Seventy years after the Korean War’s outbreak, the peninsula is teetering on the precipice of yet another North-South crisis. With growing bombast, North Korea has overturned several years of de-escalatory diplomacy, ratcheting up its threatening rhetoric and sending an unmistakably menacing signal with the explosion of the Inter-Korean Liaison Office. Despite the Trump administration’s attempts at negotiation, Washington’s strategy of “maximum pressure” is manifestly discredited — North Korea has a substantial and growing nuclear and missile program, and has rejected denuclearization as “nonsensical.”
The specter of renewed conflict is a dangerous but fitting marker for the Korean War’s 70th anniversary. Though often disregarded as a “forgotten war” — overshadowed by the global conflagration that preceded it and the nation-rending counter-insurgency campaign in Vietnam that followed it — the 1950–53 conflict on the Korean Peninsula remade Cold War history, with aftershocks that reverberate through today’s crisis. The war entrenched the division between North and South, along with China’s patronage of the former and America’s alliance with the latter.