United Nations Command

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The United Nations Command (UNC) is the unified command structure for the multinational military forces supporting the Republic of Korea (South Korea or ROK) during and after the Korean War. After troops of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea or DPRK) invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 82 calling on North Korea to cease hostilities and withdraw to the 38th parallel.[1]

On June 27, 1950, it adopted Resolution 83, recommending that members of the United Nations provide assistance to the Republic of Korea "to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security to the area".[2] Security Council Resolution 84, adopted on July 7, 1950, recommended that members providing military forces and other assistance to South Korea "make such forces and other assistance available to a unified command under the United States of America".[3]

President Syngman Rhee of the Republic of Korea assigned operational command of ROK ground, sea, and air forces to General MacArthur as Commander-in-Chief UN Command (CINCUNC) in a letter (the 'Pusan Letter') of July 15, 1950.[4]

July 24, 1950

Then, on 24 July, General MacArthur established a formal United Nations Command with headquarters in Tokyo.

On August 29, 1950, the British Commonwealth's 27th Infantry Brigade arrived at Busan to join the UNC, which until then included only ROK and U.S. forces. The 27th Brigade moved into the Naktong River line west of Daegu.

Troop units from other countries of the UN followed in rapid succession; Australia, Belgian United Nations Command, Canada, Colombia,[5] Ethiopia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa (No. 2 Squadron SAAF), Thailand, and the Turkish Brigade. Denmark, India, Norway, and Sweden provided medical units. Italy provided a hospital, even though it was not a UN member.

On 1 September 1950 the United Nations Command had a strength of 180,000 in Korea: 92,000 were South Koreans, the balance being Americans and the 1,600-man British 27th Infantry Brigade.

The United Nations Command and the Chinese-North Korean Command signed the Korean Armistice Agreement on 27 July 1953, ending the heavy fighting. The armistice agreement established the Military Armistice Commission (MAC), consisting of representatives of the two signatories, to supervise the implementation of the armistice terms, and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) to monitor the armistice's restrictions on the parties' reinforcing or rearming themselves. The North Korean-Chinese MAC has been replaced by Panmumjon Representatives under exclusive North Korean management.[6] Regular meetings have been stopped, although duty officers of Joint Security Area, commonly known as the Truce Village of Panmunjom, from each side meet regularly.[7]


Australia 2,282
Belgium 900
Canada 6,146
Colombia 1,068
Denmark (the hospital ship MS Jutlandia) 600
Ethiopia 1,271
France 1,119
Greece 1,263
Italy (Ospedale da Campo n 68)
Luxembourg 44
Netherlands 819
New Zealand 1,385
Norway (NORMASH)
Philippines 7,468
South Africa 826
South Korea 590,911
Thailand 6,326
Turkey 5,453
United Kingdom 14,198
United States 302,483

Legal status

Although the resolutions suggested the forces under the UNC were "United Nations forces", and United Nations itself could be considered a belligerent in the war, in practice the United Nations exercised no control over the combat forces, which were controlled by the United States. Most observers concluded that the forces under the UNC were not in law United Nations troops, and the acts of the UNC were not the acts of the United Nations. The UNC can be regarded as an alliance of national armies, operating under the collective right of self-defense. United Nations Security Council Resolution 84 authorized the use of the United Nations flag concurrently with the flags of the participating UNC nations.[8]

In 1994, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali wrote in a letter to the North Korean Foreign Minister that "the Security Council did not establish the unified command as a subsidiary organ under its control, but merely recommended the creation of such a command, specifying that it be under the authority of the United States. Therefore the dissolution of the unified command does not fall within the responsibility of any United Nations organ but is a matter within the competence of the Government of the United States." [9]


During the three years of the Korean War, military forces of these nations were allied as members of the UNC.[10] Peak strength for the UNC was 932,964 on July 27, 1953, the day the Armistice Agreement was signed:

The commanders of the UNC were: Douglas MacArthur, Matthew B. Ridgway, James Van Fleet, and Mark Wayne Clark.

1953 onwards

In early July 1950, amid the confusion of the first days of the war, Sŏul placed its armed forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur as United Nations (UN) commander.[11] This arrangement continued after the armistice. For some twenty-five years, the United Nations Command headquarters, which had no South Korean officers in it, was responsible for the defense of South Korea, with operational control over a majority of the units in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces, the South Korean military. The command was the primary peacetime planning organization for allied response to a North Korean invasion of South Korea and the principal wartime command organization for all South Korean and United States forces involved in defending South Korea.

On November 7, 1978 a binational headquarters, the Republic of Korea United States Combined Forces Command (CFC), was created, and the South Korean military units with front-line missions were transferred from the UN Command to the CFC's operational control. The commander in chief of the CFC, a United States military officer, answered ultimately to the national command authorities of the United States and the Republic of Korea.

In 1994, all South Korean forces were returned to the operational control of the South Korean government. South Korean forces were severed from CFC during the continued Armistice period and the CFC Commander was no longer ultimately responsible for the fighting readiness of South Korean forces. South Korea, as a sovereign nation, assumed this responsibility.

Under the law, the Commander of United States Forces Korea, is dual-hatted as Commander of the ROK-U.S. CFC. The Deputy Commander is a four-star general from the ROK Army, who is also dual-hatted as the ground forces component commander.

The CFC has operational control over more than 600,000 active-duty military personnel of all services, of both countries. In wartime, augmentation could include some 3.5 million South Korean reservists as well as additional U.S. forces deployed from outside South Korea. If North Korea were to invade South Korea, the CFC would provide a coordinated defense through its Air, Ground, Naval and Combined Marine Forces Component Commands and the Combined Unconventional Warfare Task Force. In-country and augmentation U.S. forces would be provided to the CFC for employment by the respective combat component. The transfer of wartime control of the defense of South Korea to the South Korean government has been delayed many times with another reconsideration of the current December 2015 target date scheduled for early 2014.[12]

United Nations Command Rear is located at Yokota Air Base, Japan, under a Royal Australian Air Force group captain. Its task is to maintain the SOFA that permits the UNC to retain a logistics rear and staging link on Japanese soil.[13]



On 24 July 1950 General MacArthur issued orders establishing the United Nations Command (UNC) with general headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. With few exceptions, staff members of the Far East Command were assigned comparable duties on the UNC staff. In effect, the GHQ, United Nations Command, was the GHQ, Far East Command, with an expanded mission. [06-10]

[06-10] (1) GO 1, UNC, 24 Jul. 50. (2) The United Nations, at no time in the Korean War, sought to interfere in the control of operations which were the responsibility of the United States. General MacArthur later testified to this when he told a Senate investigating committee,

 ". . . my connection with the United Nations was largely nominal . . . everything I did came from our own Chiefs of Staff. . . . The controls over me were exactly the same as though the forces under me were all Americans. All of my communications were to the American high command here."

 See MacArthur Hearings, p. 10.

On 24 July General MacArthur formally established the United Nations Command (UNC) and assumed the duties of Commander-in- Chief, United Nations Command (CINCUNC).#4

Establishment of the United Nations Command gave recognition to the fact that nations other than the United States were fighting to repel aggression in Korea. As a working organization, however, the United Nations Command lacked significance. General MacArthur merely assumed another title, becoming CINCUNC as well as CINCFE, and General Headquarters, Far East Command, was additionally designated General Headquarters, United Nations Command, the whole establishment being neatly abbreviated as GHQ UNC/ fec. The CINCUNC did not report directly to the United Nations but to the President of the United States, through the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. MacArthur's instructions were issued by the Joint Chiefs, in coordination with the Department of State and subject to the approval of the President.*

United Nations troops or other military units were attached for operational control to appropriate United States military organizations in Korea. These arrangements were reasonable when viewed against the fact that the United States furnished a preponderant share of the military effort, but they had their drawbacks. Many members of the United Nations, observing that Washington was directing the military operations, were content to allow the United States to carry the burden of providing the forces needed by the United Nations causes.#5


Before the Korean war was many months old the United States began to know some of the many problems inherent in its role as the executive agent of the United Nations. During the first several months of hostilities the only official guidance given by the United Nations to operations in Korea was the Security Council resolution of 27 June, which recommended that member nations "furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the invasion and restore international peace and security within the area." Whether this resolution authorized United Nations forces to enter and liberate North Korea was uncertain.

On 30 June 1950 the U.S. Department of State, noting that United Nations political and military objectives were distinct and separate, advised General MacArthur to make it clear that American military effort in Korea was intended solely to restore the ROK to its territorial status as of 25 June 1950.#6

Again on 14 July, after press reports had quoted Syngman Rhee as voicing a firm determination that ROK troops would not stop at the 38th parallel when they returned northward, the State Department warned Ambassador Muccio that

"all statements on this delicate question should be avoided." #7    

During the summer of 1950 this indecision as to the military objective made little matter to the ground strategy, for friendly ground troops were retreating south-ward. But the indecision greatly complicated the task of air planners, who desired to balance the destruction of hostile industrial targets against some foreknowledge as to whether such plants would be rebuilt during a friendly occupation of North Korea.#8  

As the United Nations' executive agent, the United States bore the responsibility for providing CINCUNC with the policy statements that he required to conduct military operations in Korea. But the United States government was not free to devise the military policies which would be followed in Korea. Such policies had to be acceptable to the other United Nations' members who actively supported the cause. From the beginning of the Korean hostilities, the United States and the other members of the United Nations who extended support to the Republic of Korea held to the basic policy that the local Korean war must not be allowed to spread beyond the confines of Korea.

 "The whole effort of our policy is to prevent [general] war and not have it occur," stated Secretary Acheson. "Our allies," he added, "believe this just as much as we believe it, and their immediate danger is much greater than ours because if general war broke out they would be in a most exposed and dangerous position.#9
"Our view," wrote Great Britain's Prime Minister Clement R. Attlee, "had always been that the Far Eastern war should be confined to Korea and that it would be a great mistake to have large forces committed to a major campaign in Asia.#10    

 The policy of limiting hostilities to Korea was productive of many politico-military restrictions upon military operations within Korea, restrictions which Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall said were the result of

"an intermingling...of political necessities along with military directions. Secretary Marshall explained that these restrictions were necessary not only for the security of the United States but "to avoid a break with our allies and a complete confusion in our relations to the United Nations.#11

  Most of these restrictions dealt with the employment of UNC airpower. At the National Security Council meeting on 29 June Secretary Acheson was willing that American air operations should extend into North Korea but he requested that precautions be taken to ensure that air operations did not go beyond the boundaries of Korea. Thus on 30 June General MacArthur enjoined Stratemeyer to take "special insure that your operations in Northern Korea stay well clear of the frontiers of Manchuria and the Soviet Union.#12  

*Although they normally issued the directives to the Commander of the United Nations Command/Far East Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not necessarily originate the directives, nor did the directives necessarily represent the attitudes or actions of the Joint Chiefs. (Memo for Chief Air University Historical Liaison Office from Mr. Wilbur W. Hoare, Jr., historian, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, subj: Comments on Manuscript:

"The United States Air Force in Korea," 17 Nov. 1959.) The National Security Council had been legally established in 1947 to serve as an advisory body to the President for the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security of the United States. Through the medium of the National Security Council and of intimate State-Defense consultations, the departments of State and Defense developed progressively closer cooperation and coordination as the Korean war continued.

(See William R. Kintner, Joseph I. Coffey, and Raymond J. Albright, Forging a New Sword, A Study of the Department of Defense ( New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), pp. 24-93.)


Notes Chapter 2

1. Lie, In the Cause of Peace, pp. 333-34.
2. U.S. Dept. of State, Action in Korea under
Unified Command, 25 July 1950, p. 7; Truman,
Years of trial and Hope, p. 347; Lie, In the
Cause of Peace, pp. 333-34.
3. Msg. JCS-85370 to CINCFE, 10 July 1950;
Truman, Years of trial and Hope, p. 347.
4. Msg. CSGPO-85743 to CINCFE, 12 July
1950; G.O. No. 1, United Nations Comd. [UNC],
24 July 1950.
5. Lie, In the Cause of Peace, p. 334.
6. Circular, U.S. Dept. of State to Supreme
Commander Allied Powers, Japan, 30 June 1950.
7. Msg. No. 16, U.S. Secy. of State to Muccio,
14 July 1950.
8. Msg. VC-0210, CG FEAF to CofS USAF, 23
Aug. 1950.
9. 82nd Cong. 1st Sess., Military Situation in the
Far East, p. 1764.
10. C. R. Attlee, As It Happened (New York:
The Viking Press, 1954), p. 280.
11. 82nd Cong. 1st Sess., Military Situation in
the Far East, p. 360.
12. Truman, Years of trial and Hope, p. 341;
msg. AX-1790, CG FEAF to CG's FAF and
Twentieth AF, 30 June 1950.