In January 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech discussing, among other things, where he thought US interests around the world sat. The United States had been supporting the South Korean government with training and arms to quell a communist uprising in their country, and had been so successful that it seemed they would be able to withdraw from the peninsula entirely later that year. Unfortunately for Mr. Acheson, his speech was likely one of several indicators that the Soviet Union used to ultimately decide that the US would not intervene in a Korean Conflict. Josef Stalin authorized Kim Il-Sung later that spring to begin his invasion, which kicked off in June of 1950.
The Soviet Union, People’s Republic of China and North Korea all counted on the United States not intervening in Korea. That turned into a miscalculation that ultimately cost over one million lives between the two sides and countless scars that are still visible in the landscape and culture today. It was a worthy sacrifice, as South Korea has remained a strong and independent country that demonstrates what a real democratic government can look like in Asia.
The Ukrainian invasion came as a surprise to nobody. Russia’s interest in Ukraine has been stated from the very beginning, and it has been calculating the time and place of an invasion for some time. Perhaps the most important reason it launched now, verses in the past, was the assurance that it could invade without interference from the US and NATO. Similar to Korea, the invasion is designed to be quick, precise and achieve victory in a matter of days. Whether it does or not remains to be seen.
Authoritarian governments bent on invasion will never back down from their intentions, but they also aren’t stupid. They all perform the cold calculations of cost when they consider actions, and those costs skyrocket if a country like the US, France, Japan, UK, or other nations intervene. The Russians and Chinese militaries aren’t without faults, and they know those faults well, and they do in fact fear legitimate military intervention by Western democracies. But as shown in Korea, when we telegraph weakness or even indifference, it pushes these calculations in a direction we don’t want.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.