SOAS University of London

Centres and Institutes Office

The Korean War and the East Asian Peace by Professor Charles Armstrong (Columbia University)

Wednesday 7 September 2016, 11.45-13.00
Khalili Lecture Theatre

Charles Armstrong

Following a century of nearly continuous violent conflict, the East Asian region has not experienced major inter-state warfare since 1979. At the same time, the divided Korean peninsula has been in a state of military tension and hostility just short of warfare since 1953. The co-existence of the “East Asian peace” and the Korean conflict may not be as paradoxical as it appears. The frozen conflict on the Korean peninsula has been at the centre of East Asian geopolitics since the early Cold War, in effect serving as a substitute for direct hostilities among China, the US, Russia and Japan. Ultimately however the Korean armistice, and hence the East Asian peace, is a fragile construct based on a military standoff that could easily break out into open warfare. The East Asian peace cannot last without a long-term solution to the “Korean question”: the problem of sovereign authority and external influence on the Korean peninsula that has been central to East Asian history since at least the nineteenth century.

Speaker biography

Charles K. Armstrong is The Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences in the Department of History at Columbia University. He is the former Director of Columbia’s Center for Korean Research and former Acting Director of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute. Professor Armstrong is the author, editor or co-editor of five books, including most recently Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950 – 1992 (Cornell University Press, 2013; winner of the John Fairbank Prize of the American Historical Association) and The Koreas (Routledge: second edition, 2014). His current research projects include a history of modern East Asia (forthcoming from Wiley-Blackwell publishers), a study of American cultural policy in East Asia during the early Cold War, and the interaction between urbanization and the environment in North Korea and Northeast China. Professor Armstrong holds a B.A. in Chinese Studies from Yale University, an M.Sc. in International Relations from the London School of Economics, and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago. He has taught at Princeton, the University of Washington, and Seoul National University, and joined the Columbia faculty in 1996.