NSC-81/1 and the Evolution of U.S. War Aims in Korea June - October 1950   [open pdf - 2MB]

The North Korean attack across the 38th Parallel in June 1950 created a crisis for American decision-makers and the newly constituted National Security Council. The convoluted structure of military command responsibilities in the Far East, the relationships among military and political personalities, and the domestic and international political environment significantly affected the crisis decision-making process. In the event, our response evolved in the period June-October 1950 from restoration of the status quo ante bellum along the inter-Korean border to occupation of the North and reunification of Korea. This effect, which we now refer to as "mission creep", led directly to the intervention of Chinese Communist forces which completely changed the character of the Korean War. The inter-Korean border at the 38th Parallel was effectively restored within three weeks of the Inch'on landings. The decision to pursue North Korean forces and to occupy and reunify North Korea catalyzed a much longer war. An analysis of how this decision was reached, and a review of the factors involved, makes it a useful model for future policy decisions. The experience is not unique. Political factors in the wake of Somalia (where mission creep led to failure) and the Gulf War (where adherence to our original objectives led to a decade of second-guessing) reveal its relevance. Time alone will tell what our Balkans adventure will bring.

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