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KEI Spotlight

[Op-ed] UN Sending States: The Forgotten Parties in the Korean War

August 10, 2023

This article was published on The Diplomat on August 7, 2013.

On the July 27 anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement, there were numerous tributes to the ultimate sacrifice so many paid during the Korean War. It was the latest milestone in a year-long campaign to mark the 70th anniversary of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, part of a broader effort to shore up an alliance that has faced numerous challenges in recent years amid an uncertain international environment and former President Donald Trump’s “America First” movement within the United States.

However, before the armistice was ever signed or Washington agreed to enter a mutual defense treaty with Seoul, U.S. officials hoped the collective forces and voices of their fellow United Nations Sending States – the states that fought under the U.S.-led U.N. Command (UNC) during the Korean War – would uphold deterrence on the Korean Peninsula in the future. This little-known aspect of armistice history has increased salience today in a context of worsening China-U.S. relations, advancing North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities, and the need for multilateral partners in upholding an increasingly unstable international order.

Although U.N. Sending States decreased their commitments to the UNC during much of the Cold War, their increasing involvement in recent years indicates growing multilateral support for enhancing security on and around the peninsula. Nowadays, deterrence on the Korean Peninsula is seen almost entirely through a nuclear lens, resulting in increasing nuclear threats and tensions. Finding ways to enhance deterrence through broader multilateral partnerships may offer a less destabilizing method to, if not achieve a formal peace, then at least avoid another conflagration.

UNC Establishment and the “Greater Sanctions Statement”

On July 7, 1950, following two previous resolutions recognizing North Korean aggression against South Korea and recommending U.N. members provide assistance to repel the attack and restore peace on the peninsula, U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 84 authorized the United States to establish a unified command made up of U.N. member states and authorized the command to fly the U.N. flag. It was the world’s first attempt at collective security under the U.N. system.

Aside from South Korea, which as host nation provided the largest number of military forces, the United States deployed the lion’s share of forces among the 16 U.N. Sending States. The other sending states included: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Five additional states –  Denmark, India, Italy, Norway, and West Germany – provided medical or humanitarian assistance to South Korea.

As the conflict stalemated and armistice negotiations began, officials in the Truman administration tried to leverage the U.N. Sending States’ commitment to guarantee South Korea’s future security. Although South Korean President Syngman Rhee pushed hard for a bilateral security treaty, U.S. policymakers believed it was not in the United States’ national interest to negotiate one at that time. Instead, they offered U.S. assistance to bolster South Korean defense capabilities and believed the “Greater Sanctions Statement,” which was approved by the 16 Sending States and was to be released alongside the signing of the armistice, would be sufficient to guarantee Seoul’s security.

The most operative portion of the statement read: “We affirm, in the interests of world peace, that if there is a renewal of the armed attack, challenging again the principles of the United Nations, we should again be united and prompt to resist. The consequences of such a breach of the armistice would be so grave that, in all probability, it would not be possible to confine hostilities within the frontiers of Korea.”

Seoul was first informed of the statement in February 1952. Yet armistice negotiations bogged down for over a year due, among other issues, to intense disagreements about the repatriation of prisoners of war following the war and Stalin’s truculent influence over the negotiating process.

To read the full article on The Diplomat, please click here.