The US government in cooperation with the Canadian government invited the foreign ministers of nations that sent troops or other forms of aid to fight on one side of the Korean War to a meeting in Vancouver, Canada on Tuesday January 16, 2018. To this meeting the US and Canada have added a few countries that were not part of the Korean War fighting like Japan, Sweden and India.
The hosts of the meeting, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Rex Tillerson, United States Secretary of State have purposely excluded the DPRK, China and Russia from the meeting.
The military action in the Korean War (1950-1953) was stopped only by an Armistice Agreement. It is now over 60 years later and there is still no Peace Treaty ending the war.
The purpose of the meeting in Vancouver has been presented as getting agreement among those present on issues like enforcing the sanctions against the DPRK, coming to a common agreement on the interdiction of ships going to the DPRK, etc. (1)
Among the media, however, there are commentators who have questioned what the deeper purpose of the meeting is.
One particular article proposes that the underlying purpose of the meeting is to make clear to the DPRK that it is not just the US and its allies that are backing these demands, but all the countries that supplied troops to the fight against the North. This would then undermine the DPRK demand that it negotiate a peace treaty only with the US.
I want to agree it is important to determine the actual underlying purpose for the Vancouver January 16, 2018 meeting.
A serious problem exists in the effort to determine what is needed to negotiate a peace treaty which will provide an actual political agreement to end the Korean War. Therefore an accurate and insightful understanding is needed of the problem. Though the commentator provided a recognition that there is a problem, he hasn’t accurately identified what the problem is.
The problem I propose is that the UNSC in its resolution of July 7, 1950 directed that the UN member states that sent troops to fight in Korea put those troops under a Unified Command. That Unified Command was to be the United States of America.(2)
The Security Council resolution asked only that the US provide reports “as appropriate on the course of action taken under the Unified Command.”
The UN Secretary General at the time, Trygve Lie, and some Security Council members at the time, namely UK, France, and Norway wanted more. They “were in favor of creating a structure to provide for a United Nations role in Korean operations.”(3)
The US was opposed to such supervision of its operations and successfully opposed the effort. The result, as one account of the period explains, was that, “From the start of the Korean conflict the United States exercised both political control and strategic direction over the operation.”(4) Though the Security Council authorized the US intervention in the Korean War, the Security Council failed to fulfill its obligation under the UN Charter to act as the political authority for military actions taken under the authority of the UN Security Council. (4) Implicit in Chapter 7 of the UN Charter is that it is the Security Council that can exercise force, not that it can cede its authority to others.
The problem is actually the failure of the Security Council to take political responsibility for the decisions it made in waging the Korean War. To allow the US to continue to insist the Security Council cede its authority to the US as it is doing by trying to reconstitute what has been called the UN Command will only cause more years of trouble rather than lead to a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
1) Lee Berthiaume, Vancouver meeting on North Korea to consider ways to control smuggling, ipolitics, January 11, 2018.
2) See Ronda Hauben, United Nations Command As Camouflage: On the Role of the UN in the Unending Korean War, blogs.taz.netizenblog,
August 31, 2013.
3) James W. Houck, “The Command and Control of United Nations Forces in the Era of ‘Peace Enforcement’,” Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law, vol 4, No 1, 1993. Referred to in “United Nations Command As Camouflage”
4)“None of the resolutions (referring to the June and July SC resolutions-ed),” writes Houck, “provided for Security Council control over the ensuing operation despite the fact that it would be conducted under Security Council authorization.”, p.12.
See Articles 42, 44, 46 and 48 of the UN Charter. These articles authorize the Security Council to use force. There is no article in Chapter 7 of the UN Charter which authorizes the Security Council to cede political decision making to a member state to carry out a Chapter 7 action.