U.S legacy in Korea enduring
It keeps America from closing Cold War chapter
WASHINGTON — Sixty years after it finished fighting in Korea, the U.S. is still struggling with two legacies that are reminders of the costs — political, military and human — that war can impose on the generations that follow.
The first is the leading role that America still is committed to playing in defending South Korea should the 1950-53 Korean War reignite.
Washington has tried for years to wean its ally, South Korea, off its dependence on the U.S. military by setting a target date for switching from American to Korean control of the forces that would defend the country in the event North Korea again attacked the South. That target date has slipped from 2012 to 2015 and, just this past week, American officials said the Koreans are informally expressing interest in pushing it back still further.
The second is the seemingly endless challenge of accounting for thousands of U.S. servicemen still listed as missing in action. That mission, which competes for Pentagon resources with demands to also retrieve and identify MIAs from the battlefields of World War II and Vietnam, is beset with problems including bureaucratic dysfunction, according to an internal Pentagon report disclosed July 7 by The Associated Press.
The common thread that binds these two legacies is the lingering hostility between the North and South and between the North and Washington, which still has no formal diplomatic relations with the communist nation. What began as a Cold War contest, with the former Soviet Union and China siding with the North and the U.S. and United Nations allies supporting the South, remains one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. In some respects, the security threat from the North has grown more acute in recent years.
So the U.S. is stuck with a lead wartime role in Korea and with a dim prospect, if any, of building the kind of relationship required to return to the former battlefields of North Korea to excavate remains of U.S. MIAs. The Pentagon says there are about 7,900 MIAs, of which approximately half are thought to be recoverable.
President Barack Obama marks the armistice’s 60th anniversary with a speech today at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.