The UN and the Korean War

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Following Japanese defeat in World War Two, the United States, China and the United Kingdom adopted a joint resolution stating that Korea – formerly part of the Japanese empire- would become an independent country. However the United States only occupied the southernmost portion of the peninsula, while the northern part of the country had previously been liberated by the soviet army. For this reason it was decided that Korea would be split into two portions: North Korea and South Korea, divided along the 38th parallel.

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This border was hastily and clumsily drawn and both Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee, leaders of North and South Korea respectively, viewed it as temporary, making conflict virtually inevitable. On June 25th, 1950 the Korean war officially started when 75,000 soldiers from North Korea attacked the south, and within three days, had overtaken Pyongyang. This movement was also the first military action taken in the cold war.

The Republic of Korea in the south was ill equipped and had far too few soldiers to fight the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the North, so the UN intervened, supplying the south with troops and supplies. The Korean War was of particular interest to the UN because it was the first major global conflict after the end of World War Two. The war erupted only five years after the UN’s inception, and was an opportunity for the UN to prove their credibility and power ,or lack thereof, on a global scale.Because the UN did not recognize communist governments, the Soviet Union was absent when the council took a vote on weather or not to become involved in the Korean war, as the Soviet Union was protesting the UN’s refusal to recognize The People’s republic of China as the official government of China. This absence meant the UN had enough votes in support of aiding South Korea. Sixteen UN member nations sent fighting units, and five sent military hospitals and ambulances. Support from the UN made it possible for the otherwise undermanned and underfunded Republic of Korea to become a formidable opponent to the north for over three years of fighting and five million casualties. In 1953 a negotiation for an armistice between the two nations began. The specifics of the armistice were debated for two years before they were finally settled upon on July 27th 1953. A new border was drawn up between the two nations near the 38th parallel and created a two mile wide demilitarization zone that is still in use, resulting in two nations that are still at war today.

The Domino theory of communism was a popular belief in the US at the time of the Korean war, and citizens of the United States saw south Korea as a bulwark against the spread of communism southwards into Asia. It was this belief that prompted the US government to take action against the People’s Republic of Korea. President Truman sent U.S. troops and weapons to Cover and Support South Korea months before the UN officially sanctioned the aid of troops and weapons from nation members to the south. While the official stated function of the UN in the Korean war was to to stimulate and coordinate offers of assistance in reality, its actual function was to to promote continuing United Nations participation in and supervision of the military security action in Korea of a more intimate and undistracted character than the Security Council could be expected to provide. according to UN secretary general Trygve Lie. The United States was not in favor of a global supervisory committee overseeing the war, and because the United States was a powerful political entity, the US government had the power to effectively reject such a committee, leaving the US in charge of both the political and strategic matters of the war. The major role of the United States in the UN’s decision making was corroborated upon the creation of a US coalition that included troops from the UK, Canada, Turkey and other member states which was dispatched to bolster the South Korean defence.

The Soviet Union opposed the United State’s views on the Korean war and provided aid to the North Korean Government. The People’s Republic of China was not officially recognized by the UN, but they also provided North Korea with vital troops and weapons, that kept the north afloat while battling the south. The French, Australian, and British were all also major players in the UN at this time, however their views were more or less aligned with those of the United States at this time.In the short term, the UN provided troops and weapons that helped bring the Korean war to a stalemate. In the Long term, the Korean war helped define what the role of the UN in future conflicts would be. The war established the credibility of the UN as a major global organization, however it brought into question the Legitimacy of the UN taking on the role of a military command center. The effects of this can still be seen today, as the UN primarily functions as a peacekeeping body rather than a military unit, and most armies will only let their troops follow the orders of a general from their own country. The Korean War also highlighted some of the UN’s inherent flaws. The United States sent troops into South Korea before the UN resolution was approved, showing how easily the UN can become a rubber-stamp-like entity that lacks any real power or credibility. The Korean war also utilized some of the UN’s best attributes, such as using the UN as a venue to declare global grievances and hypothesize potential solutions.

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