United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea

After Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to the 38th parallel as the boundary of their respective occupation zones. The occupational of the two major powers led to the political division of Korea (Smith, 2007:1). A Communist-based regime (headed by Kim Il-Sung) was established by the Soviet Union in the north, while the United States supported the installation of a democratic government in the south under the leadership of Syngman Rhee (a leader of the provisional government in exile).

In 1947, the United Nations commissioned the so-called United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea. Its main role was to facilitate nationwide elections in Korea by May 31, 1948 and to constitute a newly-democratically elected government. UNCTOK however became functional only in the south, as elections were held in the south on May 10, 1948. Syngman Rhee was elected as President of the Republic of Korea while in the north, Kim Il-Sung was proclaimed as President of the Democratic People’s of Korea (Smith, 2007:1).

The general mandate of UNTCOK was to establish a national government for Korea along the lines of the principle of self-determination. Specifically, its purposes and rights were as follows: 1) to be present in the nationwide Korean elections along with the right of travel and observation throughout the country, 2) to be a body of consultation in terms of the general elections, formation of a national government and the withdrawal of occupation forces, 3) to report to the United Nations its complete activities in the Korean peninsula, and 4) to make recommendations as to the attainment of independence of Korea.

UNTCOK in general was instituted as a multi-purpose and multi-functional commission. It was charged of the conduct for the formation of a national government for Korea (with rights of the commission stated earlier), and hence it functioned both as peace-keeping and peace observation body. It also functioned as a post-conflict reconstruction body. In the commission’s report in 1950, it recognized the possibility of conflict between the Soviet and US occupied territories (Report of the United Nations Commission on Korea 1950, 1998:URL cited).

The report mentioned about Communist indoctrination in the north and US propaganda in the south; the possibility of ideological conflict was recognized. Hence, UNTCOK prepared a draft resolution to mitigate the possibility of such conflict. The establishment of UNTCOK was a form of recognition of the right of Korea to self-determination, that is, to independence. Hence, the deployment of the commission took place in the context of a peace agreement of the two major powers.

“Peace agreement” here did not connote an earlier conflict between the two powers but rather as a courtesy action of their agreement in Casablanca (reaffirmed in the Potsdam agreement) – where the three major powers, Britain, US, and the USSR agreed to established democratically elected governments in former NAZI and Japanese-occupied territories. It is noteworthy that the commission was established in the period prior to the Korean War, that is, before initiation of conflict.

The problem though with the “grounding” agreements (prior to the establishment of UNTCOK) was that the major powers did not outline the specific provisions as well as the safety nets of the reconstruction operations. In Korea for example (our case), both the USSR and the US refused to concede political aims to Korean nationalists (who longed for the unification of the country prior to UNTCOK). Hence, both the USSR and the US had freehand over the political fate of Korea.

As have been indicating in the previous paragraph, the chances for the successful unification of Korea under the banner of democracy lest under a democratically-elected civilian government was out of place. The USSR was not inclined to support its earlier agreements with Great Britain and the United States. Joseph Stalin, the USSR premier, did not welcome the calls of UNTCOK (when the commission requested that the north should participate in the nationwide elections of the country) because he viewed the establishment of a democratically elected Korean government as a threat to its political aims (this would become a pro-American government).

The United States was also to blame for the difficulties of program operations and its ultimate outcomes. For one, the US was very inclined to pattern the national government of Korea to its own system of government. Such took place in an atmosphere of political malversation of national hopes. The intensity of US propaganda against the Soviet Union in the south (the so-called “evils” of Communism) prompted the latter to withdraw its support for the unification of Korea under a democratically-elected government.