect it, then the revolutionary power may come to believe its goal is achievable. It may develop a will-to-war.
Once a conflict or limited violence is underway, big power intervention is aggravating. External issues become involved, a local conflict becomes regionally or globally significant. Thus the issues become more vital, war thereby more likely. And more intense once it has started.
Moreover, if the credibility or honor of a state becomes engaged in a conflict, as American credibility did in Vietnam, the stakes become vital. The issue now transcends the local status quo; escalation and war are promoted.
Finally, there is power parity. This aggravating force operates only on war (it plays no consistent role in conflict or limited violence). The closer in power two states are, the more ambiguously their relative power is perceived. And the more likely each party can believe in a successful war. What inhibits a choice of war is a clear preponderance of war-making power by one side or the other. North Korea would be thus insane to invade the Soviet Union or China. In evaluating power parity keep in mind that power means a triad of interests, capabilities, and will. Power parity is therefore a far more complex and psychological concept than is simple military equivalence.
All that opposed these forces were South Korea's desire for self-preservation and its capability and will to defend itself, combined with an American resolve to aid the South if attacked. This resulting balance of powers maintained a rough overall status quo along the Korean Parallel from 1946 to 1950, in spite of two separate, rapid consolidations of governmental power above and below the parallel, the creation of two new nation-states in 1948 along the parallel, and in 1948-49, the withdrawal of all Soviet and American military forces. These events marked a massive change in the balance of power in Korea from what they had been in 1945-1947; and manifested an increasing gap between what each side wanted and could get, and the territorial-ideological status quo.
This gap became especially large in the fifteen months preceding the June 25th invasion. During this period two essential forces came into play. One was the public withdrawal of an American interest in defending South Korea. In March 1949 the American Far East Commander publicly excluded South Korea from American security interests in Asia. And on January 12, 1950, Secretary of State Acheson, in his well known National Press Club speech, defined the American defense perimeter in the Pacific to exclude Korea, asserting that Korea must rely on her own defenses and the UN. Moreover, on January 19, 1950, Congress defeated Truman's request for supplemental aid to Korea of 150 million dollars. At this time the United States completely misread the danger to Korea, believing that the major threat to the South was from internal unrest and subversion, rather than from invasion. Any communist aggression would be in Europe, so the Truman Administration believed. Thus, the Administration appeared to assure Stalin and Kim Il-sung of a successful war against the South.
The second force was Stalin's will-to-war, such that he either commanded, or promised support for Kim Il-sung to launch his invasion. Stalin's motives are speculative, of course. But we can reasonably suppose that this decision was related to or occasioned by the withdrawal of the American security interest. Moreover, we should recall that Stalin was blocked in Europe by NATO and the Truman Doctrine; the successful American response to the 1948 Berlin Blockade showed its strong interest and will in defending Europe; the Sino-Soviet friendship Treaty was proclaimed on February 15, 1950; the Soviets had reason to fear a remilitarized Japan and a Northeast Asian style NATO; South Korea could be again the dagger aimed at the Japanese heart; and the instability in and weakness of the South provided great opportunity.
The Korean War established a new status quo (as defined formally by the clauses of the 1953 Armistice Agreement) based upon a new balance of powers, now also involving China, and demarcated by the DMZ. This was a new status quo with which both sides were willing to live, given the added blood and destruction required to move the DMZ further North or South or alter the other formal agreements or tacit understandings involved.
The status quo thus achieved by the Korean war lasted until about 1967, when South Korea had 45,000 troops in South Vietnam, the United States was distracted by the Vietnam War, there was an internal political crises in South Korea over alleged vote fraud in the legislative elections, and thus an apparent opportunity for Kim Il-sung to violently change to status quo. He massively increased his infiltration of the South, attacked United States and South Korea units along the DMZ; and in 1968 a North Korea commando team unsuccessfully attacked the presidential residence in Seoul, an 120 man guerrilla team landed on the East coast at Uljin, and the USS Pueblo was seized. In 1967 the number of North Korea infiltrators killed in the South jumped from 82 to 381 and 518 in 1968. Although in 1969 North Korea shot down a United States EC-121 reconnaissance plane, infiltration dropped significantly and Kim Il-sung launched a peace offensive. By then South Korea had weathered its crises and showed that it could well handle North Korea infiltration and destabilization attempts. The United States showed that its commitment to the South was firm regardless of the Vietnam War; that it was prepared to use what force necessary to preserve the Korean status quo, as evidenced by its mobilization of significant force in and around Korea in reaction to the taking of the Pueblo, and in sharply increasing American troops in Korea from 31,300 in 1967, to 42,000 in 1968, and 52,000 in 1969. In 1969 Kim Il-sung launched a peace offensive and by 1971 a second status quo was in place: there was a new appreciation in Moscow and Pyongyang of American resolve, and of South Korean stability and strength. In this year a new detente in North-South relations was evidenced by North Korea's agreement to begin Red Cross talks over separated families, and the opening of the first North-South telephone lines in over two-decades.
This second status quo and associated expectations began to unravel in the late 70s with the South's launching a crash defense program that threatened to upset the Korean balance of power, strong American pressure for human rights in the South, President Carter's troop withdrawal plan, and Koreangate (South Korean agents buying American Congressional support). By 1980 North-South relations had reached a new low, reunification talks had been suspended, and the North-South hot line cut off. Expectations had been thus disrupted and a new outbreak of conflict ensued. For the previous five years an average of 10 people had been killed in clashes with infiltrators from the North per year; but in 1980 this number jumped to 44, with at least 8,100 incidents reported along the DMZ. By 1982 this number had risen to at least 11,800, although only one person was then reported killed, there were 49 in the next year. In 1982 North Korea attempted to assassinate South Korea President Chun Doo Hwan, and again tried in 1983 during his state visit to Burma, killing 21 people instead, including four South Korea Cabinet Ministers; prudently, South Korea put its armed forces on alert. Also during the year 118,000 South Korea and 73,000 American forces engaged in one of their largest war games yet, in reaction to which the North itself went on a semi-war alert. In 1984 the United States not only reaffirmed its commitment to the South, evidenced in the visit of the American Secretary of Defense, but also began to increase the number of American troops.
All this blew over by 1985, and a third set of expectations--status quo--was achieved: discussion on North-South economic cooperation begun in 1984 continued; North Korea offered the South flood relief aid, which was accepted, bilateral Red Cross talks were resumed and the first family reunions and cultural exchanges took place. This new structure of expectations is the one currently in place. The question is then not whether this will hold into the foreseeable future, for like all international structures it is bound to break down, but whether the consequent greater conflict and possible violence, is likely to escalate into extreme violence and then war.
Of course the military balance between North and South Korea is essential to the probability of a new Korea War. But so is the Northeast Asian balance among China, the United States and Soviet Union, particularly concerning the Sino-Soviet conflict; North Korea's relationship to and dependence on the Soviet Union and China; the security interest of the United States in Japan and Korea; the quiet opening of relations between China and South Korea. And so is the protracted Soviet struggle for world hegemony and the American attempt to preserve the global status quo. At this global level, war in Korea becomes a question of whether it would be a profitable tactic in the Soviet's long run strategy; or whether they perceive Korean stability as serving these interests better.
We therefore have two kinds of questions to ask about war in Korea. Are the forces toward war within a level correlated? And are the situational levels themselves correlated toward a Korean war?
In Table 3 the necessary and aggravating forces are listed down the left of the table. The table's right-half shows the three situational levels for the period immediately predating North Korea's invasion. The direction of the forces of war is shown by arrows to illustrate their positive or negative effect. Each of the arrows is an historical judgment based on a knowledge of the period. Unfortunately, in the remaining pages I can only very generally suggest the basis for some of these judgments.
The period from the end of World War II through the Korean War saw deep Soviet-American conflict and the danger of outright war. But through this conflict a new post-World War II understanding of the status quo was forged that was based on an equilibrium between Soviet and American global and regional interests, military and economic strength, will and credibility. This balance, undergirding the status quo shown in Figure 3, held firm in the late 1950s and was reaffirmed through several crises and confrontations involving the status quo.
However, the withdrawal from Vietnam that began in earnest after 1968, the subsequent Vietnam syndrome that began to block any strong American involvement elsewhere, and the consequent sharp unilateral reduction in the absolute defense effort, seriously altered the balance of powers in favor of the Soviet Union; thus leaving the status quo hanging in air, as shown in Figure 4 (this redraws Figure 3, but now includes the gap, which is empirically derived from a quantitative analysis of the Soviet-American military balance; see Rummel, 1984).
The resulting large gap, so well evidenced in the last fifteen years by the upsurge in related wars, interventions by the Soviet Union or its proxies, and crises, has shaken the status quo. And this instability is itself manifest by the upsurge in Soviet advances since 1975. This gap between the balance of powers and the status quo has produced the greatest risk of Soviet-American war since at least the early 1950s. And this remains so regardless of the recent Mikhail Gorbachev warming of Soviet-American relations.
Changes in Soviet-American military capability do not alone account for the gap shown in Figure 4, which also reflects shifts in national interests and will. However, these shifts do significantly influence American military expenditures and forces. Thus, changes in the Soviet-American military balance provide a rough empirical estimate of the overall change in the balance of powers
The Soviets had a relatively overall military advantage in the immediate postwar period, which was overcome in the 1950s as a result of the huge American arms buildup catalyzed by the Korean War. However, with the conclusion of the war, President Eisenhower increasingly cut into American relative capability, and this was overtaken in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a rapid growth in Soviet strategic forces was added to its continuing large conventional capability. However, the subsequent rearmament program of President Kennedy, later conjoined with the Vietnam War buildup, served again to rebalance military forces in favor of the United States.
Then, beginning in 1969, with the gradual withdrawal from Vietnam and the Vietnam-engendered frustration and isolationism, increasingly deep cuts were made in conventional forces and a decline in relative strategic capability accelerated. This relative disarmament
continued until the late 1970s, when Congress and President Carter were persuaded by Soviet interventions in the Third world and their increasingly obvious massive military buildup to increase real (relative to inflation) defense expenditures and upgrade conventional and strategic forces. The relative effect of this new buildup, accelerated by Reagan during his first five years, has probably been no more than to temporarily level off and then reverse the negative trends in the Soviet-
American military balance. In recent years Congress has again attacked the military budget and its is now likely that expenditures will not even keep up with inflation.
What all this has to say about the likelihood of a global war is shown in Table 4. Four of the necessary forces for war are present--the interests, capability, nonlibertarianism, and power expectations gap. Confidence of success in war in soviet terms is a question mark, but their achievement of a general strategic and conventional military superiority; their brazen move into Afghanistan; interventions in Angola, Ethiopia, and South Yemen, advances in Angola, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Libya, and Afghanistan; mobilization for and near decision to invade Poland; huge military aid for Cuba and Nicaragua and covert support to revolutionary groups in America's back yard; and extensive support for terrorism, including the attempt to assassinate the Pope, surely suggest that the Soviet's confidence in success must be increasing.
The only negative force is then the Soviet's will-to-war. As long as the Soviet's continue to make global gains, to put the United States on the defensive, to believe that historical forces are correlated in their direction, and to thus see red light at the end of the tunnel, the Soviet's most likely have the will-to-win-by-other-than-war with the United States (their will-to-war with small countries has been shown in the Czechoslovakian invasion of 1968, the near intervention in the Yom Kipur war of 1973, the near invasion of Poland in 1980 to 1981, and the actual invasion of Afghanistan in 1979).
Turning to the aggravating forces, only power parity need be discussed. While the Soviet's are generally militarily superior to the United States, this is not a decisive superiority. That is, there is room for reasonable military analysts to disagree. While no informed analyst or policy maker has asserted, to my knowledge, that the United States is militarily superior, there is a very large group, especially among the dominant liberals in Congress, that believe the Soviets have achieved parity. Perception is more important than reality, for this is what people act upon, and thus in Table 4 power parity is shown a force toward war.
Overall, then, while the balance of aggravating forces point toward war, while all but two necessary forces are present, the absence of even one necessary force means that war is very unlikely: the necessary forces point away from war. Were the Soviets to have or develop a will-to-war and confidence in success, however, there would then arise a very dangerous possibility of a Soviet-American war.
Figure 5 pictures the Sino-Soviet and Sino-American status quos, their gaps with the balance of powers, and their consequent disruptions. All this overlays their actual conflict helices over this period. To avoid clutter some descriptive arrows have been left out of Figure 5, but reference to the previous figures should help its interpretation.
To focus on the Sino-American relationship first, over the period 1948-1987 there has been two distinct structures of expectations and related status quos. The first resulted from the Sino-American conflict and adjustments necessitated by the revolutionary new fact: a communist government in Beijing that had effective military control over the Mainland. Not until the Korean War and the American declaration
of full military support for the Nationalist government's control of Taiwan, was established the extent and limits of Sino-American capabilities, interests, and will; and was forged a relatively stable structure of expectations. Therefore established about 1953-1954 and thoroughly tested in the subsequent Matsu-Quemoy crises, these mutual expectations well delimited the tacit Sino-American status quo involving the reality of the PRC, a communist North and anticommunist South Korea, and an American guaranty of the independence of the Republic of China on Taiwan.
But this status quo was disrupted by the Vietnam War, as can be seen by the rise in Sino-American net conflict in the early 1960s, which reached its peak about the mid-1960s. China's conflict with the Soviets notwithstanding, she actively supported North Vietnam and clearly intended to militarily counter any invasion of the North that would threaten communist control over the country. Moreover, the United States was caught between the exigencies of defeating Vietnam's war against the South while avoiding a Korean style war with China. While both the United States and China tried to maneuver with care and clear signals, the war was inherently uncertain and its outcome, and especially the political consequences for Sino-American relations, even more so.
Not only did the Vietnam War destabilize Sino-American expectations, but so did the burgeoning Sino-Soviet conflict. The Sino-American expectations of the 1950s were partially based on forecasts of a continued Sino-Soviet ideological and defensive alliance. The breakdown in this alliance changed the fundamental assumption of the Sino-American helix; it required a fundamental reassessment of their relations and helped initiate a process of mutual adjustments in perception, policy, and behavior. Of course, as was obvious at the time, the reopening of the Warsaw talks in 1970 and subsequent Ping-Pong diplomacy, Kissinger's visits to Beijing, Nixon's state visit, and the Shanghai Communiqué of 1973 (with its antihegemony clause aimed at the Soviet Union) concluded a trend in Sino-American relations towards less conflict and greater cooperation, as shown in Figure 5, and created a new status quo that has continued to this day.
To turn now to the Sino-Soviet helix shown in Figure 5. On October 2, 1949, the PRC was formally recognized by the Soviet Union and appropriately, the plot beginning in 1948 shows a successive decline in net conflict. From late 1948 to 1950 China and the Soviet Union were engaged in intensive bargaining over the shape of their virgin relationship; really the degree of subordination of new communist China to the transnational and ideological claims of Moscow. The major outcome of this balancing of powers was their Treaty of Friendship in 1950 and subsequent transfer to China of the Soviet Rights in the Manchurian Railroad (1952); establishment of joint control of Port Arthur (1952); and increased economic aid (1953). The basic framework of their relationship and their status quo was made final in this period, and thus we may take 1950 as the start of their status quo phase.
This phase lasted until about 1959. Conflict had been building up, such as over the Soviet's handling of the Lebanon Crises (1958), and China's Great Leap Forward; and in 1959 the Soviet's repudiated their secret nuclear agreement and tried to remain neutral in the Sino-Indian conflict. By 1960 conflict boiled into the open and escalated, until by 1964 there was an intense hostility, a polemical war, rising border tension and military buildup, and diplomatic sanctions. Thus, the rapid increase in net conflict shown in Figure 5 for the helix in the 1960s reflects this balancing of powers period of intense conflict, including the border incidents of 1967-1968, Damansky Island clashes of 1969, and the real possibility of a Sino-Soviet war.
But through 1968 to 1970 the United States clearly communicated its opposition to any Soviet invasion of China, asserting that she could not remain neutral were the Soviets to attack China. While on their side the Soviets backed off, began intermittent border negotiations, and eventually made offers of a nonaggression pact, the Chinese also cooled their rhetoric. Most significantly, they reopened Warsaw diplomatic talks with Washington, culminating in the Nixon visit of 1972. In substance, after skirting the edge of war in 1968-1969, both the Soviet Union and China settled into a relatively stable balance of conflict--a structure of expectations beginning about 1969 (as shown in Figure 5) that involved an interweaving of diplomatic visits and sanctions, warm and cool negotiations, formal offers and rejections, and conciliatory and harsh polemics. Underlying all this was a relative balance of Sino-Soviet powers that involved a massive Soviet military buildup and modernization on the Chinese border, the enormous area of China and its mass but poorly armed army, China's limited nuclear capability, and the threat of American military support for China and a possible escalation of any limited war involving China into a Soviet-American nuclear war.
In essence, and regardless of the stresses of the Sino-Vietnam War (1979) and the abrogation of the Sino-Soviet Friendship Treaty, Sino-Soviet conflict and cooperation has oscillated around the level established in 1969-1972. This can be seen in Figure 5, where their conflict helix is practically horizontal. In sum, then, the data suggest that about 1969-1970 a new structure of expectations and related status quo came into being that better reflected the reality of Sino-Soviet antagonism; and that this replaced the expectations of the 1950s that were based on Sino-Soviet amity.
What do these helices suggest about a regional war that would also involve Korea? Although the relevant helices have achieved a stable status quo, the situation is potentially dangerous. This is because of the Soviet's clear conventional military and strategic nuclear superiority over any combination of opponents in the region, including the United States. If the Soviet Union decides to change the regional status quo, she can. Surely, she must be confident of a successful military attack on China. While one can point to China's huge population and area as counterbalancing Soviet weapons, these are salient only if the Soviets were interested in a military occupation and absorption of China. However, Soviet nuclear and conventional capability are clearly sufficient to militarily defeat Chinese arms and to install a friendly regime in Peking. Nor can one use Soviet difficulties in Afghanistan as a counter-example. For over 30 years a totalitarian ruling apparatus has administered and united the whole or China and this machinery has been increasingly strengthened since 1949. As shown in the death of the Mao Tse-tung and the overthrow of the "gang of four," this machinery is largely indifferent to who controls it. In Afghanistan no such overarching totalitarian structure exists. It was the first attempt to build such that led to the Moslem rebellion.
Nor would Japan or Korea be able to oppose Soviet might. What is questionable is whether such a war would escalate to a global war with the United States. Were it to do so, then success in Soviet terms becomes problematical. As to an associated will-to-regional war, this depends on the status of the gap between the status quo and power in the region, conjoined with the Soviet assessment of the risk that (1) an attack would escalate to a global war with the United States or (2) frustrate immediately more important interests in the Middle East.
Control over the Middle East is control over a dominating geopolitical position and much of the world's oil. Unfortunately, opportunity for an effective hegemony over the Middle East is good, given the Soviet conquest of Afghanistan; alliances with Syria, Libya, South Yemen, Ethiopia and the Palestine Liberation Organization; friendship with Iraq and influence in Lebanon. Also consider the instability in Turkey, the Iran-Iraq war, post-Khomeini opportunities in Iran, Soviet involvement in protecting shipping in the Persian Gulf, and instability in pro-Western Arab states. Therefore, war in Northeast Asia must appear only a distraction at this stage, an unnecessary drain of power that would likely create a sudden war-crisis-atmosphere in the United States and Western Europe, and a crash rearmament of NATO. It might set in motion American and European foreign alliance and basing policies that would defeat the Soviet's golden opportunity in the Middle East.
Consequently, the will-to-regional war in northeast Asia is unlikely now or in the near future. The stable Sino-Soviet status quo
and the lack of a large gap between this status quo and their balance of power as pictured in Figure 5 shows that even the likelihood of low level violence is small. This removes one of the uncertainties in the genesis of a regional war: the possibility of escalation from a serious confrontation. Nonetheless, we can expect a continuing Soviet interest and capability in Northeast Asia.
Consequently, as at the global level, while most necessary forces point toward war in Table 4, the absence of two necessary forces make war in Northeast Asia a very serious question mark.
Relations among the regional powers must also be considered as they bear on the local forces toward war. Although space does not permit a historical consideration of the six helices and their implications, we can look at their overall interrelationships and patterns with a view to making broadly relevant observations. Figure 6 presents the major trend patterns among the six relevant conflict helices.
A trend pattern means (a) that there are particular conflict helices (b) that form a common trend over the years (c) that is clearly distinct from other such trends. Four such patterns exist in the region and two of these patterns are themselves slightly correlated into a larger trend, as shown in the figure.
Of most importance is a Korean Conflict Pattern involving the United States-North Korea, South Korea-North Korea, Sino-Soviet, and Sino-South Korea helices, particularly the latter. The implication of this pattern is that the direction of conflict in Korea, aside from the effect of military factors (see Figure 9), is especially related to the ability of China and South Korea to form a structure of expectations. If such expectations breakdown and conflict escalates, the likelihood is that such will also occur with the United States and South Korea on the one hand, and North Korea on the other. Interestingly, there is a low, but notable inverse relationship of the Sino-Soviet helix to this movement. As the Sino-Soviet helix solidifies into cooperation there is some tendency for greater Korean conflict; and a tendency for less Korean conflict as Sino-Soviet conflict increases.
The other patterns are less relevant, although as interesting. The first one shows that the soviet-american conflict helix forms a different dynamic pattern, as assumed here in the beginning by treating them as a separable global situation; and that this pattern involves to a lesser but significant and inverse extent, the United States-South Korea
helix. Greater Soviet-American cooperation means greater United States-South Korea conflict. The second pattern (upper right in Figure 6) involves mainly the Sino-North Korea helix, with some relationship to the one between the Soviet Union and North Korea. Finally there is a primarily Soviet-North Korea pattern that also involves inversely the Sino-American helix.
These patterns are fascinating and bear much discussion, but that is beyond this paper. Most important here is the isolation of the global-regional Korean relationships relevant to the possibility of a new Korean war. And these involve primarily the Sino-S. Korean relationship, secondarily the United States-North Korea relationship, and tertiarily the Sino-Soviet one. The relevant lesson of Figure 6 is: watch the Sino-South Korea helix. .
This admonition is underlined if we try to forecast the South Korea-North Korea helix from the others. We then find (from the appendix [not shown])) that there is no significant ability to predict the direction of the Korean helix from simply those among the big powers. However, the story is different for their relationships to the Koreas. The course of Korean conflict and cooperation is, of course, highly dependent upon North Korea-American relations; and it is secondarily dependent upon the Soviet-North Korea helix and the South Korea-United States one. but if the dominant north korea-united States helix is set aside, then the ability to forecast Korean conflict boils down to the Sino-South Korea helix. And this is what we have already pointed out in discussing the patterns of Figure 6.
And what can be said about the direction of this helix? In the late 70s and early 80s there has been a considerable warming in Sino-South Korea relations. Indirect trade between the two through Hong Kong has gone from nothing in the mid-70s to over $800 million in 1984; there is now the real possibility of joint ventures, if such have not already occurred; and South Korean ships have begun using Chinese ports. Moreover, Chinese economists have begun to show interest in
South Korea's strategy of economic development. Perhaps most important, the warm exchanges and negotiation over the return of the Chinese plane and passengers hijacked to South Korea in 1983 was a political breakthrough. Other official meetings have since taken place, as over a Chinese torpedo boat that drifted into South Korea waters, and at other levels cooperative relations have taken off, as in sports exchanges. All this indicates a slow but unmistakable movement in expectations toward a less hostile and more business like relationship. In effect a new structure of expectations has been achieved, one that involves from the Chinese side, the maintenance of peace and stability in Korea.
However, what are the trends? There are two kinds of military trends to look at: one in capabilities, the other in the balance between these capabilities. An analysis of a variety of military capability indicators and weapons systems shows that the overall best indicator of capability is in the military investment--military budget in constant currency--of both sides. Figure 7 shows the plots of these annual expenditures. Note that South Korea has far outdistanced the North in capability as measured by military expenditures. However, this popular way of looking at military strength can be dangerously misleading unless a one-to-one comparison in trends of military indicators and weapon systems is made.
This is done by looking at the trends in the Korean military balance, the second kind of trends to study. Analyses here shows that there are three distinct trend patterns, one defining the potential military balance, another the actual military balance, and the third the relative military effort. The latter can be understood in terms of military expenditures as a ratio to GNP. Figure 8 presents the central trends of these three patterns. The potential balance takes into account not only the relative military force in being, but also the comparative mobilization capability and economic strength of the two Koreas in terms of GNP per capita and population. The resulting potential balance is close to what students of international relations call relative power. Its trend is shown in Figure 8, and clearly shows that in this trend the South has surpassed the North. While this is consistent with the plot of capabilities, the trend in the actual military balance shown also in Figure 8 and in relative military effort should create caution, to say the least.
This actual balance is not only in terms of relative Korean military expenditures but also in the comparative size of the armed forces and number of combat aircraft. Current differences in other weapons systems are consistent with Korean superiority on this trend: for example the North is also ahead about 3,500 to 1,200 in tanks, 4,650 to 3,000 in artillery, and 11,000 to 5,300 in mortars. Both in military effort and existing forces the North has overtaken the South and promises to keep this superiority into the near future.
Thus, while the South is more powerful then the North in overall capabilities and military potential, the North has focused tremendous effort in achieving actual military superiority. Nonetheless, although the North has this immediate military capability to invade and initially overwhelm the South, the North's relative capability to sustain the war and eventually achieve Korean unification on its terms is questionable.
Focusing now strictly on the Koreas and these capability and balance factors, they predict much of the course of the Korea's conflict and cooperation--the conflict helix. Thus the military balance not only is critical for judging the likelihood and outcome of war, but also the course of cooperation and conflict.
There is another way of looking at this. The above concerns the course of the helix, but if we focus simply on the breakdown of the structure of expectations and its associated status quo, what best predicts this disruption? Analysis shows that the probability of a breakdown in the status quo is almost 60 percent if the North's relative potential military effort is greater than average. this it now is.
Capability and balances aside, Kim Il-sung's present will-to-war is unknown. Now, Kim Il-sung clearly has the will to attack the South at a propitious time. He showed this in 1950 and events, policies, and speeches since have indicated no slackening in his willingness to sacrifice a million or more people to achieve his goal.
This now depends on Soviet and especially, as indicated above, Chinese support. If the Soviets desire to maintain a stable Korea so as to concentrate on better and more important opportunities in other regions, such as the Middle East, and to avoid further arousing an American political and military mobilization, then they will restrain Kim Il-sung. In my judgment, this is in fact the current situation: the Soviets see a stable Korea as in their tactical interests. Similarly with China, for whom a peaceful and stable Korea is essential to their domestic reorganization and modernization, and Soviet-blocking, implicit defense alliance with the United States.
However, there is no certainty that Kim Il-sung can be so restrained. He could launch an attack anyway with his current supplies, believing that once an attack is committed the Soviets, especially, will not let him be defeated. For this he has the relative military capability.
Finally there is a gap between power and expectations. The research displayed in the appendix [not shown] and discussed above indicates that, if anything, Korean relations are just recovering from a breakdown in the previous structure of expectations and have formed a new status quo based on a more realistic balance of power. In other words, there has not been much time for a violence-relevant gap to form.. Even were the new status quo to soon breakdown, which is suggested by the North's relative military effort, the lack of the other necessary forces toward war imply that the ensuing conflict would be not unlike that experienced during the past two decades.
Recent large-scale anti-government demonstrations and rioting are destabilizing the South, however, and were these to escalate into a violent revolution or military suppression, then the South could be badly weakened. This would shock the North-South balance of power, create a power expectations gap, and possibly alter toward forceful intervention by the North the other negative or questionable necessary forces. Unfortunately, the course of this ongoing political crisis and the outcome of democratic elections is unpredictable as of this writing.
This crisis aside, then, overall the necessary forces of war listed in Table 4 point toward a continuation of the kind of peace that Korea has known for 34 years. All but one of the aggravating causes are there, but the capability of the North, its confidence in success, and the Sino-Soviet-North Korean interests and will-to-a-Korean-war, are not.
Taking the global, regional, and local forces into account, therefore, on analysis the current war situation in Korea boils down to this. Leaving aside the unknown influence of the current South Korean political crisis, there appears little likelihood of another Korean war in the near future.
Among Big Power interactions with the Koreas, that between the United States and North Korea is the most important. Their helix directly and most significantly impacts on that between the Koreas, alone predicting about 60 percent of their variation in conflict and cooperation.
But what about American troops? Outside of their withdrawal from Korea altogether, most important is their number. Changes in this from, say, the 31,300 of the mid-60s to the 41,718 of 1985, measure Washington's perception of the overall situation of conflict, including the North's bellicosity and the Korean balance of powers. First, unlike the very important influence on the Korean conflict helix of American-North Korea relations, American troop levels by themselves have little to do with the course of Korean relations (the various analyses in the appendix [not shown] bear on this point). Much more important is the potential and actual military balance between the Koreas and their relative military effort.
When troop levels are weighed in the context of Korean capabilities and balance, and the relations of the United States and other big powers with the Koreas, however, there is a very interesting relationship of American troops to the Big Power helices alone, as shown in the bottom third of Figure 9 (this is based on the appendix [not shown]). that is, American troop levels tend to increase or decrease as the Sino-Soviet conflict waxes or wanes, and to a lesser extent as there is detente or confrontation in soviet-american relations. As shown in the figure, which simply underlines what was said in the previous section, most related to the Korean conflict pattern is the relative military effort of the Koreas and secondly their military balance and capabilities. (The difference between the Korean conflict patterns of Figures 6 and 9 is due to the inclusion of the military trends, which alter the patterns in line with the interrelationships between the various helices and these military trends.)
The upshot of all this is that american troop levels primarily function as a deterrent, as a trip wire, as a prudent response to current threats from the north (as in 1968-9) or to big power conflict. Changes in troops levels, however, simply have little direct consequence for the extent of the Korean conflict or its escalation to war.
The Korean War should be understood as part of a process involving a disruption of the status quo, war as power balancing, and the establishment of a new status quo. In the Korean pre-war conflict situation, the forces toward such disruption were a changed balance of powers that no longer supported the status quo; the revolutionary interests of the Soviet Union and North Korea in creating a unified, communist Korea; their military capability to try, and their absolute totalitarian rule over their own people. All that opposed these forces were South Korea's desire for self-preservation and its capability and will to defend itself, combined with an American resolve to aid the South if attacked. This balance of powers maintained a rough overall status quo along the Korean Parallel from 1946 to 1950. However, a gap between the status quo and what each side wanted and had the will and capability to get widened in the late 1940s, and with the America's public withdrawal of South Korea from its security interests, finally exploded into war.
Beaten into place by the blood of over a million killed, the Korean War established a new status quo. Delimited by the DMZ, this status quo has since been revised several times. The original status quo was stable until the mid-60s, when it became threatened by the North's massive infiltration of the South, attacks on United States and South Korea units along the DMZ, assassination attempts against South Korea's President, and the seizure of the USS Pueblo, all coupled with internal political crises in the South. By 1969, however, the South overcame its crises and showed that it could well handle North Korea's threats, while in spite of the Vietnam War the United States reaffirmed its commitment to the South. In 1969 Kim Il-sung launched a peace offensive and by 1971 a second status quo was defined, now based on Pyongyang's new reading of American resolve, and of South Korean stability and strength.
This second status quo and associated expectations began to unravel in the late 70s and by 1980 North-South relations had reached a new low. A new outbreak of conflict ensued, eventually involving an assassination attempt on the South Korean President and the South putting its forces on alert. With both Southern restraint and firmness and a display of America's commitment, this conflict achieved the status quo now in place. The question is then not whether this latest one will hold into the foreseeable future, for like all international structures it is bound to become history, but whether the consequent greater conflict and possible violence is likely to escalate into extreme violence and then war.
Whether war occurs in Korea depends on three geographic levels of conflict, each involving a different status quo and balance of powers. These entail the Soviet-American global conflict, the Sino-Soviet, Sino-American and Soviet-American Northeast Asian regional balance, and the local Korean balance. The texture and direction of these balances together determine the likelihood of a new Korean war.
At the global level, the period from the end of World War II through the Korean War saw deep Soviet-American conflict and the danger of outright war. But through this conflict a new post-World War II understanding of the status quo was forged that was based on an equilibrium between Soviet and American global and regional interests, military and economic strength, will and credibility. This status quo was stable through the 1950s and 60s and was reaffirmed through several Soviet-American crises and confrontations.
But then the American withdrawal from Vietnam, the subsequent Vietnam syndrome, and the consequent sharp unilateral reduction in its defense effort, seriously altered the balance of powers in favor of the Soviet Union and left the status quo hanging in air. The resulting gap, subsequently shown by the increase in related wars, interventions by the Soviet Union or its proxies, and crises, destabilized the status quo and increased the risk of Soviet-American war. This risk has only been slightly abated by President Reagan's defense buildup and reassertion of American strength and the apparent warming of Soviet-American relations. This is not to say that war is probable, however. It is and will remain very unlikely unless the Soviets also develop a will-to-war and confidence in success. With such a war improbable, so must be the Korean war that would inevitably result from such a global, Soviet-American death struggle.
Turning to the regional level and focusing on the Sino-American relationship, there has been two distinct status quos. The first was formed out of the conflict and adjustments necessitated by a new communist government in Beijing, and was not established until the Korea War showed the extent and limits of their capabilities, interests, and will. This lasted until the Vietnam War and the breakdown in the Sino-Soviet alliance initiated a fundamental reassessment of Sino-American relations, and a process of mutual adjustments in perception, policy, and behavior. A new status quo was defined by the Shanghai Communiqué of 1973 and continues to this day.
Concerning the Sino-Soviet relationship, its basic framework was established in 1950 and reflected in their Treaty of Friendship. This status quo collapsed about 1959 as conflict escalated over the Soviet's handling of the Lebanon Crises, and China's Great Leap Forward. By 1964 there was intense hostility, a polemical war, rising border tension, a military buildup, diplomatic sanctions, and in 1967 military clashes and the probability of a Sino-Soviet war. But through 1968 to 1970 the United States clearly communicated its opposition to any Soviet invasion of China and eventually the Soviets backed off and rhetoric cooled on both sides. Both came to tacitly agree on a relatively stable status quo based in part on the Soviet military buildup on the Chinese border, China's limited nuclear capability, and the threat of American military support for China. Regardless of the stresses on the relationship since, Sino-Soviet conflict and cooperation has oscillated around the level established in 1969-1972.
Although the relevant relationships of the major Northeast Asian Powers have thus achieved a stable status quo in the region, the situation is potentially dangerous. This is because of the Soviet's clear conventional military and strategic nuclear superiority over any combination of regional opponents, including the United States. If the Soviet Union decides to change the regional status quo, she can. Whether, however, the Soviets really want a regional war depends on the gap between the status quo and power in the region; and with her assessment of the risk that a Soviet attack would escalate to a global war with the United States, or frustrate her immediately more important interests in the Middle East. War in Northeast Asia could only be a distraction at this stage, an huge but unnecessary depletion of power that would likely create a sudden war-crisis-atmosphere in the United States and Western Europe, and a crash rearmament of NATO. For this reason Soviet interest in a Northeast Asian war is unlikely now or in the near future. Moreover, the stable Sino-Soviet status quo and the lack of any real gap between this status quo and their balance of power shows that even the likelihood of low-level violence is small, which removes one of the uncertainties in the genesis of a regional war. Consequently, war in Northeast Asia and a consequent Korean war are very unlikely.
So far the conclusion is that a global or regional war is improbable now or in the near future, as then must be the likelihood of a related Korean war. Regardless of what happens at the global or regional level, however, a Korean war could still be generated by local forces or the relations of the Big Powers with the Koreas. While there is no significant ability to predict the direction of Korean relations from those only among the Big Powers, the relations of the Big Powers to the Koreas do show significant interrelationships. above all, of course, the variation in Korean conflict and cooperation is most highly dependent upon north Korean-American relations.
But leaving aside this dominant North Korea-United States relationship, the ability to forecast Korean conflict also depends on the Sino-South Korean relationship. Indeed, we find that the direction of conflict in Korea is related to the ability of china and South Korea to form a stable set of cooperative expectations. If such expectations and the related status quo breakdown and conflict escalates, such will also probably occur between the United States and South Korea on the one hand, and North Korea on the other. The direction of the Sino-S. Korean relationship in the late 70s and early 80s has been toward detente: indirect trade has sharply increased and a number of recent events in Sino-S. Korean relations clearly show a warming trend is underway. In effect a new status quo is being created that involves the maintenance of peace and stability in Korea.
Of course, to answer the question about war or peace we must ultimately focus on the two Koreas. We then find some significant changes in the correlation of forces toward war from the pre-Korean War period. The overall best indicator of capability is the trend in military expenditures in constant currency, and on this South Korea has significantly surpassed the North. However, a one-to-one comparison of weapons systems and indicators distinguishes three other trends in the military balance. One defines relative military potential, on which the South has moved clearly ahead. This potential takes into account not only the relative military forces in being, but also the comparative mobilization capability and economic strength of the two Koreas and reflects relative power. But this and the trend in capabilities should be interpreted with great caution, for on the next two trends the North is significantly superior.
The second trend is in the actual military balance, or military forces in being; and the third is in relative military effort, or the degree to which the available national product is diverted to military purposes. On these two trends the North has been clearly ahead of the South and should keep this superiority at least into the near future. Nonetheless, in judging the overall Korean balance, all trends must be taken into account and in sum these forces are not of a magnitude to give Kim Il-sung confidence in a successful all out war of unification.
While his words and deeds do show that Kim Il-sung clearly has the will to attack the South at a propitious time, it is extremely doubtful that he currently will risk even a limited war. Such a fateful decision depends on Soviet and especially Chinese support. But the Soviets are clearly interested in a stable Korea so as to concentrate on better and more important opportunities in other regions, such as the Middle East, and to avoid further arousing an American political and military mobilization. Moreover, for China a peaceful and stable Korea is essential to their informal Soviet-blocking, defense alliance with the United States, and for domestic reorganization and modernization. Nonetheless, Kim Il-sung could launch an attack anyway, believing that once an attack is committed the Soviets, especially, will not let him be defeated. This would be a most improbable, high risk gamble. But in any case, it is clear that the declared American military commitment and the current and growing power of the South make it unlikely that Kim Il-sung could seriously think about unifying Korea by force.
This point is critical, for the military capability and balance factors predict much of the course of the Korea's conflict and cooperation; indeed, they predict most of the changes in this relationship if added to those involving the Big Power-Korean trends. Overall, the two most important trends for predicting the oscillation between detente and hostile actions is the relationship of the U.S. and China with the two Koreas, especially the North for the U.S. and the South for China; and the Korea's relative military investment. More specifically, the odds are near even of a breakdown in the status quo that could lead to violence if the North's relative military effort is greater than average, as it now is.
But there is little current likelihood of such violence deteriorating into a deep crisis that would pose the question of war or peace. Korean relations are just recovering from a breakdown in the previous status quo and have formed a new one based on a more realistic balance of power. There has not been much time for a violence-relevant gap between this status quo and power to form. But even were, say, the North's relative military effort to cause such a breakdown, current conditions imply that the resulting conflict and violence would be in line with that during the past two decades.
The current South Korean political crisis could change this, of course. Recent large-scale anti-government demonstrations and rioting and the explosion of student leftism could lead to violent revolutionary activity, military suppression, the alienation of American support, and a socio-politically weakened and isolated South. This could greatly alter the North-South balance of power, cause a power-status quo gap, and encourage the North to forcefully intervene. The direction of this crisis is unpredictable, however, and thus seriously qualifies any attempt to forecast the likelihood of a new Korean war.
Leaving this political crisis aside, however, the trend of Korean relations point toward a continuation of the kind of peace that Korea has known for over a generation. That is, taking into account the global, regional, and local levels there appears little likelihood of another Korean War in the near future.
This low probability is no doubt due in part to the presence of American troops in South Korea, which display America's commitment to defend South Korea and act as a trip wire assuring that such commitment would be met were the South invaded again. While it is doubtlessly the presence of these troops that is most significant, their number also plays an important role. A sharp increase or decrease in this measures Washington's perception of the overall situation of conflict, including the North's bellicosity and the Korean military balance. Yet, unlike the very important influence on the Korean relationship of American-North Korean relations, American troop levels by themselves have little correlation with the course of Korean relations (on the meaning and nature of statistical correlation, see Understanding Correlation). Much more important is the potential and actual military balance between the Koreas and their relative military effort.
When troop levels are weighed in the context of Korean capabilities and balance, and the relations of the United States and other big powers with the Koreas, troop levels tend to increase or decrease as the Sino-Soviet conflict waxes or wanes, and to a lesser extent as there is detente or confrontation in Soviet-American relations. American troop levels primarily function as a deterrent, as a prudent response to current threats from the North or to Big Power conflict. Changes in troops levels, however, simply have little direct consequence for the extent of the Korean conflict or its escalation to war. This simply underlines that what is most related to the Korean conflict pattern is the relative military effort of the Koreas and secondly their military balances and capabilities.
In sum, the Korea of today is not the Korea of 1950 or even the late 60s when Kim Il-sung launched a variety of small-scale attacks on the South. A new situation now exists, whose main and critical elements are the Sino-American "alliance"; South Korea's military potential; the strong American commitment to defend the South, backed up by a significant military presence; and, especially, a Soviet and Chinese desire to maintain Korean peace and stability. Moreover, there has developed regionally and globally a political stability absent in 1950. Overall, then, the probability of a new Korean war is low.
I hasten to add, however, that the low probability of war should be no excuse for a weakening of South Korea's defense efforts, or a withdrawal of American troops. It is South Korea's strength and American troops that contribute to the current low probability of war; their absence helped cause the Korean War. Nor should this low probability be an excuse for complacency. Revolution in the streets, change in governments or leadership, or change in policies or commitments, could create a newly dangerous war situation.
But most important, were a war to occur in spite of its low probability, the death and destruction inflicted on South Koreans by modern weapons could be as though a Korean nuclear war had been fought. And then were the South to lose, the survivors would face terror and repression and possible liquidation under the North, one of the world's most absolutist and totalitarian autocracies. Even a small probability of war must be seen as too dangerously large, therefore. In this context, in so far as it depends on local factors an all out south Korean effort to diminish this probability to near zero is prudential--indeed, the highest national interest.
Three lines of effort are suggested by this research. One is to further and deepen a cooperative relationship with China, ever mindful of the givens: China remains a totalitarian communist system, it can alter policy 180 degrees as its leadership or tactics change; it must be approached as one deals with a porcupine, and any cooperation must take place in the context of natural enmity. Nonetheless, there are common interests, and the most important one for the current leadership of China is a stable Korea.
Second, it is critical that South Korea determine a stable, democratic solution to its periodic internal crises. Kim Il-sung has made quite clear that he sees revolution in the South as the most likely basis for unifying Korea. Moreover, the inherent weakness in political disunity and public disorder hardly communicates a war-deterring strength. After all, military forces are only one aspect of any deterrent: national interest and national will cannot be ignored. Nonetheless, military strength must still be attended to.
Therefore, and finally, South Korea must accelerate her military buildup. While South Korea has the resources and potential that is superior to the North and has been spending more on defense, the North is not only still significantly superior to the South, but is also putting vastly more of its resources into the military. While the South has potential on its side, in actual weapons, special forces, and preparations and positioning for war, the North is superior. Couple this with the clear intention of the North to unify Korea on her terms, and the people of South Korea cannot rest easy with this actual inferiority. Surely detente with China must be emphasized; surely, a stable and popular South Korean political structure must be established; but just as surely, the South must also built up its actual military forces to strongly deter any fleeting Northern thought of an invasion. Only then can the local probability of war become insignificant.
* Paper delivered to the Ilhae Institute "Seminar on U.S. Forces in Korea," in Seoul, Korea, November 27, 1987; and published in U.S. Forces in Korea. [in Korean] Edited by Tong Whan Park. Seoul, Korea: The Korea Institute for Defense Analysis, 1990. The paper's appendix has not been included.
1. For the discussion, theoretical elaboration, and empirical tests of these forces against systematic-historical studies of war, see Rummel (1979, Chapter 16).
2. These aggravating forces are transformed into inhibiting ones if their direction is reversed. Thus, "dissimilarity" is an aggravating force, "similarity" is an inhibiting one.
3. For an excellent scientific study of cognitive balance in international relations, including Korea, see Yong Ok Park (1975).
4. Total killed for the United Nations and South Korean forces in the Korean War are estimated at 447,697; total killed and wounded for China and North Korean forces may be about 1,420,000 (Leckie, 1962, pp. 366-7). These figures do not take into account civilian deaths. It is reasonable, therefore, to roughly estimate total deaths at between 2 and 2.5 million people.
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