The relationship between public opinion and foreign policy decision making has become an increasingly studied object of research in the field of foreign policy analysis Foyle 1997 This is not altogether surprising given the aim of foreign policy analysis i e an investigation into decision making the individual decision makers the processes and conditions that affect foreign policy Alden Aran 2017 as well as the increasing importance of public opinion in the elaboration of public policy in liberal democracies Risse Kappan 1991 Yet although numerous quantitative and case studies have sought to better assess public opinion influence on foreign policy the current state of research still reveals a complex and multifaceted linkage issue that is often insensitive to scientific endeavors of generalization Boyle 1971 This signifies that although there may be dominant and stable features characterizing the link between foreign policy and public opinion there remains scientific disagreement over the question of how or rather through what mechanism does public opinion best affect foreign policy making Tomz Weeks Yarhi Milo 2017 For this reason the following essay intends to contribute to a better understanding of the complex influence of public opinion on foreign policy decision making by examining Truman's decision to assist Korea in June 1950 This case study is particularly interesting because it is one in which public opinion input and support in the decision making process were constrained Indeed as the first part of this essay will examine the legal framework domestic and international context as well as elite normative and practical beliefs over foreign policy created a framework in which public opinion input and support were structurally limited
However as the second part of this essay will demonstrate these restrictions had the unexpected and disastrous consequence of creating a political vacuum that was filled by increasingly hostile opposition to Truman's leadership in foreign policy matters Casey 2005 As a result public opinion was able to sanction President Truman's leadership in foreign policy matters Finally in a third part this essay will examine how public opinion pressures fostered an examination albeit limited of the President's conduct of foreign policy President Harry S Truman s decision to wage war in Korea on the 25th of June 1950 can be seen as a swift executive decision taken without any decisive input from public opinion whether it be from Congress mass public opinion the elite interest groups or the news media Powlick 1995 As stated by John Hickerson Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs There was unanimity of opinion from mass public opinion and Congress but the President took action He was the only one who could do it and he unhesitatingly did it Miller 1974 Nonetheless a fundamental question arises given the fact that the US constitution grants Congress de jure power to declare war article 1 Section 8 Clause 11 of the US Constitution how can we explain President Truman did not seek any form of Congressional approval First it is important to bear in mind the fact that the US military action in Korea was a police action under the jurisdiction of the United Nations rather than a war waged solely by the United States Indeed by adamantly stressing that the US was not at war with Korea Miller 1974 Truman purposely framed his decision as a legal act of military assistance approved by and under the auspices of the fledgling international community
Truman was therefore within his constitutional rights to respond to the UN Security s call for assistance in Korea without Congressional approval In addition given the UN s unanimous approval of US action and that the Senate had ratified the UN Charter there was no obvious need for additional legitimization of US operations in the Korean conflict McCoy 1984 Consequently there were objective reasons i e legal rules relating to the conduct of war for constraining public opinion influence in the decision to wage war in Korea However although such legal arguments were frequently used by Truman when addressing the situation in Korea there were equally essential strategic interests which created de facto limits to public opinion influence in the Korea decision Although the Truman administration had never thought to consider Korea as a geopolitical danger point McCoy 1984 it became rapidly clear that the conflict in Korea was a strategic turning point in the US conduct of foreign policy during the Cold War On one hand the conflict in Korea posed significant challenges as it was a crucial test Jenkins 1986 for the effectiveness of the UN the US policy of economic containment and the US overall leadership in the Cold War context Lacey 1991 If Truman was unable to contain the Korean conflict economically and or militarily there was a risk that the Cold War would escalate thereby jeopardizing the balance of power in the Far East and the US subsequent position in the global balance of power Erikson Luttbeg 1973 On the other hand the Korean conflict equally provided strategic opportunities that could reap considerable benefits for the US and Truman's presidency A successful limited war in Korea would not only restore the status quo in Korea and avoid any widening of the conflict in the Far East but equally strengthen the US leadership in combating Communist aggression across the globe McCoy 1984
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