The Korean War of 1950-53 is sometimes referred to as the Forgotten War, particularly by US veterans of the conflict. Nearly 37,000 Americans died in Korea, but the later military and social trauma of Vietnam has tended to overshadow the struggle there.

But while the war was fought to what many Americans - steeped as they were in the moral certainty of World War II's total victory - saw as an unsatisfactory stalemate, it had three enduring outcomes.

One of those may be the fact that we're all still here. To many serious historians, the fighting of an horrific infantry war in a country the size of Utah convinced the USA and its Cold War enemies China and the USSR that further direct conflict was futile.

Another is immediately evident to any visitor to modern-day South Korea. The prosperous, confident, democratic country is a fitting memorial to the US and allied soldiers - not to mention South Koreans - who suffered for its freedom.

US Army in Korea
 © Rex Features
Why don't you stay a while?

Third, US influence in Asia today rests in perhaps equal measure on its defeat of Japan in 1945 and its subsequent perseverance in Korea.

Before the Korean War broke out, US forces were of course established in Japan, but further notions of an Asian defence perimeter were vague at best. Korea was not deemed significant, and while the USA expected Mao's Communist forces to attack their Nationalist opponents' last stronghold of Formosa, aka Taiwan, it was not prepared to defend the island.

Today, the USA has about 29,000 personnel in South Korea and is committed to deterring any move on Taiwan by the People's Republic of China.

One ramification of this posture has been highlighted by recent tension between North and South Korea. The combat air power of South Korea is virtually a US defence industry monopoly, and while South Korea may not like to be overreliant on US weapons, the situation is unlikely to change.

As one industry source familiar with South Korea says: "I've never seen things this bad. Probably South Korea's defence ties with the USA will get even stronger."

Another industry insider says: "South Korea sees US aircraft and other systems as essential to interoperability. It simply doesn't make sense for South Korea to go elsewhere for major purchases."

If war breaks out again in Korea, a multinational force may well pile in to help the South - but as in 1950, American steel will make the real difference.

Source: Flight International