Win the peace

“Win the peace”

How to do an Armistice; 45 clues for decision-makers, from Professors Stephen Kotkin, Niall Ferguson, and Carter Malkasian

*This is still an unpublished, working piece. Permission is being sought to use certain quotations.

Last updated: May 23, 2024

Professor Kotkin, you’ve said:

We can talk about victory as: Ukraine getting into the European Union, and Ukraine getting some sort of security guarantee. To get to that road, you need an armistice. You don’t need to get all of your territory back in order to start the process of European Union accession, transformation of institutions, and rebuilding the country in a new economy. Some type of security guarantee [not likely to be NATO in the short-term] with the US would have to be sold to the American people. The same way as the one with South Korea. We would have to prepare the US public, the US Congress, and Senate especially, to ratify a treaty like that. We’re far away from that now. But at least let’s discuss these terms publicly, so people understand how Ukraine could win the peace. Look at what South Korea has achieved. An outcome like that for Ukraine would be a miracle. And it would not necessarily involve Ukraine acknowledging loss of territory.

Professor Niall Ferguson, in September 2023 you argued similarly:

In principle, we should all want Ukraine to win this war and regain all the territory seized by Russia since 2014. In practice, that outcome will not be attainable in the absence of a collapse of either the Russian government or the Russian army’s morale, neither of which seems imminent. Rather than risk a protracted war with the added danger of waning Western support, Ukraine needs to lock in what it has already achieved. It has exposed the limits of Russian military power. It has established credible claims to EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership. It has transformed its international image from a den of corruption to a land of heroes. More than you might think can be achieved while you await the return of enemy-occupied territories. Think only of South Korea’s extraordinary economic and political progress over 70 years, even though the armistice of 1953 has never become a fully fledged peace and there remains a highly dangerous border zone between it and a hostile neighbor.

Professor Malkasian, you are Chair of the Defense Analysis Department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Last year you came out with a book The Korean War, 1950–1953, and in August 2023 you wrote what now reads as a prescient piece in Foreign Affairs, The Korea Model: Why an Armistice Offers the Best Hope for Peace in Ukraine.

Anyone who cares to read our Strategic Options Memo and Recommendation documents will see that we’ve looked at just about every conceivable path forward to help Ukraine. We consider your collective suggestion of “The Korea Model” the best approach yet proposed, and we’d be honored to have your guidance to look at it in more detail.

We will draw on the writings of Sherman Adams (Firsthand Report: The Story of the Eisenhower Administration, 1961), T.R. Fehrenbach (This Kind of War, 1963), Stephen E. Ambrose (Eisenhower, Volume II, 1984), Donald W. Boose Jr (Fighting While Talking: The Korean War Truce Talks, 2000) and Robert Caro (Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III, 2003), amongst quotations from other esteemed thinkers, to help illuminate a potential route forward – to see if there might be a middle path between Western hawks and isolationists.


If Rothko, Mondrian, Kandinsky and Kay Sage painted the situation we find ourselves in today

Let’s assume decision-makers today know little to nothing about the Korean War, but want to learn in quick time about the process of armistice negotiations as a possible option for Ukraine.

1) It’s November 1952. The Korean War has been raging for two-and-a-quarter years. Close to two million people have been killed (half military, half civilian). The war has come to be known as “The Limited War” – a number of red lines have been imposed on the United Nations Command, much as the West has set itself today in Ukraine. In our analogy, 2024 is 1952; President Zelensky of Ukraine is President Rhee of South Korea; President Biden is President Truman – with potential yet to emerge as President Eisenhower. And Putin’s Russia is (roughly) the belligerent factions of North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union. Is there anything further that would help us set the scene?

Professor Robert Barnes: Truman’s strategy of fighting a limited war in Korea offered no hope of a decisive victory and appeared to be failing to wear down the will of the enemy. The early popularity in the United States of the Korean War as an act of resistance against Soviet-directed Communist imperialism had, subsequently, given way to disillusionment. In fact, Truman’s Korea War strategy was one of the key reasons why the President had until-then record 66 percent disapproval ratings. Adlai Stevenson [who would succeed Truman as the 1952 Democratic nominee] backed this same strategy believing that the alternatives were a humiliating withdrawal or escalating the conflict risking a Third World War.

2) In January 1953, Eisenhower became President. It’s noted: “The [Korean] armistice, which concluded despite opposition from Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, South Korean President Syngman Rhee, and also within Eisenhower’s party.” We’ll come onto each in detail, but in high-level terms, how was the armistice actually arrived at – inside Eisenhower’s administration, with the South Korean government, and agreed with the North/China?

Stephen E. Ambrose: [In 1953] Walter Robertson [Assistant Secretary of State] and General Clark [Commander of United Nations troops] were conferring daily with South Korean President Rhee, threatening him with an American pull-out if he did not cooperate in the armistice, promising him virtually unlimited American aid if he did. Rhee resisted the pressure, helped by reports from the [United] States that seemed to indicate a near revolt by Republican senators against their own Administration. [Republican Senator for Vermont] Ralph Flanders had said that Robertson and Clark were putting “us in the position of threatening the Korean government with an attack from the rear while the Republic of Korea Army were attacking the Communists at the front”. [Republican leader in the Senate Styles] Bridges and [Joseph] McCarthy believed that “freedom-loving people” should applaud Rhee’s defiance of the armistice. An Old Guard representative introduced a resolution in the House commending Rhee for releasing the [North Korean] prisoners [an act which severely compromised armistice talks]. And on July 5, the acting majority leader, Senator Knowland blamed Eisenhower for a “breach” with Rhee and announced his support for Korean unification before any armistice agreement was signed. Despite the clamor, Eisenhower insisted that Robertson and Clark be firm. They were, and ultimately persuaded Rhee that it was futile for South Korea to try to go it alone. On July 8 [15 days ahead of the Korean Armistice Agreement being signed], Rhee finally issued a public statement promising to cooperate.

3) Is it fair to say that Truman’s 1950–1952 patronage of South Korean President Syngman Rhee was comparable to Western support the past two years for Zelensky and Ukraine?

Professor Kotkin: In some ways Stalin’s decision-making in 1950 is evocative of Putin’s decision-making over Ukraine in 2022. It’s predicated, in part, on an underestimation of the enemy. When you think the enemy isn’t going to react; the West is very flabby; the South Koreans are not for real – it’s not a real state and they’re not going to resist. When you make a lot of assumptions about the weakness of what you’re going up against, you can think that you’re not taking a risk of the magnitude it turns out you are. You can, in your own mind, be a conservative when it comes to risk calculation. But that calculation was based on what in Stalin’s mind was a miscalculation on what he was going up against.

I don’t blame the Russians for underestimating the West, because we do such a good job of self-flagellation. We originate that, and that stuff wins book prizes and everything else. The Truman administration deserves credit for standing up to Stalin’s regime. For saying, “Yeah, we’re not just going to take this. We’re not just going to let this go on. We’re not going to let this expand to further territories… We’re going to rally democratic, liberal regimes to stand up to this illiberalism, this violence, and this aggression.”

Professor Malkasian: One clear difference between these two wars is that the UN authorized the United States and 14 of its allies and partners (collectively known as “the United Nations Command”) to enter the war on South Korea’s side. We don’t have that today in Ukraine.

4) How strong was Eisenhower’s personal conviction (beginning his Presidency in January 1953) to pursue an armistice, and how was internal resistance overcome?

Sherman Adams: In his attempt to bring the Korean War to a close, Eisenhower had to choose between the course that [South Korean President] Syngman Rhee wanted – an all out, total war against China that would drive the Chinese Red Army beyond the Yalu River – and the honorable compromise that Truman had tried unsuccessfully to reach, an ending of hostilities withdrawing the Chinese Red Army from South Korea and giving back to Rhee all the territory that the Communists had taken from him during the three years of fighting. Eisenhower and Dulles were using a thinly veiled threat of a retaliatory atomic bomb attack to bring the Chinese into truce negotiations, but the President had no intention of aggressively bringing on a total war to give Rhee all of Korea.

Yalu River

The Yalu River

5) It’s noted on a US-Seoul Embassy web-page: “The Korean Armistice Agreement is somewhat exceptional in that it is purely a military document.” For the uninitiated, could you please explain, in layperson terms, the difference between an armistice and a peace treaty – and why in this instance you think an armistice would be preferable (or at least more immediately achievable)?

Professor Malkasian: An armistice looks more like a ceasefire. It would delineate the line at which the combatants are to be split up. It would try to freeze all violence. It may have some supervisory arrangements to make sure the ceasefire line is adhered to. Potentially deconfliction hot-lines. But it’s not going to state where disputed territories belong.

The Korean Armistice Agreement contained plans to move forward with a full peace agreement. That full peace agreement was going to do things like formally demarcate the border and formally say if there’s a North Korea and a South Korea. That never happened, because nobody wanted to have that kind of a political discussion.

In a formal peace agreement for Ukraine, you’d expect things like deciding the fate of the Donbas and Crimea: are these part of Ukraine, or are they part of Russia? You might push a political agreement to a time in the future. Diplomacy can often involve not trying to solve everything at once.

Keith Gessen: Ukraine would not acknowledge – and Ukraine will never acknowledge – sovereignty over those territories, nor should it. So the distinction between an armistice and a peace deal is you aren’t making a permanent deal where you’re saying these are Russian territories. You’re saying “we’ll stop fighting, but we do not acknowledge Russian dominion here”.

Professor Jong Eun Lee: From South Korea’s perspective, it appeared as if the armistice would not be permanent, and that there might be a pathway for South Korea to achieve reunification in the future. This ambiguity helped the armistice come together.

6) Eisenhower’s biographer Stephen E. Ambrose wrote that the US Assistant Secretary of State and Commander of UN/US troops were, under Eisenhower’s direction, threatening South Korean President Rhee with an American pull-out if he did not cooperate in the armistice – and promising him “virtually unlimited American aid if he did”. To make the recommendation of an armistice practical in Ukraine, might it be a reality such arm-twisting would be required with Zelensky today?

Donald W. Boose Jr: Rhee finally agreed to abide by the armistice only after receiving a promise of future US support, a mutual security treaty with the United States, and a major aid package – and after a series of heavy Chinese attacks aimed specifically at South Korean units nearly destroyed two Republic of Korea Army divisions.

Professor Malkasian: Zelensky might resist pressure that the United States puts on him. His interests diverge in important ways from those of the United States and NATO, and so might his strategy. He has long refused to cede any of Ukraine’s territory under Russian occupation, including Crimea and the Donbas. Concessions on those areas could affect his future electoral prospects. Indeed, a ceasefire [not well thought through] could leave Ukraine in a far worse strategic position, with lost territory, constricted access to the Black Sea, and an ambiguous security relationship with NATO. Under those circumstances, Zelensky may prove even harder to budge than Rhee was. Furthermore, the United States and its allies have less leverage over Ukraine than they did over South Korea. There are no US military units on the ground; Ukrainians themselves are doing all the fighting and dying. And an alliance guarantee for Ukraine would be controversial. To coax Zelensky toward a compromise, Washington and European governments should closely consult with him in designing the negotiations and ensure that his representatives play a central role in any talks. More important, they should condition post-conflict security and economic assistance on Ukraine’s willingness to make concessions.

7) According to the State Department: “In a 1956 Life magazine interview, [Secretary of State] Dulles described how he had [in 1953] passed the word to the Chinese and the North Koreans that unless the communist powers signed the Korean Armistice, the United States would unleash its atomic arsenal. Dulles claimed that by moving to the brink of atomic war, he ended the Korean War and avoided a larger conflict… [But] In reality, the so-called atomic threat to China was less definitive than Dulles had claimed.” How did the Eisenhower administration actually get the Chinese and North Koreans to go along with the armistice? What can the West learn from this with its stance today with Putin?

Donald W. Boose Jr: In January 1953, the new President was aware that neither the American people nor the UN allies were likely to accept major new sacrifices [of their own troops]. He thus rejected the idea of an offensive to reunify Korea and was willing to accept the armistice as negotiated so far, provided that there was no significant compromise on voluntary repatriation [North Korean prisoners of war who didn’t wish to return to the North not being forced to]. At the same time, however, he was prepared to consider stepped-up military measures, including the use of nuclear weapons against China, if there was no progress in the truce talks. Economically devastated, North Korea was willing to see the war end, and the Chinese leadership – their nation strained by the war effort and eager to begin economic reconstruction – was also prepared to return to the truce talks but preferred that the US make the first move. On 20 May [1953] Eisenhower and his advisors decided that if no progress was made, the United Nations Command would initiate a military offensive that might include attacks on China and the use of nuclear weapons. US officials publicly warned that the United Nations Command would widen its war effort if the Chinese and North Koreans did not accept this final offer. Eisenhower also attempted to transmit veiled nuclear threats through India and other countries. It is unclear what combination of United Nations Command concessions, Soviet pressure, stepped-up air attacks, and nuclear threats persuaded the Chinese and North Koreans to accept the United Nations Command position, but on 4 June General Nam Il [of North Korea] declared, “We basically agree to the new proposal which your side put forward on 25 May”.

8) Former President Trump hinted that he made preemptive threats of immense escalation with Putin at the beginning of his first term. “I said I was going to do something really nasty [bomb Moscow] if he goes into Ukraine. He [Putin] said, ‘No, no, you’re not going to do that.’ I said: ‘I will.’ And he didn’t believe me, but he believed me 10%.” Similar rhetoric appears to be part of Trump’s thinking if he’s re-elected. Is Trump unwittingly modeling Eisenhower here?

Professor Malkasian: We ought to be very careful with threats equivalent to those of 1953 in the case of Ukraine. With any such threat, you have to be concerned with: who has the greater stake? Who cares more about what’s at play here? In the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US clearly had more at stake. When it comes to Ukraine, we need to be very careful about that. In Korea, atomic threats may have been helpful, but I don’t think they were necessary to reach the armistice. I think you could have gotten to the armistice without atomic threats. Did they help provide some pressure? I’d be willing to concede they did. But I don’t think you needed quite that pressure to get to where we got.

I put in my August 2023 Foreign Affairs piece: “If Russia continues to reject negotiations, Washington and NATO could make the costs of stalling clear to Putin by giving Ukraine more equipment (such as ATACM missiles, tanks, fighter aircraft, and air defense systems) and by deploying special operations forces to Ukraine in a noncombat role.” 

In the middle of 1952, the US did bomb Pyongyang – which is something the North Koreans still remember to this day. In 1953, the US destroyed several dams in North Korea. That kind of damage is not being suffered by Russia today.

Professor Robert Barnes: Whether Mao took the [nuclear] threats seriously is doubtful since he had publicly claimed nuclear weapons were a “paper tiger” and posed little threat to China given its massive population and lack of industrial centers to act as targets. At most, then, the threats made by the Eisenhower administration accelerated the process toward an armistice but agreement had been made inevitable once both sides had accepted the terms of the Indian Resolution [on the handling of POWs].

9) Did the Soviet Union ever countenance nuclear use in the Korean War?

[Answer to come]

10) Did Eisenhower suffer contemporary accusations of appeasement for brokering the armistice? How long did it take for the armistice to be viewed as one of his greatest achievements?

Stephen E. Ambrose: [Upon the armistice being announced] There were no victory celebrations, no cheering crowds in Times Square, no sense of triumph. Instead Republicans like Jenner, Dewey Short, McCarthy, and House Speaker Joe Martin complained because the Administration had not sought victory, while Lyndon Johnson warned that the armistice “merely releases aggressive armies to attack elsewhere”.

The armistice was, despite its reception, one of Eisenhower’s greatest achievements. He took great pride in it. Despite intense opposition from his own party, from his Secretary of State, and from Syngman Rhee, he had ended the war six months after taking office. Eisenhower [was] the only American who could have found and made stick what he called “an acceptable solution to a problem that almost defied solution”.

What stands out is Eisenhower the leader. The Supreme Allied Commander of 1945, the victor who would [in 1945] accept nothing less than unconditional surrender, had become the peacemaker of 1953, a man who would accept a compromise settlement that left him far short of victory, much less unconditional surrender. There were fundamental differences in the two situations, obviously, but this should not obscure the truth. The truth was that Eisenhower realized that unlimited war in the nuclear age was unimaginable, and limited war unwinnable. This was the most basic of his strategic insights.

The alternative between unimaginable and unwinnable was continued stalemate. That was the policy urged on him by nearly all his advisers, Republican colleagues, and most Democrats. At this thought, Eisenhower the man rebelled.

11) Were there “domino theorists” at the time (in addition to Lyndon Johnson) suggesting that an armistice would lead to further attacks on allies (later hotly debated in the Vietnam War)? And were these warnings in any way proven correct? To give domino theory some weight, would it be correct to say the Korean War itself was in part triggered by Mao’s triumph in the 1945–47 Chinese Civil War? Dan Kurtz-Phelan: “For Stalin, Mao’s victory induced a surge of revolutionary euphoria. When the Communist leader of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, asked for permission to invade South Korea, Stalin, despite having said no before, said yes.” Or do you side with the great Ernest May, that in most historic instances such worst-cases dominos never fall? Bob Blackwill: “Arguments on [undermining] credibility don’t get very far analytically – though they may help persuade Presidents. American history since WWII is filled with instances in which the US acted – Vietnam being the outstanding case – because of issues of credibility, which turned out, in practice, to be vacant.” How do decision-makers today get the balance right between sober and prudent restraint, and provocative weakness?

[Answer to come]

Douglas MacArthur in 1951: We practically lose the Pacific Ocean if we give up or lose Formosa [Taiwan]… I believe the first line of defense now, for Europe, is right where we are fighting over there, in Korea. It is a global effort, and if you breach that, it will roll around to Europe as sure as the sun rolls around. [The armistice being negotiated did not have this effect.]

12) Professor Kotkin has said: “On the Korean Peninsula, armistice negotiations lasted some two years. They finally resulted in an armistice only when [in March 1953] Stalin died.” (Russian support for the Chinese Communist hard-line weakened.) I’m not sure Putin is quite Stalin in this analogy. (With an ultra hawkish lens, as the protagonist’s backer, perhaps that today would actually be Xi Jinping.) And trying to wait Putin out seems a long shot. But is there any equivalent roadblock today that needs to be surmounted before armistice negotiations could succeed?

Professor Malkasian: Stalin had been opposing any kind of armistice. Kim Il Sung [of North Korea] had wanted one. It’s unclear what Mao wanted – but he seems not to have been comfortable with the amount of damage China was taking. After Stalin’s death in March 1953, all leaders began more or less moving in the same direction. But, as I noted in my Foreign Affairs piece: “To dwell on Stalin misses another reason that the war did not end earlier. The negotiations were hung up for 18 months by the US demand that prisoners of war get to choose whether to be repatriated – a position driven by an ideological desire to show that communism held less appeal than democracy, and by domestic political pressure to look tough. For Truman, voluntary repatriation was an inalienable human right. In May 1952, he declared that forcible repatriation would be ‘repugnant to our most fundamental moral and humanitarian principles’. The policy received robust bipartisan support, as fierce anticommunism defined US political culture at the time. When the issue bogged down negotiations, Truman could not backtrack without facing accusations of weakness against communism during an election year. Later on, Eisenhower also worried that right-wing Republicans would cast any wavering on the issue as going soft. If Truman had never made the demand in the first place, the Communists might have agreed to a ceasefire much earlier, possibly before Stalin’s death. Put bluntly, two US presidents ended up allowing thousands of US soldiers to die not in service of any particular territorial goal or tactical advantage but to avoid domestic political backlash.”

13) In November 1952, the US elected a new President, in Eisenhower. Will it take a new (or at least re-elected) US President to broker an armistice in Ukraine? Or could the first-term Biden administration and Western counterparts (Prime Minister Sunak and President Macron) do it now?

Professor Ferguson: Ultimately there will be negotiations. Negotiations, of course, have gone on secretly – as they do. Sergey Radchenko and Samuel Charap have a piece about the failed negotiations of 2022 just out in Foreign Affairs. And I’m sure that Bill Burns has been trying to get some kind of discussion going. But it’s not going to happen as long as Putin thinks he gets an early Christmas present on November 5. And that’s why I don’t think there will be any meaningful negotiations until after the US election – when it becomes apparent, whoever wins, that there is not going to be an abandonment of Ukraine. And that therefore, the costs to Russia of continuing the war will be very serious.

If we can establish that the costs to Russia of persisting with the war are going to be intolerably high, and that some compromised peace is on offer, then a negotiation can happen.

I do not think the Ukrainians should cede territory to Russia. But I don’t think that they can expect to liberate the currently occupied territories by the end of 2024. I think there will be a period of limbo in which those territories are under Russian control but not recognised as ceded. And over time, as I have said to President Zelensky’s advisors, you’ve got to be South Korea – not South Vietnam. You have to make the reconstruction of Ukraine happen, even while you have a hostile neighbor on your border – just as the South Koreans did.

Over time, that land will come back to you. But only if you prove that it was worth fighting for independence and democracy – because you do something with it. Do something that the Russians can never do in their occupied territory, which will just stagnate and be an economic basket-case. Once you’ve established A) it’s extremely expensive to continue the war for Russia, B) that Ukraine is viable – then I think a negotiation becomes possible.

14) Professor Kotkin, your having recommended it so strongly, do you think there’s any way an armistice could be agreed inside 2024?

The New York Times, May 14, 2024: There is a growing sense inside the Biden administration that the next few months [in Ukraine] could prove critical, because at some moment the two sides may finally move to a negotiated ceasefire, an armistice similar to the one that ended the active fighting in Korea in 1953.

Professor Kotkin: [awaiting reply]

15) Shifting momentarily on war we’re analogising with, at the outbreak of WWI, from your colleague at Hoover, Philip Zelikow’s The Road Less Traveled, Woodrow Wilson felt that he couldn’t assist in launching a peace process because of an upcoming US Presidential election. In the second half of 1916 an armistice was delayed – fatally – leading to escalation, and the need for US military intervention. Is there any risk of the Biden administration repeating Wilson’s error today? And is a Presidential cycle again risking putting us on the cusp of a World War?

Professor Ferguson: [awaiting reply]

16) Professor Ferguson, you’ve said of the late Dr Kissinger: “Something he wrote before becoming embroiled in Vietnam – what he called ‘the problem of conjecture’ – when you take a difficult decision in the short-term, to avoid some worse outcome in the future, the pay-offs will not be particularly good if you succeed. If you avert disaster, people generally aren’t very grateful, because the disaster doesn’t happen and they don’t experience it. The temptation, therefore, is to kick the can down the road. Every big strategic decision has that character. You can’t really be sure what lies down each fork in the road. You just have to try to decide which the lesser evil is. Statecraft is very often a choice between evils.” Despite $61bn in military aid that’s recently been passed, do you have any personal worry that Ukraine might collapse militarily in 2024 (Colonel Richard Kemp: “Ukraine has only six months left”, and the NYT asking are we at a turning point: “many Ukrainians wonder if the war has taken a significant turn for the worse”)?

Professor Ferguson: [awaiting reply]

Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, Stephen Bryen: Most reports show that Russia has gained the upper hand in Ukraine and has started what appears to be a limited offensive that seems to be aimed, so far at least, in securing Donbas. However, armies often collapse quickly once military leaders and soldiers alike think they are about to be rolled over. While many see Russia’s objectives as territorial, I am personally convinced that the Russian objective is to break Ukraine’s army, which will lead to the collapse of the Zelensky government. If I am right, then the current offensive is not aimed at conquering Kharkiv, it is aimed at stretching Ukraine’s limited forces to breaking point.

17) Could we describe the difference in Western defense industrial capacity, 1953 versus today?

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments: National Security Council 68 (NSC-68), produced under Paul H. Nitze in the spring of 1950, recommended a rapid buildup of US political, economic, and military strength to halt, if not reverse, the spread of Soviet power. Truman, wedded to balanced budgets, and his Defense Secretary at the time, Louis Johnson, were unenthusiastic about the hefty increases in military spending implicit in NSC-68. Once war broke out on the Korean Peninsula, however, an ad hoc NSC committee drafted NSC-68/1, which envisioned US defense spending growing from $35.3bn in 1951 to $63.4bn by 1953. As a result, DoD’s budget authority quickly swelled to a peak of $60.2bn in FY 1952 ($709bn in 2024 dollars).

The years 1948 to 1960, much of the military’s inventory was not only replaced, but fundamentally redesigned. Entirely new technology approaches to weapons and systems appeared in nuclear submarines, large deck aircraft carriers, high performance jet aircraft, ballistic missiles, satellites, tanks, and armored personnel carriers. New technology systems were tested as much by prototyping, procuring, and operating as by laboratory level work. Individual systems were bought in large annual quantities. Even ignoring the spike in defense spending associated with the Korean War, from 1948 to 1960 the US defense budget grew substantially. The growth rate over this period averaged between 6.4 and 6.5% per year.

From 1950 to 1952, the US defense budget grew by an average of almost 83 percent a year, an average annual rate of increase not seen since. The percentage of the defense budget devoted to procurement plus research and development (R&D) rose from around 22% in 1948 to over 32% in 1960, reflecting the growing level of American investment in technology and advanced combat systems. The increased emphasis on R&D is reflected in the fact that during 1948–1960 Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation grew at an average annual rate of over 18 percent while procurement only increased at an average rate of 8.3 percent.

18) What’s the counterfactual of the Korean Armistice not having been agreed? It’s notable that Lyndon Johnson (then Senate minority leader) was opposed to the armistice (“merely releases aggressive armies to attack elsewhere”). Very hypothetically, had LBJ been the incoming President in 1953, in place of Eisenhower, could the opportunity for an armistice have been missed, with the Korean War in fact turning into something that looked a lot more like the Vietnam War (dragging on violently, and quite disastrously, for ~14 years)?

Professor Ferguson: [awaiting reply]

Professor Kotkin: [awaiting reply]

19) How would history suggest a US opposition campaign will run against the military situation in Ukraine today?

Eisenhower’s Detroit speech of October 24, 1952:

In this anxious autumn for America, one fact looms above all others in our people’s mind. One tragedy challenges all men dedicated to the work of peace. One word shouts denial to those who foolishly pretend that ours is not a nation at war. This fact, this tragedy, this word is: Korea. It has been a warning sign of the way the administration has conducted our world affairs.

The biggest fact about the Korean War is this: it was never inevitable, it was never inescapable. No fantastic fiat of history decreed that little South Korea – in the summer of 1950 – would fatally tempt Communist aggressors as their easiest victim. No demonic destiny decreed that America had to be bled this way in order to keep South Korea free and to keep freedom itself self-respecting… Free leadership failed to check and to turn back Communist ambition before it savagely attacked us. The Korean War – more perhaps than any other war in history – simply and swiftly followed the collapse of our political defenses.

The first task of a new Administration will be to review and re-examine every course of action open to us with one goal in view: to bring the Korean War to an early and honorable end. This is my pledge to the American people. For this task a wholly new Administration is necessary. The reason for this is simple. The old Administration cannot be expected to repair what it failed to prevent. 

This new administration, unfettered by past decisions and inherited mistakes, can review every factor – military, political and psychological – to be mobilized in speeding a just peace.

The vital lesson is this: to vacillate, to appease, to placate is only to invite war – vaster war – bloodier war.

Today the choice – the real choice – lies between politics that assume that responsibility awkwardly and fearfully – and policies that accept that responsibility with sure purpose and firm will.

20) Eisenhower sailed into the White House, winning 39 states (and 442 of 531 electoral votes). Arguably the divergence of policies for Korea was central to Eisenhower’s landslide victory. If Truman (who is analogous here to Biden) had been able to secure an armistice in 1952, would that have helped Adlai Stevenson (who ran as Truman’s successor and the Democratic nominee) against Eisenhower?

Professor Ferguson: I doubt 2024 will be a foreign policy election. If you look at the key voters in the swing states – those are the not very committed independents and people who flip between elections – they are probably more interested in Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial. When you look at the polling, much more hinges on the lawfare than the warfare in this election. If it were the key issue, Trump would be pulling ahead. But as far as I can see, Biden has closed the gap in the last couple of months. For most Americans, I don’t think foreign policy is at all a top priority in this election. It’s not ranked highly in the issues list.

And in the last couple of months, Republicans have been entirely divided on the Ukraine question. One part of their party, especially in the House of Representatives, is isolationist. And then there are a whole load of people who are more hawkish than the Democrats on every major conflict. I think that’s damaging to the Republican cause.

21) How was the Eisenhower administration viewed by its international allies in late 1952, as it was coming to power?

Professor Robert Barnes: The allies were worried about the policy the new President would pursue once he took office. Eisenhower had vast international prestige and enjoyed close personal relations with many leaders through his Second World War and NATO experiences. But serious worries were commonplace that the new and inexperienced leader would try to placate the Republican Right by adopting an aggressive Cold War strategy. What is more, despite the diplomatic panache he had demonstrated as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, many still considered Eisenhower a soldier first-and-foremost who would seek to resolve the Korean War militarily, possibly extending the fighting to the People’s Republic of China. Rather than bringing an end to a conflict diverting important resources from more vital theaters as they desperately desired, these governments believed this course would at least prolong the conflict and might even lead to its escalation.

Lord Andrew Roberts: Dwight Eisenhower was elected president on 4 November 1952. “For your private ear,” Churchill told Colville [his Principal Private Secretary], “I am greatly disturbed. I think this makes war much more probable.”

22) The Korean Armistice was “the longest negotiated armistice in history: 158 meetings spread over two years and 17 days”. If Western governments applied themselves diplomatically in Ukraine today, how quickly could an armistice be brought about?

[Answer to come]

23) Would there be any role for the United Nations here? Or was T.R. Fehrenbach right: “[The UN] keeps order in the forest for the mice. But it does not keep order among the tigers.”?

Professor Malkasian: In Korea, the UN endorsed military action (with the United Nations Command). But different member countries – notably India – proposed solutions to the POW repatriation problem (that was stalling diplomatic progress).

At first, the US didn’t want anything to do with such proposals, but the UK and Canada endorsed them. This was upsetting to Truman – that his allies weren’t backing him up. The US did not want to share responsibility for negotiating the armistice.

But what the UN forged with a repatriation agreement basically came to fruition after Stalin died. It was important work. And that it was coming from India gave it more credence on the Communist side. The UN could play a similar role today. India again having remained neutral could actually be helpful for bringing about an armistice.

24) What did the process of agreeing territorial truce lines look like? What types of last-minute military shenanigans might be expected?

Donald W. Boose Jr: [On early 1951 diplomatic attempts] The negotiations were business-like when the two sides agreed, but often dissolved into tension, anger, and harsh language. Ideological differences, cultural misperceptions, and the bitter nature of the war led to mutual suspicion and hostility. Neither side trusted the other’s intentions, both believed that any concession would be taken as a sign of weakness, and each was convinced that military pressure was essential to force the other to compromise.

The negotiators turned to substantive discussions on the location and nature of the truce line. The [North] Korean People’s Army/Chinese People’s Volunteer Army side insisted on a truce line along the 38th parallel while the United Nations Command sought a line well north of the current battle line along which the armies of the two sides faced each other. This “line of ground contact” was already north of the 38th parallel along most of its length. By August 22, 1951, the two sides had narrowed their differences and were close to agreement on a compromise truce line based on the ground contact line. After a month of tough negotiations, the two sides completed agreement on a Military Demarcation Line and Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the line of contact.

Stephen E. Ambrose: On July 12 [1953], with peace imminent [11 days away], the Communists launched a massive assault, several corps strong, against a Republic of Korea Army division and its supporting American field artillery battalion. The attack evidently had a twofold purpose – to get better defensive positions before the final ceasefire line was established, and to demonstrate to Rhee how vulnerable his Republic of Korea Army units were. Clark rushed the US 3d Infantry Division into the breach. When the Americans appeared on the line, the Chinese called off their attack at that spot, resuming it the next day farther to the east, against only Republic of Korea Army targets.

25) What level of security guarantee would be sensible today for Ukraine, accompanying an armistice? Professor Kotkin, you’ve said “not likely to be NATO in the short-term”. Professor Ferguson, you’ve said “[Ukraine] has established credible claims to EU and NATO membership”. And the late Dr Kissinger (Volume II of whose biography you’re in the midst of writing) wrote in December 2022: “This process has mooted the original issues regarding Ukraine’s membership in NATO. A peace process should link Ukraine to NATO, however expressed. The alternative of neutrality is no longer meaningful, especially after Finland and Sweden joined NATO.”

Professor Kotkin, you remind us that “NATO works by consensus”. Right now, with Ukraine still at war, there isn’t consensus (Hungary being most vocally opposed).

Should US troops be stationed in a hypothetical post-armistice Ukraine (as 28,500 are – to this day – in South Korea)? What would be your prescription for security guarantees that you think might thread the needle on all sides?

Professor Kotkin: NATO cannot bring a country into the alliance while that country is at war. It’s just not really thinkable. But NATO is not the only option here. You can have what I call “bilateral-plus”. What’s bilateral-plus? Bilateral-plus is like what we have with South Korea or with Israel. The “plus” part is that others may want to join the bilateral. For example, Poland might want to join, or the Baltic states, or Scandinavian states. You don’t have to jump from nothing into NATO. You can go from a US-led “bilateral-plus”. This security guarantee still needs to be sold to the American public. But if you get a bilateral-plus [after an armistice], then you can have an EU accession process.

In the past few days (April 28, 2024), President Zelensky:

Ukraine-US bilateral security agreement

Zelensky: “Ukraine and the United States are currently working on a bilateral security agreement”

And this echoed on the US State Department website (April 30, 2024):

Negotiations on Ukraine-US security agreement

State Department: “Negotiations on US-Ukraine Bilateral Security Agreement Continue... The US is among 32 countries pursuing long-term bilateral security arrangements with Ukraine… nine countries have signed such an agreement”

26) It can be argued Russia opposes NATO membership for Ukraine precisely because of what that might enable militarily within Ukrainian territory. It could be said this has been somewhat airbrushed from polite society, but Bill Burns made this point clearly in his 2019 book. How to square that circle?

Professor Kotkin: Critics of NATO expansion, for their part, blame it for Russia’s revanchism, as if a repressive authoritarian regime that invades its neighbors in the name of its security is something unexpected in Russian history and wouldn’t have happened anyway had the alliance not expanded – leaving even more countries vulnerable. Calls to recognize Russia’s “legitimate” interests are frequently heard in critiques of US policy, but the great-power stability purchased by indulging coercive spheres of influence always proves ephemeral, even as the agonies of sacrificed smaller countries and the ignominy of compromising US values always linger. 

I have only the greatest respect for George Kennan. John Mearsheimer is a giant of a scholar. But I respectfully disagree. The problem with their argument is that it assumes that, had NATO not expanded, Russia wouldn’t be the same or very likely close to what it is today. What we have today in Russia is not some kind of surprise. It’s not some kind of deviation from a historical pattern. Way before NATO existed – in the nineteenth century – Russia looked like this: it had an autocrat. It had repression. It had militarism. It had suspicion of foreigners and the West. This is a Russia that we know, and it’s not a Russia that arrived yesterday or in the 1990s. It’s not a response to the actions of the West. There are internal processes in Russia that account for where we are today.

27) Paragraph 13d of the Korean Armistice Agreement mandated that neither side introduce new weaponry into Korea, other than piece-for-piece replacement of equipment. Time magazine in 1957: “Under 13d, both parties to the armistice agreed not to bring any more weapons into Korea. They were to replace worn-out weapons only ‘on the basis of piece-for-piece of the same effectiveness and type’ to be brought in only through specified ports of entry under the supervision of neutral inspection teams provided by Sweden, Switzerland, Poland and Czechoslovakia.”


13d from the Korean Armistice Agreement: “may be replaced on the basis of piece-for-piece of the same effectiveness and the same type... every incoming shipment of these items shall be made to the… Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission”

Professor Kotkin, you recently said to the Editor of Foreign Affairs while discussing a Korean-style armistice: Without letting them [Russia] impose limits on the size of your [Ukraine’s] military, Versailles Treaty style… An armistice without those Russian conditions.”

The US in 1957 (four years after the signing of the Korean Armistice) considered itself no longer bound by 13d. But did the clause not help the armistice come together? This is a very nuanced and delicate point – we earnestly want your judgment on it. Do you consider it appropriate to depart from the Korea analogy here, or might there actually have been wisdom in the initial compromise of 13d? Might this be a clue from the Korean Agreement in how simultaneously to grant security guarantees while being sensitive to an adversary’s desire for there to be military restrictions in respect of a non-allied country on its border?

Professor Kotkin: [awaiting reply]

28) The Korean Armistice document has signatures from the US, North Korea, Korean People’s Army representatives, and China. The South Korean government never actually signed the agreement, due to President Rhee’s refusal to accept having failed militarily to unify Korea.

Korean Armistice signatures

The signed Korean Armistice Agreement, July 27, 1953

This is a provocative question, but can you see a scenario in which an armistice could be reached in Ukraine without President Zelensky’s signature?

[Answer to come]

29) Is it correct that President Rhee tried several times to derail the armistice and, amongst other things, ordered public demonstrations against it?

Professor Malkasian: Rhee [President of South Korea] vociferously opposed the armistice. He wanted Korea unified and all Chinese forces withdrawn from Korea. Koreans filled the streets of Seoul and other cities throughout South Korea to demonstrate. Most South Koreans supported President Rhee’s stance that an armistice should not be concluded until North Korea was liberated. Rhee was intransigent. But had Rhee not made the highly provocative move of releasing 27,000 prisoners [to the consternation of US administration figures – North Korea/China having expected them to be repatriated], South Korea would not have received a security guarantee with the US [the Mutual Defense Treaty] – that otherwise at that point had not been settled.

Henry W. Brands, Jr: A great part of his [Rhee’s] bargaining power with the Eisenhower administration derived from his undoubted commitment to Korean unification. American officials considered him obsessed and irrational on this subject. He may have been. But Rhee was also uncanny in his ability to sense when he had pushed too far, and to step back from the brink. For all his talk of boycotting the Geneva conference and resuming the war, Rhee understood that to do so risked permanent alienation of the Americans.

30) What was Rhee’s temperament when signing of the armistice was imminent?

Stephen E. Ambrose: The next day, [Secretary of State] Dulles called Eisenhower on the telephone to inform the President that Rhee had just sent a message demanding ironclad guarantees of post-truce American aid. Dulles said that it appeared to him “as if Rhee at the last minute was trying to run out on his commitment to us”. Eisenhower said he was “astonished” at this development and instructed the Secretary to tell Rhee that “this is what we can do and beyond that we cannot go”. Dulles sent the word to Rhee, and when the truce was finally signed, two days later, Rhee made no public protest.

31) What contingencies were made by the US in case armistice talks fell through?

NSC 147, from the State Department’s Office of the Historian: If the armistice negotiations fail, there appear to be two major alternative courses of action open to the United States in Korea short of initiation of global war by the United States. The first alternative would be to continue or expand military action only within Korea; while the second alternative would remove existing restrictions on military operations against Communist China and Manchuria. NSC 147 analyzes three possible specific courses of military action under each alternative, making a total of six specific courses of action presented in the order of increasing severity [all the way up to US use of atomic weapons].

32) What happened to President Rhee post-armistice, and what would this imply for Zelensky?

Han-Kyo Kim: Rhee was able to hold the government and the nation together through the difficult early [post-war] years. He preached democracy and anti-Communism as the basic principles for his domestic and foreign policies – an ideological legacy that has remained largely unchanged to this day in South Korea. His actions and the behavior of his government, however, were often authoritarian and oppressive. Constitutional democracy lost its mooring when the basic laws were altered to guarantee him a second term in office (1952) and to enable him to run for and win the third and the fourth terms (1956 and 1960).

33) The Republic of Korea did offer to help the US in the Vietnam War, correct? Is there a sense in which, in what Professor Ferguson you have led the way in calling “Cold War II”, Ukraine could play a vital as-yet-unforeseen role in near-future defense concerns? Has anticipation of future Cold War II events shaped your suggestion of an armistice?

Professor Ferguson: When you mention the crises of our time, you’ve got to realize that they’re connected. They’re connected because over time China, Russia, Iran and North Korea have begun to work together; to coordinate their actions. There is an axis now – in the sense that Russia’s war effort in Ukraine would not be sustainable without Chinese economic support, and Iran’s supplies of drones, and North Korean supplies of ammunition. And Iran is likely now receiving air defense systems from Russia, at the same time that Iran sells its oil (supposed to be under sanction) to China. As in Cold War I, we are in a global competition, in which there are proxy conflicts, and one or more of these proxy conflicts has the potential to get very dangerous indeed.

Dean Acheson in 1951: The fact that our Far Eastern policy and our European policy have been separately debated should not lead us to the fatal error of regarding these policies as being divorced from one another.

34) Had there been a skeptical line of thought towards military escalation in Korea 1950–1953?

Robert Caro: In his dramatic speech, MacArthur had [in 1951] assured the Senate that if the Chinese were driven out of Korea Mao Tse-tung would sue for peace. But, he was asked now, what if Mao didn’t sue for peace? Suppose when the Chinese were chased back across the Yalu River, they refused to sign a treaty – what then? What if they massed near the river, on their own territory, forces that could be used for a new offensive in Korea. MacArthur refused to take that premise seriously. “Such a contingency is a very hypothetical query. I can’t quite see the possibility of the enemy being driven back across the Yalu and still being in a posture of offensive action,” he said. But the senators did not let the matter drop, and by the end of that line of questioning, it had begun to be clear that at least a strong possibility existed that MacArthur’s proposals would have drastically widened the conflict.

Tell me, General, he said, if the United States were – hypothetically, of course – to have to aid Chiang’s troops on the mainland of China; if hypothetically, the United States were to be forced to assume the defense of Formosa [Taiwan], if the United States was busy fighting China – what would happen if Russia then attacked Japan? And when MacArthur said, “I do not believe that it would be within the capacity of the Soviet Union… I believe that the disposition of the Soviet forces are largely defensive,” Russell asked quietly, “How about the submarine strength of the Soviet in that area?”

Russell asked, what if Russia, seeing her allies being defeated, decided to enter the war on a larger scale? What if she attacked in Europe? What if she launched an atomic attack? “If we go into all-out war, I want to find out how you propose in your own mind to defend the American nation against that war?” “That doesn’t happen to be my responsibility, Senator,” MacArthur replied. “My responsibilities were in the Pacific.” Did the General know the number of atomic bombs the Russians possessed? McMahon asked. No, MacArthur said, he did not. “Do you think that we are ready to withstand the Russian attack in Western Europe today?” McMahon asked. “Senator,” Douglas MacArthur said, “I have asked you several times not to involve me in anything except my own area. My concepts on global defense are not what I am here to testify on. I don’t pretend to be an authority now on those things… I have been desperately occupied on the other side of the world.” “That was the point,” McMahon said. “The Joint Chiefs and the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief, has to look at this thing on a global basis and a global defense. You as a theater commander by your own statement have not made that kind of study, and yet you advise us to push forward with a course of action that may involve us in that global conflict.”

When MacArthur had completed his testimony – with, of course, a compliment from the chairman, who praised his “patience, thoroughness and frankness” (there was no praise for his wisdom) – another General of the Army, George Catlett Marshall, entered Room 318 to sit before the senators… By the end of the five days, the Secretary [Marshall]’s testimony, and the senators’ questions, had made clear that, at the very least, the question of escalating the war in Korea was far more complex than it had seemed when MacArthur first charged “appeasement” and said there was “no substitute for victory”.

[In late 1952] Plans for an all-out offensive, Eisenhower concluded, were irrational. The situation was intolerable, he said; the only solution was to end the war on honorable terms as soon as possible, and get the troops home. America nodded in agreement.

35) It was put to me the other day by a former senior government advisor: “National Security figures in the US are right now chiefly concerned about China. But China is getting paid premium prices by Russia for defense supplies, and Russia is using this equipment to blow up NATO-supplied equipment (which the US is borrowing to pay for at inflated prices). Plus, China has observers watching how NATO intelligence, satellites and technology works. The more the conflict in Ukraine goes on, the more intelligence China will get, and the better China will understand Western systems.” Is the Chinese Communist Party, in fact, the big winner of the Ukraine conflict continuing?

Stalin in a secret letter to his Ambassador in Prague, August 27, 1950 (two months into the Korean War):

Following our [the Soviet Union’s] withdrawal from the [UN] Security Council [which in effect allowed the United Nations Command to unite and fight on behalf of South Korea], America became entangled in a military intervention in Korea and is now squandering its military prestige and moral authority. Few honest people can now doubt that America is acting as an aggressor and tyrant in Korea and that it is not as militarily powerful as it claims to be. In addition, it is clear that the United States of America is presently distracted from Europe in the Far East. Does it not give us an advantage in the global balance of power? It undoubtedly does… It follows that America would overextend itself in this struggle. Second, having overextended itself in this matter, America would be incapable of a third world war in the near future.

36) Is it conceivable that Xi Jinping has penned an equivalent such a letter since February 2022?

[Answer to come]

37) Do we have advice for today’s Western administrations on how an armistice could be sold to their publics (and the international community) in a deterrent-maximizing, face-saving way? What would Eisenhower counsel today’s White House communications team?

Meghna Chakrabarti: Eisenhower said that the armistice was not the culmination, but the beginning of peace in Korea. The President noted that there was much more work to be done. Eisenhower’s nighttime July 26 [1953] address: “We have won an armistice on a single battleground – not peace in the world. We may not now relax our guard nor cease our quest. Throughout the coming months, during the period of prisoner screening and exchange, and during the possibly longer period of the political conference, which looks toward the unification of Korea, we and our United Nation allies must be vigilant against a possibility of untoward developments, and as we do we shall fervently strive to ensure that this armistice will, in fact, bring free peoples one step nearer to their goal of a world at peace.”

38) Professor Kotkin, you’ve said “We would have to prepare the US public, the US Congress, and Senate especially, to ratify a [Mutual Defense] treaty like that [with South Korea].” Are there lessons from how this was done in 1953 we could learn from today?

LTTOS research team: The Mutual Defence Treaty was signed on October 1, 1953, and ratified by the Senate in January 1954. It was presented to the American public as a necessary measure to deter aggression and maintain peace in the Pacific region.

The treaty was signed with an understanding that the US was only obligated to come to South Korea’s aid in the event of an external armed attack – and in territory controlled behind the truce lines. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to the Senate: “[The treaty] defines the area within which it is to operate, namely in territories now under the respective administrative control of either party, or hereafter recognized by one of the parties as lawfully brought under the administrative control of the other. This provision is designed to take cognizance of the fact that the Republic of Korea presently has effective control over only part of Korea. If either contracting state should initiate an armed attack against any territory not under its administrative control when the treaty was signed or thereafter recognized by the other as lawfully brought under the administrative control of the first, the treaty would not apply. Under its terms the treaty could continue to be applicable in event that a political settlement unifying Korea is reached.”

39) Point four of Ukraine’s 2023 10-point peace plan reads: “Release of all prisoners and deportees. Today, thousands of Ukrainian people, both military and civilians, are in Russian captivity. Many have been forcefully deported, including at least 20,000 children. Many are subjected to brutal torture and abuse right now. Ukraine proposes the release of prisoners – ‘all for all’, and the release of all children and adults who were illegally deported to Russia.” The New York Times last week reported some really quite horrific conditions Ukrainian prisoners in Russia are having to endure. The Korean Armistice (Article III), once finally agreed, enabled large-scale prisoner releases, despite the diplomatic challenge of some 50,000 Chinese and North Korean POWs refusing repatriation. Do you consider an equivalent could be achieved here between Ukraine and Russia – which could be championed as an immediate political success of an armistice?

[Answer to come]

40) How were prisoner releases overseen in Korea?

Donald W. Boose Jr: On 25 May [1953] the United Nations Command presented its final position. Offering some concessions to make the proposal more palatable to the Chinese and North Koreans, the United Nations Command called for the repatriation of all prisoners within sixty days of the armistice. Those refusing repatriation would be transferred to the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission [consisting of representatives from Sweden, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia and Poland – the four nations already accepted by both sides to serve on the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission] for a ninety-day period during which representatives of their home country could try to persuade them to return. Any remaining non-repatriates would then be dealt with by the postwar political conference, be released, or have their fate decided by the United Nations General Assembly.

41) Are there standout lessons for helping a post-armistice Ukraine towards something that could match South Korea’s historic economic revival? Professor Ferguson, you’ve written “In 1991, per capita GDP was slightly higher in Ukraine than in South Korea. Today, South Koreans are four times richer.”

USAID: In the 1960s, foreign assistance was essential, not for maintenance of the regime but for the expansion of the economy. Equally important was the effort by the Korean Government to generate internal investment and revenues. These were accomplished by the upward adjustments made in interest rates on longer-term savings, the advice of foreign technical assistants in 1965, and the rigorous enforcement of tax and other regulations on both industry and individual incomes. From 1962 until 1981, Korea received $41.7 billion in foreign lending and grants, of which one-third came from public and two-thirds from commercial sources.

Stephen E. Ambrose: Immediately upon the conclusion of the armistice, Eisenhower moved to make good on his promises to Rhee. On July 27 he sent a special message to Congress, asking for authorization to spend $200 million [$2.3bn inflation adjusted] for reconstruction in Korea, the money to come from savings in the Defense Department “that result from the cessation of hostilities”. One week later, Congress responded positively.

42) Where do we side on whether Russia’s ~$300bn in frozen assets should play a part in Ukraine’s reconstruction? Should frozen assets be used, or would this undermine the Western financial system?

Professor Malkasian: That’s an issue for armistice talks.

Professor Ferguson: [awaiting reply]

43) Given the military picture today, this will sound mightily aspirational, but do you think it’s conceivable that Ukraine could overtake Russia in total GDP within a few decades (as put by your Bloomberg Opinion colleague Admiral James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO)? Would that be a worthy, and audacious, goal once a ceasefire has been reached, and we are thinking seriously about reconstruction?

Professor Ferguson: [awaiting reply]

44) President Rhee remained unreconciled to the armistice for the duration of his rule, through to 1961. Today, 71 years on from the agreement being signed, how do the people of South Korea view the armistice?

Professor Malkasian: There is a hard-line camp that still thinks the armistice shouldn’t have been agreed to, and that the US and South Korea should have just won the war. Public mood moves in waves. Some want to reunify – and differ in their suggested approach to it. But the majority of South Koreans are grateful to the West.

US favorability in South Korea

“There is clearly high favorability toward the US” Source: p.78

45) Any final thoughts from the Korea example that you think might be helpful to Bill Burns, Jake Sullivan, and their Western counterparts?

Professor Malkasian: 1) How long the Korean Armistice took. By 1953, there had already been a year-and-a-half of negotiations – including significant breakthroughs along the way. It could take months, if not years, just to get an armistice agreed. 2) The importance of maintaining pressure.

Professor Ferguson: [awaiting reply]

Professor Kotkin: Peace comes through strength, combined with skillful diplomacy. The United States must maintain concerted pressure on Russia while also offering incentives for Moscow to retrench.

On July 27, 1953 the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was agreed as a 2.5-mile-wide (4.0 km) fortified buffer zone between the two Korean nations. The DMZ follows the Kansas Line, where the two sides confronted each other at the time of the signing of the Armistice. The DMZ is currently the most heavily defended national border in the world. A full copy of the Korean Armistice Agreement can be found here.

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