The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The Korean “Model” for Profit on War

Sep 10, 2023

The July—August issue of Foreign Affairs carried a long article by Carter Malkasian, laying out the argument for a Korean-style “model” to end the war in Ukraine.

Well, this needs some explanation!

Foreign Affairs often speaks for the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Malkasian himself was a Special Assistant to the Chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2015 to 2019, during both the Obama and the Trump presidencies. He currently is a “defense analyst” for the Navy.

In other words, his words carry the weight of the positions he’s held in the military and foreign policy establishments.

So what is this “Korean model”?

The Korean War went on for three years, from 1950 to 1953. Negotiations for ending it went on for its last 11 months. Little changed on the battlefield, with battle lines almost frozen. But more people were killed during those 11 months of negotiations than during the whole rest of the war. All told, Korea lost four million people, ten percent of its whole population, most of them civilians. China lost one million people. Thirty-seven thousand American soldiers were killed.

So what does Korea have to do with Ukraine?

Maybe nothing, but Foreign Affairs is not the only one to raise the Korean War. The idea popped up in Politico, an internet political service, two months earlier. And last November already, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly suggested that negotiations should be pursued since the war was close to bogging down.

Negotiations, even an end to the Ukraine war, won’t mean a sudden end to the vast stream of money that has gone into the accounts of the big military contractors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing—no more than the end of the war in Korea put an end to spending on war.

This is what the “Korean model” means. The Korean War was the justification for the creation of the “military-industrial complex,” which continued and expanded long after that war was over. General Eisenhower may later have complained about it, as generals like Milley complain today. But the system they defend feeds on war.

The war in Ukraine provided the pretext for a big jump in military spending, a real bonanza for big U.S. corporations, paid for by the death and suffering of people.

Already, at least a half a million people have been killed in Ukraine: Russian soldiers, Ukrainian soldiers, Ukrainian civilians, Russian civilians, Russian and Western mercenaries, including dozens from the U.S. and an occasional Special Forces soldier from Britain or the U.S.

But this war has also been paid for by working people in this country as public tax money is drained out of social services, public services, education and public health. Every line you have to stand in, or phone call you are put on hold for, has been created by cuts to the people who work in those services. When you are laid off and don’t get unemployment pay, it’s because money was sent to pay for this latest war in which big U.S. industry is deeply involved. Money flooded into the military explains part of the decrease in our standard of living, as well as the decline in life expectancy.

The end of the war in Ukraine, if and when it comes, won’t put an end to war spending, any more than the “Korean model” did. Because the system that produced those wars will go on producing more wars. Korea ushered in an epoch of wars in former colonies that continue up to this day—from Viet Nam to South Africa to Iraq to Afghanistan to Syria to Yemen to Sudan, and to all those wars breaking out today throughout Africa.

Ukraine will usher in more wars. Because war is not only a common feature of this rotting capitalist system. It is a necessity. It allows a few big powers to pull out more wealth for the class that rules them, and it provides wealth through military spending to its many companies.

So long as the capitalist “model” is left in place, we will have war—and constantly diminished possibilities for a decent life.