Jacob A. Malik

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Jacob A. Malik

Born February 11, 1906
Kharkow, Ukraine
Died February 11, 1980
Moscow, Russia, USSR

Soviet diplomat

For years, many American historians accepted almost without question that the Soviet Union was the power behind the Korean War (1950–53) from the start. It was believed that North Korea was merely a satellite of the Soviets, a country completely ruled by a larger and more powerful country, and that the North Korean army was in fact carrying out a Soviet plan when it attacked South Korea to begin the war. Indeed, the cold war belief that the Soviets were attempting to take over as much of the planet as possible was not without basis. Soviet premier Joseph Stalin (1879–1953; see entry) and the Soviet military were heavily engaged, mainly in Europe, in creating Soviet satellite nations. By the early 1990s, however, the release of formerly top secret government and military documents in the United States and in Russia convinced a significant number of historians that the Soviet Union's role in the Korean War was not as clear cut as had been thought. Like the United States, the Soviet Union had left behind a military government when it withdrew its troops from Korea in 1948 and it had armed the North Koreans, continuing throughout the war to supply them with weapons. But the prospect of war in Korea seems to have had little appeal for the Soviets. Their involvement in the war was based on a complicated foreign policy in which strained relations with China—an ally in communism—played a large part.

Jacob A. Malik, a top Soviet diplomat, became the permanent Soviet representative to the United Nations in 1948. He was a skilled ambassador, solidly holding his nation's line in highly charged and difficult circumstances in the cold war years while managing to maintain friendly personal relations with diplomats from hostile nations. Malik made a tremendous effort, before and during the Korean War, to win Communist China membership in the United Nations; the new People's Republic of China, under its leader Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung; 1893–1976; see entry), was eager to receive international recognition as a powerful nation. As the Korean War heated up, Malik made it clear that the West needed to communicate with China in order to avoid a wide-scale war. He persistently tried to make arrangements for such discussion at the United Nations (UN), but was voted down by other member nations. Finally, the Chinese intervened in the war and—with the largest military in the world—quickly proved themselves to be a formidable world power. When the Western powers decided to negotiate a truce in the war with China and North Korea, they sought out Malik. Although the gist of his response was that the UN powers should engage in conversation with its real opponents, China and North Korea, rather than the Soviet Union, his conversations with American diplomat George F. Kennan (1904–) and his subsequent UN radio broadcast provided the course for the UN command to begin the truce process.

Early years

Jakob (or Yakov) A. Malik was born and grew up in Kharkov, Ukraine, in 1906. He attended university in Kharkov at the Institute of People's Education with a major in economics. Later, he moved to Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union, where he graduated from the Soviet Institute for Foreign Affairs at the University of Moscow in 1937. (The Soviet Union existed as a unified country from 1922 to 1991. It was the first communist country and was made up of fifteen republics, including Ukraine and Russia. Sometimes Soviets are called simply Russians.)

Malik served as a Soviet diplomat in a variety of positions, becoming the ambassador to Japan in 1942. When Japan surrendered at the end of World War II (1939–45), Malik returned to Moscow, where he worked in the foreign ministry. In December 1945, with the Soviets occupying North Korea and the United States occupying South Korea as part of the peace agreement (Japan had occupied that country for forty years), Malik wrote a report on the five-month long divided occupation of Korea, "On the Question of a Single Government for Korea." He concluded that the Soviet Union should not try to oppose the establishment of a single government in Korea. He believed that the Koreans should establish an independent nation with an elected government and a constitution. He recommended preparing the Korean population for democracy (a government based on election of its leaders) through education and suggested a joint commission of Soviet and U.S. representatives to help to prepare the newly liberated nation for elections.

Ambassador to the United Nations

Malik became the deputy foreign minister of the Soviet Union in 1946. In May 1948, he assumed his position as the permanent Soviet representative to the United Nations. The United Nations had been formed at the end of World War II as a body dedicated to preserving peace and friendly relations among countries. With the cold war taking hold of international politics, his role within the UN became increasing isolated as the West grew suspicious of the Soviets and communism. The cold war was a time of political anxiety and military rivalry—that stopped short of full-scale war—between the United States and the Soviet Union. It began at the end of World War II (when the two countries were allies) until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. The Soviets had a communist government, which worked to eliminate private property. Communism is a system in which, in theory, goods are owned by the community as a whole rather than by specific individuals and are available to all as needed. The United States, on the other hand, has a capitalist economy, in which individuals, rather than the state, own the property and businesses.

In 1949, the Chinese Communists under Mao Zedong forced the American-backed Chinese Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975; see entry) out of mainland China and into exile on the island of Taiwan (formerly Formosa). Mao proclaimed the new People's Republic of China in October. Still, the United Nations continued to recognize the government of Nationalist China. Malik strongly protested the presence of a representative from Chiang's government in the UN. On January 10, 1950, he stormed out of the UN Security Council, beginning a Soviet boycott of the institution that would still be in effect when the war in Korea broke out six months later.

War in Korea

Both North and South Korea wanted to reunify Korea. When North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, the Security Council of the United Nations met immediately to determine what was to be done. After some heated debate, it passed a resolution that condemned North Korean aggression, demanded the withdrawal of North Korean troops from South Korea, and called on member nations to aid South Korea against the invaders. Because of Malik's boycott, the Soviet Union lost its chance to veto the resolution.

Malik had returned to the Security Council by August 4, when he proclaimed to the Security Council that the Korean War was a civil war among the people of a nation and that foreign troops should leave the nation at once. In September 1950, he lodged a complaint that civilian targets, including hospitals and villages, were being bombed in Korea by U.S. forces. The Security Council voted against the complaint. Malik called the vote illegal, bitterly adding that great evils were being done in Korea under the direct orders of General Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964; see entry), commander of the UN forces in Korea.

That same August, Malik became president of the UN Security Council. On August 22, he delivered a warning that, unless something were done, the Korean War would widen into a large-scale war, pointing to the possibility that Communist China would intervene. At that time he pushed relentlessly to gain UN membership for the People's Republic of China. He also attempted to provide a forum in the United Nations for discussion of the Korean War that included representatives from North Korea and China. Things were becoming more intense in China and, on August 25, China accused the United States of firing heavy weapons on its mainland. Malik proposed that the United Nations invite the Chinese to come in and present their case. On September 6, the Security Council voted against Malik's proposal for Communist China's membership in the United Nations. They also declined on providing a forum for Chinese and North Koreans to discuss the war. Malik was frustrated and angry at the losses, but maintained social relations with key Western diplomats.

In January 1951, after several powerful Chinese offensives in Korea had severely smashed the UN forces, the UN General Assembly Truce Commission proposed a plan to urge the People's Republic of China to agree to a truce. The United States was all for the plan. Malik and the Soviet bloc voted against it because it was created without any consultation with China or North Korea.

The Malik-Kennan Conversations

The UN forces recovered their position at the 38th parallel (the original dividing line between North and South Korea) after the Chinese spring offensives of 1951. By that time, MacArthur had been relieved of command for insubordination. MacArthur had been the most staunch advocate of fighting the Korean War with no holds barred. Many, but certainly not all, of the other top military officials believed that the military could be used to support peace negotiations in limited warfare. The United States was in position to negotiate for peace and Dean Acheson (1893–1971), secretary of state under President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; see entries), sought a way to begin the process.

The United States still would not deal with China as a nation, and therefore the State Department started contacting Soviet officials around the world. For several weeks, none of the contacts could help. Then Acheson decided to ask the renowned Soviet expert George Kennan, who was temporarily on leave from the State Department, to contact Malik. Malik agreed to a meeting.

Malik and Kennan met twice in the Soviet compound at Glen Cove in Long Island, New York. At the first meeting on May 31, 1951, Kennan told Malik, although not with any official authority, that he believed a cease-fire could be arranged in Korea with both sides holding their existing battle lines. He asserted that the United States wished to come to an agreement with the Soviet Union in order to carry out this armistice. Malik responded that the United States had a conflict with China, not with the Soviet Union. He urged that Communist China, rather than Taiwan, receive recognition in the United Nations, and that discussions about a cease-fire take place between the United States and China and North Korea. Kennan told Malik that the United States did not trust the Chinese and did not feel it could count on them to keep any promises made during negotiations. Malik told Kennan that his government would like to hear more about the ceasefire proposal, and the meeting ending with little resolved, but another meeting planned.

At the second meeting, on June 5, 1951, Malik was much more clear about the Soviet position, probably having received thorough instructions on what to say. He told Kennan that the Soviet Union wished the Korean War to be resolved as soon as possible. Once again, he said that the United States would have to speak directly with the Chinese and North Koreans about a cease-fire, because the Soviets had nothing to do with it. But the Soviets felt an armistice was possible. For the Americans, this was the first sign their enemies would negotiate.

The radio broadcast

On June 23, 1951, Malik announced the Soviet position again on a taped fifteen-minute broadcast of the UN radio program "The Price of Peace." Although much of the speech focused on the United States's responsibility for the war, he ended by saying that the Soviet Union believed that the Korean conflict should be brought into a cease-fire, adding again that the opposing parties—the United States on one side, and the Chinese and North Koreans on the other—would have to sit down and talk among themselves. After his speech, the American ambassador to the Soviet Union spoke to the Soviet first deputy for foreign affairs, Andrei A. Gromyko (1909–1989), who confirmed that the Soviet Union supported the position expressed by Malik on the radio. Gromyko made it clear that the Americans and the Chinese/North Koreans should agree at first only to a cease-fire and the withdrawal of troops from the 38th parallel; the nonmilitary negotiations could begin after the fighting had stopped.

For a couple of weeks after the radio broadcast, Malik never commented on it to anyone. The United States did send a message to North Korea and China through the UN commander General Matthew B. Ridgway (1895–1993; see entry) on June 30. The beginning of the two-year truce negotiations began on July 10, 1951, in the village of Kaesong, just over the 38th parallel in North Korean control. Sadly, the United States decided that because it did not trust the Chinese to stop fighting, there was to be no cease-fire during the long peace process. Tens of thousands were killed in those years.

Malik remained in his position as permanent representative to the United Nations until October 1952. In his last year in that position, he brought the complaint to the UN that the United States was using biological, or germ, warfare against the Chinese in their own country. The United Nations voted him down once again.

In 1952, Malik became the first deputy foreign minister of the Soviet Union. In 1953, he began a seven-year stint as ambassador to the United Kingdom. He served another eight-year term as permanent representative to the United Nations from 1968 to 1976. He died in Moscow in 1980.

Where to Learn More

Goulden, Joseph C. Korea: The Untold Story of the War. New York: Times Books, 1982.

Matray, James I. Historical Dictionary of the Korean War. New York: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Varhola, Michael J. Fire and Ice: The Korean War, 1950–1953. Mason City, IA: Savas Publishing, 2000.

Web sites

Matray, James I. "Korea's Partition: Soviet-American Pursuit of Reunification, 1945–1948." [Online] http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/korpart.htm (accessed on August 14, 2001).

Weathersby, Kathryn. "Soviet Aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War, 1945–50: New Evidence from Russian Archives." Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. [Online] http://cwihp.si.edu (accessed on August 14, 2001).

Words to Know

biological warfare: the act of spreading disease germs or other living organisms through enemy territory, using the germs as a weapon with which to kill or disable the enemy.

boycott: a refusal to participate in something (purchasing from a store, working, attending an organization) until stated conditions are met.

cold war: the struggle for power, authority, and prestige between the communist Soviet Union and the capitalist Western powers of Europe and the United States from 1945 until 1991.

communism: an economic system that does not include the concept of private property. Instead, the public (usually represented by the government) owns the goods and the means to produce them in common.

diplomat: a professional representative of a nation who helps handle affairs and conduct negotiations between nations.

resolution: the formal statement of an organization's intentions or opinions on an issue, usually reached by vote or general agreement.

satellite: a state or nation that is controlled by a stronger nation.

Soviet bloc: The Soviet Union and all the nations within the Soviet empire during the second half of the twentieth century.

Western nations: the noncommunist nations of Europe and America.

George Kennan and the Cold War Containment Policies

In 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union by recognizing it as a nation, George F. Kennan (1904–), a foreign relations diplomat with a background in Russia, joined the staff at the embassy in Moscow. Soviet premier Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) was reaching his height of power at that time. Kennan knew as much as any outsider could of the purges, executions, terror, and concentration camps in the Soviet Union. He left Moscow in 1937 with a new understanding of—and a deep distrust for the Russians.

Kennan returned to Moscow during World War II in 1944 as an aide to U.S. ambassador W. Averell Harriman (1891–1986). He witnessed the Soviets' harsh treatment of Poland, the wartime repression in the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the ease with which the Soviets acquired control of much of Eastern Europe and the eastern sector of Germany following the postwar conferences. Kennan despaired at U.S. willingness to allow Stalin so much leeway simply because he had been a U.S. ally during the war. Realizing that the Soviets were playing by a different set of rules than the Americans, he urged U.S. officials to treat the Soviets with far more suspicion and caution. No one paid much attention to him.

In February 1946, the Soviets refused to participate in the new World Bank and International Monetary Fund, taking U.S. policy-makers by surprise. Kennan, in charge of affairs in Moscow in the absence of the ambassador there, could answer the stream of questions that arose. He sat down to write what would become known as the "Long Telegram," an eight-thousand-word report on the Soviet threat.

The Soviets, Kennan argued, simply dismissed the idea that international agreements must be respected or treated as law. Stalin and his negotiators would certainly seek to turn all negotiation and treaties to their advantage: they were unlikely even to consider conforming to a previous agreement if it conflicted with their interests. U.S. diplomacy, Kennan concluded, must adjust itself to two compelling realities: first, America would have to assume a "Great Power" role, an active position in international politics. The Western world, Kennan believed, depended upon America's overcoming its isolationist tradition, its tendency not to get involved in conflicts elsewhere in the world. Second, the Soviet Union had learned from the European experience only to be more cynical (disbelieving) and duplicitous (deceitful) than its opponents. Such a state of affairs, Kennan emphasized, would

require a complete revision of U.S. diplomacy. Kennan did not believe that the Soviet Union would instigate another great war in pursuit of world domination. What was needed was a United States plan to contain communism. This could be done, advised Kennan, by strongly upholding American positions and by supporting noncommunist countries wherever help was needed.

Americans were ready to hear Kennan's message when the Long Telegram arrived. The U.S. government reacted by providing huge sums of economic aid to European countries that were in danger of communist overthrow, through the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Fears inspired by Kennan's telegram as well as the later National Security Memorandum No. 68 (NSC 68), which recommended massive military buildup to counter the threat of Soviet worldwide expansion, loomed when, on June 25, 1950, the North Koreans invaded South Korea. What might have passed as an isolated civil war was quickly regarded as Soviet expansionism and an immediate threat to the West.

Kennan believed that the United States overreacted to his message. What had begun as a caution to the United States to better understand its rival and potential enemy was quickly developed into a rigid and very expensive foreign policy. As a political realist, Kennan believed that as circumstances change, policies should change with them. But at that point his concept of containment of Soviet expansion had taken hold so firmly it would rule U.S. foreign policy for decades to come.

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