The Korean War: Applying Operational Art and Design Concepts


The success of any military operation depends on the commanders’ ability to develop an executable plan and implement it successfully. Operational art and design are instrumental in describing how exactly (ways) the military force can utilize the available “capabilities (means) to achieve military objectives (ends)” and mitigate possible risks (Department of Defense, 2017, p. IV-1). Importantly, operational art and design ensure the alignment of strategic plans with specific operations and tactics.

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The focus on major strategic objectives is essential as the country has to defend its major interests envisioning current and upcoming challenges. The analysis of particular military conflicts can illustrate the effectiveness of the use of operational art and design notions. This paper includes a brief analysis of U. S. participation in the Korean War with the use of the concepts of operational art and design.

Background Facts and U. S. Government’s Ends

The Korean Peninsula became vulnerable to further military conflict after the decision of allied forces to unite at the 38th Parallel. The Western allies saw this movement as a temporary meeting point that provided military benefits while the USSR regarded the line as the future border of the spheres of influence (Clay, 2015). As a result, the country was divided into North and South Korea with two opposing economic and political trajectories.

It is noteworthy that thousands of North Korean soldiers took part in the Chinese Civil War and became one of the major forces in the Korean War (Forbis, 2015). The northern part of the peninsula was under the influence of the Chinese Communist Party, while South Korea chose capitalism and democracy as its strategic development. In addition, North Korea was supported by the USSR, and South Korean economic and political, as well as military allies were the USA, the United Kingdom and other western democracies.

The U.N. acknowledged the risks associated with the proximity of Communist China. China never abandoned its attempts to instill the Communist rule in North (and South) Korea. Therefore, it was decided to keep a considerable military force in the South Korean theatre to safeguard the independence of the state (Lee, 2018). American military forces constituted the basis of the UN presence in the peninsula. Although the USSR focused on European theatre trying to achieve its regional goals, the country also provided military support to North Korean and Chinese forces in order to weaken the USA as its major rival (Kim, 2019). Clay (2015) also notes that although the 38th Parallel was an unintended consequence of the Second World War, the USA did not want to change the status quo and provoke Chinese involvement.

The American society was unwilling to be engaged in a new war in a distant Asian region. Lee (2018) states that Americans did not see the spread of communism in that Asian country as an immediate threat to the democracy of the United States. Hence, President Truman was reluctant to provide substantial military forces and resources to the peninsula or use such major means as a nuclear weapon to ensure peace in the region. These political aims defined the development of military ends and operations, as well as the course of the entire war in the area.

The Doctrine and Means

The Korean War was a comparatively short military conflict that, however, caused considerable damage and was associated with unprecedented death tolls. The doctrine utilized by the U. S. military forces and the available capabilities contributed to the duration of the war (its rapid termination) and its devastating nature (Lee, 2018). The war doctrine that existed in the 1950s was based on the experiences gained during the Second World War (Forbis, 2015). According to this framework, a combination of naval and land warfare, as well as air force, was to be employed to reach the established military aims (Lee, 2018). The use of land warfare was central to the American doctrine as it proved to be effective during the Second World War.

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Nevertheless, the focus on the doctrine based on the European theatre of the military operations during the Second World War led to a failure of some operations performed after the landing in Incheon. The doctrine implied the activities on flat European territories while the peninsula had mountainous terrain (Lee, 2018). The utilization of land warfare proved to be less effective as it had been planned, so such tactical objective as the envelopment of the enemy’s troops in Incheon was failed. The largest part of the North Korean forces managed to escape the envelopment due to the specifics of the terrain and climate. At the same time, the U.S. troops managed to destroy one of the primary centers of gravity of North Korean army during the war, which was a considerable strategic gain.

It is also important to add that the use of marine blockade had a limited effect on the supplies of the army of North Korea, although this tactic was beneficial during the Second World War. Initially, the U.S. government intended to employ naval and air resources in the Korean theatre (Forbis, 2015). However, a more detailed analysis of the situation made it clear that land resources would be central.

The Communist government received aid from China and the USSR through diverse channels, and they did not rely on marine routes (Lee, 2018). However, without using naval resources, South Korea could have been invaded by the North Korean forces (Clay, 2015). Naval and air operations enabled the U.S. forces to cause substantial damage to North Korean communication channels and military bases. The use of air warfare in numerous operations was some of the primary reasons for the unprecedented destruction of major cities of North and South Korea.

Ways Employed by American Corps

The analysis of the Korean War and the U.S. activities in this military conflict illustrates the effectiveness of the use of operational art and design. Although the American military leaders did not apply the corresponding concepts, they managed to create successful plans that enabled them to reach their military and political ends. Lee (2018) states that American generals did not concentrate on immediate gains but had a more strategic approach.

They developed a plan to turn some defensive operations into massive offensive activities. Landing at Incheon was one of such plans that enabled the US army to damage North Korean communication channels and forced their adversary forces to retreat (Lee, 2018). Importantly, the American forces attacked eastern and western coasts in order to disorganize the enemy and make the northward operation possible and successful. As mentioned above, the Incheon area was one of the major centers of gravity of the North Korean Army, so American troops’ successful operation was critical to the overall success in the war.

The American forces (jointly with other UN corps) also managed to identify the most serious vulnerabilities of the enemy. The attacks on Kunsan and Nakdong areas were the central methods utilized to achieve this tactical goal. The Kunsan operation was followed by the Nakdong raid, which ensured the success of landing at Incheon (Lee, 2018). These tactics were also formed during the Second World War and utilized as a part of war doctrine during the Korean War (Lee, 2018).

Again, the success of these operations had been preceded by serious defeats of American troops. However, these defensive measures were soon replaced with offensive activities based on the annihilation approach. Rapid and massive raids confused the North Korean army and contributed to the morale of American and South Korean troops.

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As mentioned above, the U.S. government did not want the involvement of China in the conflict. However, after successful operations conducted by the corps of the United Nations, Chinese troops supported with the USSR military resources interfered, which made the UN forces retreat to South Korea (Forbis, 2015). The further military operations were characterized by the focus on enemies’ vulnerabilities, so the region had to endure substantial damage. The use of air warfare and significant land resources ensured the implementation of the strategic plan that aimed at safeguarding the 38th Parallel.

Meeting Military and Political Ends

The Korean War was characterized by massive destruction and thousands of deaths on both sides, and it terminated in 1953 when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed. North and South Korea, as well as their allies, did not have sufficient means to continue the war (Forbis, 2015). Moreover, American military and political ends were met as the status quo regarding the 38th parallel was retained.

The sovereignty of South Korea was safeguarded, and the spread of Communism in the region was also terminated. The agreement signed in 1953 ensured the creation of a demilitarized zone that helped the UN meet certain military ends (Forbis, 2015). The rapid and unpredictable invasion of North Korean or Chinese troops was impossible. All these political and military ends were achieved, so the success of the U.S. forces, as a part or rather backbone of UN troops, was apparent.


On balance, the analysis of U.S. participation in the Korean War with the use of operational art and design concepts suggests the effectiveness of applying operational art and design when planning military campaigns. The identification of major goals (ends), capabilities (means), methods (ways), and vulnerabilities (risks) is a primary step in creating executable plans that result in successful operations and campaigns. The U.S. military command undertook these steps and managed to focus on strategic goals rather than tactical gains, which resulted in the successful termination of the Korean War in terms of the American objectives.

The American government aimed at maintaining the 38th Parallel status and achieved the emergence of a demilitarized zone. The sovereignty of South Korea was retained and secured by the agreement and the demilitarized zone. It is necessary to add that some unsuccessful operations took place as some risks were not properly analyzed and due to the reliance of an outdated war doctrine. Nevertheless, the major ends were reached, so the American military forces were successful when planning and implementing military operations in the Korean theatre. This experience has been studied, and the gained knowledge has been employed in more recent operations, which enables the USA to address the major challenges of the contemporary international politics.


Clay, J. D. (2015). General MacArthur’s strategic success during the early months of the Korean War. USA: Pickle Partners Publishing.

Forbis, M. D. (2015). General of the Army Omar Nelson Bradley in the Korean War and the Meaning of the Chairmanship. San Francisco, CA: Lucknow Books.

Department of Defense. (2017). Joint planning (JP 5-0). Web.

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Kim, Y. (2019). Why did Stalin not support a quick victory for the Korean people’s army? Stalin’s unspoken global security strategy for the Korean War. The Korean Journal of International Studies, 17(1), 79-102. Web.

Lee, D. P. (2018). The application of operational art to the Korean War. Web.

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"The Korean War: Applying Operational Art and Design Concepts." StudyCorgi, 20 June 2021,

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StudyCorgi. "The Korean War: Applying Operational Art and Design Concepts." June 20, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "The Korean War: Applying Operational Art and Design Concepts." June 20, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The Korean War: Applying Operational Art and Design Concepts'. 20 June.

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