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Nuclear Coercionand the Ending o f the Korean Conflict Korean armistice agreement in July 1953 has often I T h e signature of the been linked to the Eisenhower administration's threats, during the final stages of the negotiations, to launch nuclear war against the People's Republic of China (PRC), should there be a continuing failure to agree to terms. For two years, communist negotiators and the United Nations Command (UNC)team had been locked in acrimonious debate over such issues as establishing the ceasefire line, rehabilitation of airfieldsin the post-armisticeperiod, Soviet membership on the neutral nations supervisory commission, and whether prisoners of war (POWs)should be forcibly repatriated. When the Eisenhower administration was inaugurated in January 1953, the talks had been recessed since October 1952 with this one issue concerning the POWs still outstanding. Several prominent members of the Eisenhower administration, most notably the president and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, subsequently claimed that the eventual breakthrough on the POW question finally came because the United States, as part of a carefully worked-out plan, had "dropped the word discreetly" of the U.S. intention to use atomic weapons in a future expanded war. Eisenhower asserted this in his memoirs;' and in conversation with his special assistant, Sherman Adams, when asked how an armistice had at last been reached in Korea, he unhesitatingly replied: "Danger of an atomicwar. .. . We told them we could not hold it to a limited war any longer if the communists welched on a treaty of truce. They didn't An earlier version of this paper was presented at a conferenceon the study of nuclear weapons and nuclear threats organized by ProfessorRobert Jervis,Columbia University,New York, May 1987, with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. I am most grateful for the comments of the participants at that conference. Professor Christopher Thome of Sussex University and Professor Steven I. Levine of Duke University also read a complete early draft, and I have valued their suggestions. Rosemary Foot is a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sussex in England. She is author of The Wrong War: American Policy and the Dimensions of the Korean Conflict, 19501953 (Cornell University Press, 1985)and is currently working on a companion volume which focuses on the Korean armistice negotiations. 1. Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Mandate for Change, 1953-1956 (Garden City, N.Y.:Doubleday, 1963),pp. 179-180. Znternationa[Security, Winter 19W89 (Vol. 13, No. 3) 0 1988 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 92 Ending the Korean Conflict I93 want a full-scale war or an atomic attack. That kept them under some control .”2 Dulles, too, believed that the atomic threat was successful.At the Bermuda Conference in December 1953, he told his British and French counterparts that had the negotiations not ended satisfactorily, the United States was “prepared for a much more intensive scaleof warfare’’ utilizingatomicweapons . ”It was the [communists‘] knowledge of the U.S. willingness to use force that brought an end to hostilities,” he said.3 More publicly, at the Geneva Conference on Korea in April 1954, Dulles repeated that progress at the talks was due to the communists’ realization that “the battle area would be enlarged so as to endanger the source of aggression in Man~huria.”~ That the successful conclusion of the talks followed close on the heels of these threats convinced the administration that nuclear weapons had a role to play in military conflicts and also allowed it to claim that the threat to retaliate at times and in ways of one’s own choosing could profitably become the basis of the administration‘s approach to any future crisis involving communist forces-convinced it, in other words, that the “New Look” strategy was indeed viable. Other developments, of course, apart from the successful outcome in Korea, had encouraged the nuclear dimension of the “New Look.” Money had been ”poured at a furious rate” into the nuclear program during the Truman era, resulting in the production of larger numbers of more powerful, yet more compact, weapons at lower cost.5This...


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