Why was the Korean War more of a U.S. war than an United Nations war?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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To the extent that the Korean War could be considered more of a U.S. conflict than a United Nations one was a product of multiple factors.  The first such factor was the nature of the conflict itself:  the invasion of South Korea by North Korea, ruled by a communist dictatorship beholden to the Soviet Union and its dictator, Joseph Stalin.  As World War II came to an end and the Cold War emerged, the United States, under President Harry Truman, set about buttressing U.S. allies against the perceived threat from communist insurgencies and the armed forces of the Soviet Union.  What became known as “the Truman Doctrine” was enunciated by the president in a speech before a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, in which Truman established the U.S. policy of containment of communist aggression.  As the president stated,

“I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”

While the immediate objective behind that speech was the need to support Greece against communist insurgents, the ramifications of Truman’s declaration would expand to encapsulate communist threats around the world. 

The second factor that contributed to the “Americanization” of the Korean War was the simple fact that the U.S. was alone among all western countries in its capability to respond to the North Korean invasion.  The U.S. emerged from World War II one of the world’s two major military powers, the other being the Soviet Union.  No other country among the nascent democracies of the West was in any condition to confront the North Korean forces that swept south of the 38th Parallel and quickly captured the capital of Seoul.  Second, the United Nations was a brand new organization completely lacking in the ability to enforce its edicts.  To suggest that the U.N. was an extension of the U.S. during that precise period of time would not be much of an exaggeration given the importance of U.S. funding to support the U.N. and the military capacity of the U.S. to enforce U.N. resolutions. 

Which brings us to the issue of the U.N.’s sanction of the U.S.-led defense of South Korea.  Immediately after the North’s invasion, the U.S. led the U.N. Security Council in passing binding resolutions condemning the invasion and authorizing a military response.  The first of those resolutions, U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 82, passed on June 25, 1950, called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities,” and called upon “all Member States to render every assistance to the United Nations in the execution of this resolution . . .”

UNSCR 82 was followed on July 7 by passage of UNSCR 84, which stated that the U.N.:

“Recommends that all Members providing military forces and other assistance pursuant to the aforesaid Security Council resolutions make such forces and other assistance available to a unified command under the United States of America;

Requests the United States to designate the commander of such forces;

Authorizes the unified command at its discretion to use the United Nations flag in the course of operations against North Korean forces concurrently with the flags of the various nations participating;”

In short, the U.S. came to “own” the Korean War because there was no one else capable of combating Soviet and Communist Chinese-backed North Korean forces, and because it was U.S. policy to confront communist aggression.

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alexb2 | eNotes Employee

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Here are some bullet points that can help you formulate an answer to this question:

  • The United Nations Security Council Approved a resolution authorizing military intervention in Korea, but only because the Soviet Union boycotted the vote.

  • The United States supplied 88% of the troops in the Korean War. Source.

  • The United States was the primary force at the U.N. pushing for a Security Council resolution to authorize force. Source

  •  93% of all air power and 86% of all naval power for the Korean War had come from America. Source.

  • The other countries who fought in the war under the UN Command were: Great Britain, Canada, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Colombia, Ethiopia, South Africa, New Zealand, Turkey, Greece, Thailand, Philippines and Luxembourg sent fighting units. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, India, Italy contributed military hospitals and field ambulances to the cause. Source

  • The uploaded photo shows the UN Flag, which flew during the war. Source
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