At the end of World War II, Korea, which had been annexed by Japan early in the century, was divided across the middle, along the 38th Parallel, with Russia occupying the northern half and the US the South. After formal independence in 1948, the North came under a Communist dictator, Kim Il Sung. In March 1949, as Mao's armies were rolling towards victory, Kim went to Moscow to try to persuade Stalin to help him seize the South. Stalin said "No," as this might involve confronting America. Kim then turned to Mao, and one month later sent his deputy defense minister to China. Mao gave Kim a firm commitment, saying he would be glad to help Pyongyang attack the South, but could they wait until he had taken the whole of China: "It would be much better if the North Korean government launched an all-out attack against the South in the first half of 1950..." Mao said, adding emphatically: "If necessary, we can stealthily put in Chinese soldiers for you." Koreans and Chinese, he said, had black hair, and the Americans would not be able to tell the difference: "They will not notice."
Mao encouraged Pyongyang to invade the South and take on the USA - and volunteered Chinese manpower - as early as May 1949. At this stage he was talking about sending in Chinese troops clandestinely, posing as Koreans, and not about China having an open collision with America. During his visit to Russia, however, Mao changed. He became determined to fight America openly - because only such a war enable him to gouge out of Stalin what he needed to build his own world-class war machine. What Mao had in mind boiled down to a deal: Chinese soldiers would fight the Americans for Stalin in exchange for Soviet technology and equipment.
Stalin received reports from both his ambassador in Korea and his liaison with Mao about Mao's eagerness to have a war in Korea. As a result of this new factor, Stalin began to reconsider his previous refusal to let Kim invade the South.
Stalin was given a push by Kim.On 19 January 1950, the Soviet ambassador to Pyongyang, Terentii Shtykov, reported Kim had told him, "excitedly" that "now that China is completing its liberation," South Korea's was "next in line." Kim "thinks that he needs to visit comrade Stalin again, in order to receive instruction and authorization to launch an offensive." Kim added that "if it was not possible to meet comrade Stalin now, he will try to meet with Mao." He stressed that Mao had "promised to render him assistance after the conclusion of the war in China." Playing "the Mao card," Kim told Shtykov that "he also has other questions for Mao Tse-tung, in particular the question of the possibility of setting up an Eastern bureau of the Cominform" (no mention of talking to Stalin about this). Mao, he said "would have instructions on all issues." Kim was telling Stalin that Mao was keen to give him military support, and that if Stalin would still not endorse an invasion, he (Kim) would go to Mao direct and place himself under Mao.
Eleven days later, on 30 January, Stalin wired Shtykov to tell Kim that he was "prepared to help him on this." This is the first documented evidence of Stalin agreeing to start a war in Korea, and he shifted his position because of Mao, who possessed the critical asset - an inexhaustible supply of men. When Kim came to Moscow two months later, Stalin said that the international environment had "changed sufficiently to permit a more active stance on the unification of Korea." He went on to make it explicit that this was because "the Chinese were now in a position to devote more attention to the Korean issue." There was "one vital condition - Peking's support" for the war. Kim "must rely on Mao, who understands Asian affairs beautifully."
A war in Korea fought by Chinese and Koreans would give the Soviet Union incalculable advantages: it could field-test both its own new equipment, especially its MiG jets, and America's technology, as well as acquiring some of this technology, along with valuable intelligence on America. Both China and Korea would be completely dependent on Russian arms, so Stalin could fine-tune the degree of Russia's involvement. Moreover, he could test how far America would go in a war with the Communist camp.
But for Stalin, the greatest attraction of a war in Korea was that the Chinese, with their massive numbers, which Mao was eager to use, might be able to eliminate, and in any case tie down, so many American troops that the balance of power might tilt in Stalin's favor and enable him to turn his schemes into reality. These schemes included seizing various European countries, among them Germany, Spain and Italy. One scenario Stalin discussed during the Korean War was an air attack on the US fleet on the high seas between Japan and Korea (en route to Inchon, in September 1950). In fact, Stalin told Mao o 5 October 1950 that the period provided a unique - and short-lived - window of opportunity because two of the major capitalist states, Germany and Japan, were out of action militarily. Discussing the possibility of what amounted to a Third World War, Stalin said: "Should we fear this? In my opinion, we should not ... If a war is inevitable, then let it be waged now, and not in a few years' time..."
Mao repeatedly spelled out this potential to Stalin, as a way of stressing his usefulness. On 1 July 1950, within a week of the North invading the South, and long before Chinese troops had gone in, he had Chou tell the Russian ambassador: "Now we must energetically build up our aviation and fleet," adding pointedly for Stalin's ears: so as to deal a knockout blow... to the armed forces of the USA." On 19 August Mao himself told Stalin's emissary, Yudin, that America could send in thirty to forty divisions but that Chinese troops could "grind" these up. He reiterated this message to Yudin a week later. Then, on 1 March 1951, he summed up his overall plan for the Korean War to Stalin in chilling language: "to spend several years consuming several hundred thousand American lives."
With Mao's expendables on offer, Stalin positively disired a war with the West in Korea. When Kim invaded the South on 25 June 1950, the UN Security Council quickly passed a resolution committing troops to support South Korea. Stalin's ambassador to the UN, Yakov Malik, had been boycotting proceedings since January, ostensibly over Taiwan continuing to occupy China's seat. Everyone expected Malik, who remained in New York, to return to the chamber and veto the resolution, but he stayed away. Malik had in fact requested permission to return to the Security Council, but Stalin rang him up and told him to stay out. The Soviet failure to exercise its veto power has perplexed observers ever since, as it seemed a golden opportunity to block the West's involvement in Korea. But if Stalin decided not to use his veto, it can only have been for one reason: that he did not want to keep Western forces out. He wanted them in,where Mao's sheer weight of numbers could grind them up.
... Because of the enormous ramifications of taking on the USA, Stalin decided to keep an extra degree of control. He had to make absolutely sure that Kim understood that he, Stalin, was the ultimate boss before he put Kim in Mao's hands. So even thoughMao was in Moscow on 30 January, when Stalin gave Kim consent to go to war, he did not breathe a word to Mao, and ordered Kim not to inform the Chinese. Stalin brought Kim to Moscow only at the end of March, after Mao had left. Stalin went over battle plans in detail with Kim, and at theirr last talk, in April 1950, he laid it on the line to Kim: "If you should get kicked in the teeth, I shall not lift a finger. You have to ask Mao for help." With this comradely envoi, Kim was waved away to Mao's care.
On 13 May a Russian plane flew Kim to Peking. He went straight to Mao to announce that Stalin had given the go-ahead. At 11:30 that night, Chou was dispatched to ask the Soviet ambassador, Roshchin, to get Moscow's conformation. Stalin's stilted message came the next morning: "North Korea can move toward actions; however, this question should be discussed... personally with comrade Mao." Next day (15 May), Mao gave Kim his full commitment, and on the most vital issue: "if the Americans were to take part... [China] would assist North Korea with its own troops." He went out of his way to exclude the participation od Russian troops, saying that: "Since the Soviet Union is bound by a demarcation agreement on the 38th Parallel [dividing Korea] with America, it would be 'inconvenient' [for it] to take part in military actions [but as] China is not bound by any such obligations, it can therefore fully render assistance to the northerners." Mao offered to deploy troops on the Korean border.
Mao endorsed the Kim-Stalin plan, and Stalin wired consent on the 16th. On 25 June the North Korean army smashed across the 38th Parallel. Mao, it seems, was not told the launch day. Kim wanted Chinese troops kept out until they were absolutely needed. Stalin, too, wanted them in only when America committed large numbers of troops for the Chinese to "consume."
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Stalin, Mao and the beginning of the Korean War
This is an excerpt from the extraordinary book Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
Posted by Spyridon at 1:29 PM