WASHINGTON - A truce stopped the fighting in Korea that once threatened to spread into a world war whose outcome might have been decided by nuclear weapons. Sixty years later, the costs of the Korean War continue to mount even amid relative peace.
Hostility lingers between the North and South and between the North and the United States, which still has no formal diplomatic relations with the communist nation in spite of the war's end on July 27, 1953. That ongoing antagonism is rooted in the U.S. commitment to take a leading role in assisting the South should war break out again on the Korean Peninsula.
Washington has tried for years to wean its ally off its dependence on the U.S. military by setting a target date for switching from American to Korean control of the forces that would defend the country in the event North Korea again attacked the South. That target date has slipped from 2012 to 2015 and, just this past week, American officials said the Koreans are informally expressing interest in pushing it back still further.
Another powerful legacy from the 1950-53 conflict is more personal for Americans: the seemingly endless challenge of accounting for thousands of U.S. servicemen still listed as missing in action. The Pentagon says there are about 7,900 MIAs, of which approximately half are thought to be recoverable.
What began as a Cold War contest, with the former Soviet Union and China siding with the North and the U.S. and United Nations allies supporting the South, remains one of the world's most dangerous flash points.
President Obama marked the armistice's 60th anniversary with a speech Saturday at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
"Today we can say with confidence that war was no tie. Korea was a victory," he said.
The U.S. has kept combat forces on the Korean Peninsula since the fighting halted with the signing of an armistice, or truce, and it still has 28,500 troops based in the South. Few advocate even a partial American troop withdrawal, but some U.S. military officers believe their permanence on the peninsula, with a singular focus on North Korea, is anachronistic and should have been overhauled years ago.