The Korean War began as a civil war between Korea's communist north and anti-communist south in 1949, but quickly escalated into an international conflict with the United States and United Nations supporting the south and China and Russia supporting the north. The consequences of the war, both positive and negative, are still visible today. Besides its long-lasting effects on the Korean people, the conflict affected relations between the superpowers and the economy of Japan.
Heating Up the Cold War
The Korean War helped prompt a rapid and serious escalation of the Cold War between the United States and communist China and the USSR. The war represented the first direct clash between communist and American forces. The North Koreans received massive military assistance from the USSR and direct support from Chinese troops. According to the BBC, the United States seriously considered a direct attack on China during the Korean War. Although the conflict in Korea never spilled over into a direct confrontation between the U.S. and the USSR and China, it did provoke all three nations to increase military spending and expand their nuclear arsenals.
Devastation of North Korea
Perhaps the most obvious consequence of the Korean War was the near total devastation of North Korea's economic and agricultural infrastructure. The United States dropped more than 250,000 bombs on Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, alone, according to the Public Broadcasting Service. Bombing obliterated much of the country's agricultural lands and most of its transportation system. Due to a combination of constant bombing, emigration, disease and famine, North Korea's population declined by 12 percent from 1949 to 1953. Additionally, an estimated 1.2 million North Koreans -- especially the most educated members of the society -- fled south during the war. This brain drain, coupled with North Korea's international isolation and repressive policies, made the country slow to recover from the war. Even today, North Koreans suffer from frequent food shortages.
Japanese Economic Development
A surprising positive effect of the war was the rapid growth of the Japanese economy. After World War II, Japan faced dire economic conditions. Most of its infrastructure was destroyed and an entire generation of young men never came home. The Korean War, however, gave Japan a source of tremendous economic growth. During the war, the American military used bases on Japanese soil as a logistical staging area. Americans bought Japanese goods in huge quantities, accounting for 60 to 70 percent of all Japanese exports. The massive influx of dollars during the Korean War allowed Japan to more than double its imports in just two years, according to Lehigh University's Masahiro Takada. Consequently, Japan quickly approached economic superpower status and became one of the world's wealthiest countries.
Precedent for Anti-Communist Containment
The war also served as a precedent for American efforts to contain the spread of communism throughout Asia and the world. The goal of U.S. intervention in Korea, according to the State Department, was to prevent the expansion of communist influence. Although the conflict ultimately left half of Korea under communist control, it also proved that American involvement could limit communist expansion. When communist influence appeared to be spreading in Southeast Asia in the the 1960s and Central America in the 1980s, the precedent of the Korean War, sometimes called the Truman Doctrine, justified American intervention.