“So far as the military security of other areas in the Pacific is concerned, it must be clear that no person can guarantee these areas against military attack.”
Secretary of State Dean Acheson
Secretary of State Dean Acheson delivers his speech to the National Press Club 12 January 1950. Photo Credit: Teaching American History.
A speech delivered to explain America’s foreign policy in combating the spread of Communism has come to be seen as a tipping point in North Korea’s decision to invade the South. During a speech on 12 January 1950 to the National Press Club, Secretary of State Dean Acheson was asked about America’s Asian policy. Keep in mind, America and the Soviet Union had both withdrawn much of their forces from the Korean Peninsula by this time. The “two Koreas” each felt their form of government, the Communist version of North Korea and the Democratic version in South Korea, were the legitimate government of all of Korea. When asked about America’s defensive posture in the Pacific region, Acheson gave an outline of it, which included Japan and the Philippines. He left our Korea, however, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by North Korea. Acheson stated, “So far as the military security of other areas in the Pacific is concerned, it must be clear that no person can guarantee these areas against military attack.”
Historians and critics of Acheson’s speech point out that his exclusion of Korea in the American Pacific perimeter gave North Korean leader Kim Il Sung the “green light” to invade the south six months later. Kim didn’t need any such go ahead from American policy, he had wanted to invade and conquer the south since the establishment of the DPRK. He just needed to convince Stalin and Mao that America would not intervene. This portion of Acheson’s speech seemed to prove that.
Critics look past the rest of Acheson’s speech, seemingly to only focus on the Pacific Perimeter portion. Later in the speech, Acheson mentioned continued administrative and economic support for the South Korean government, to socially combat the spread of Communism. In Acheson’s and President Truman’s view, the spread of Communism arose only out of economic hardship in target nations. By supporting South Korea economically, helping them firmly establish a democracy, the United States would not have to support the South Koreans militarily. This was the Truman administration’s answer to the post war world and the rise of the threat of Communism. While a good idea to avoid open conflict with the Soviet Union, only time would tell if this strategy would pay off on the Korean Peninsula.