United Nations Command

United Nations Command (UNC or UN Command)[1] is the multinational military force that supported the Republic of Korea (South Korea) during and after the Korean War. It was the first international unified command in history, and the first attempt at collective security pursuant to the Charter of the United Nations.[1]

United Nations Command
United Nations Command logo.svg
Active7 July 1950 – present
CountryUnited Nations
AllegianceUnited Nations
EngagementsKorean War 1950–1953
Korean Conflict 1950–Present
GEN Robert B. Abrams
Deputy Commander VADM Stuart Mayer
Senior Enlisted Leader CSM Walter A. Tagalicud
GA Douglas MacArthur
GEN Matthew Ridgway
Headquarters of the United Nations Command and ROK-US Combined Forces Command in 2009.

UNC was established on 7 July 1950 following the UN's recognition of North Korean aggression against South Korea. UN member states were called to provide assistance in repelling the North's invasion, with UNC providing a cohesive command structure under which the disparate forces would operate.[2] During the course of the war, 22 nations contributed military or medical personnel to UN Command;[1] although the United States led the UNC and provided the bulk of its troops and funding, all participants formally fought under the auspices of the UN,[3] with the operation classified as a "UN-led police action".[4]

On 27 July 1953, United Nations Command, the Korean People's Army, and the Chinese People's Volunteers signed the Korean Armistice Agreement, ending open hostilities. The agreement established the Military Armistice Commission (MAC), consisting of representatives of the signatories, to supervise the implementation of the armistice terms, and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), composed of nations that did not participate in the conflict, to monitor the armistice's restrictions on the parties' reinforcing or rearming themselves.[Note 1][5]

Since 1953, UNC's primary duties have been to maintain the armistice and facilitate diplomacy between North and South Korea.[6] Although "MAC" meetings have not occurred since 1994, UN Command representatives routinely engage members of the Korean People's Army in formal and informal meetings. The most recent formal negotiations on the terms of Armistice occurred between October and November 2018. Duty officers from both sides of the Joint Security Area (commonly known as the Truce Village of Panmunjom) conduct daily communications checks and have the ability to engage face-to-face when the situation demands.[7]

Origin and legal statusEdit

United Nations Command operates under the mandates of UN Security Council Resolutions 82, 83, and 84. While the UN had some military authority through Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, Cold War tensions meant that the forces envisaged in those articles had never become reality. Thus the UN had little practical ability to raise a military force in response to the North Korean invasion of the South. Consequently, the UN Security Council designated the United States as the executive agent for leading a "unified command" under the UN flag. As such, the United Nations exercised no control over the combat forces. However, as this represented one of the first attempts at collective security under the UN system, UN leadership maintained a close relationship with UN Command during the war and for years after hostilities ceased.

When the warring parties signed the Korean Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953, the UNC delivered the Agreement to the United Nations. In August 1953, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution “noting with approval” the Armistice Agreement, a step that was critical for the UN to take the next step of organizing the 1954 Geneva Conference meant to negotiate a diplomatic peace between North and South Korea. The adoption of the Korean Armistice Agreement in the General Assembly underwrites UN Command's current role of maintaining and enforcing the Armistice Agreement.

The role of the United States as the executive agent for the unified command has led to questions over its continued validity. Most notably, 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.[8]

The UN's official position is that the Korean War-era Security Council and General Assembly resolutions remain in force. This was evidenced in 2013 when North Korea announced unilateral abrogation of the Armistice Agreement: UN spokesman Martin Nesirky asserted that since the Armistice Agreement had been adopted by the General Assembly, no single party could dissolve it unilaterally. The UNC continues to serve as the signatory and party of the Armistice opposite the Korean People's Army.

Establishment in 1950Edit

After troops of North Korea invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 82 calling on North Korea to cease hostilities and withdraw to the 38th parallel.[9]

Two days later, the UNSC 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".[10]

The first non-Korean and non-U.S. unit to see combat was the No. 77 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force, which began escort, patrol and ground attack sorties from Iwakuni, Japan on 2 July 1950. On 29 June 1950, New Zealand made preparations to dispatch two Loch class frigates,Tutira and Pukaki, to Korean waters;[11] on 3 July, the ships left Devonport Naval Base, Auckland and joined other Commonwealth forces at Sasebo, Japan on 2 August. For the duration of the war, at least two NZ vessels would be on station in the theater.

Resolution 84, adopted on 7 July 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".[12]

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) on 15 July 1950:

In view of the common military effort of the United Nations on behalf of the Republic of Korea, in which all military forces, land, sea and air, of all the United Nations fighting in or near Korea have been placed under your operational command, and in which you have been designated Supreme Commander United Nations Forces, I am happy to assign to you command authority over all land, sea, and air forces of the Republic of Korea during the period of the continuation of the present state of hostilities, such command to be exercised either by you personally or by such military commander or commanders to whom you may delegate the exercise of this authority within Korea or in adjacent seas.[13]

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

Units from other countries of the UN followed: the Belgian United Nations Command, the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade, the Colombian Battalion,[14] the Ethiopian Kagnew Battalion, the French Battalion, the Greek 15th Infantry Regiment, New Zealand's 16th Field Regiment and Royal New Zealand Artillery, the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea, the South African No. 2 Squadron SAAF, the Turkish Brigade, and forces from Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Additionally, Denmark, India, Iran, Norway and Sweden provided medical units; Italy provided a hospital, even though it was not a UN member.

By 1 September 1950, less than two months before the formation of United Nations Command, these combined forces numbered 180,000, of which 92,000 were South Koreans, with most of the remainder being comprised of Americans followed by the 1,600-man British 27th Infantry Brigade.


No. Commander Term Service branch
Portrait Name Took office Left office Term length
1MacArthur, DouglasGeneral
Douglas MacArthur
7 July 195011 April 1951278 days 
U.S. Army
2Ridgway, MatthewGeneral
Matthew Ridgway
11 April 195112 May 19521 year, 31 days 
U.S. Army
3Clark, MarkGeneral
Mark W. Clark
12 May 19527 October 19531 year, 148 days 
U.S. Army
4Hull, JohnGeneral
John E. Hull
7 October 19531 April 19551 year, 176 days 
U.S. Army
5Taylor, MaxwellGeneral
Maxwell D. Taylor
1 April 19555 June 195565 days 
U.S. Army
6Lemnitzer, LymanGeneral
Lyman Lemnitzer
5 June 19551 July 19572 years, 26 days 
U.S. Army
7Decker, GeorgeGeneral
George Decker
1 July 195730 June 19591 year, 364 days 
U.S. Army
8Magruder, Carter B.General
Carter B. Magruder
1 July 195930 June 19611 year, 364 days 
U.S. Army
9Meloy, Guy S.General
Guy S. Meloy
1 July 196131 July 19632 years, 30 days 
U.S. Army
10Howze, Hamilton H.General
Hamilton H. Howze
1 August 196315 June 19651 year, 318 days 
U.S. Army
11Beach, Dwight E.General
Dwight E. Beach
16 June 196531 August 19661 year, 76 days 
U.S. Army
12Bonesteel, Charles H. IIIGeneral
Charles H. Bonesteel III
1 September 196630 September 19693 years, 29 days 
U.S. Army
13Michaelis, John H.General
John H. Michaelis
1 October 196931 August 19722 years, 335 days 
U.S. Army
14Bennett, Donald V.General
Donald V. Bennett
1 September 197231 July 1973333 days 
U.S. Army
15Stilwell, Richard G.General
Richard G. Stilwell
1 August 19738 October 19763 years, 68 days 
U.S. Army
16Vessey, John W. Jr.General
John W. Vessey Jr.
8 October 197610 July 19792 years, 275 days 
U.S. Army
17Wickham, John A. Jr.General
John A. Wickham Jr.
(born 1928)
10 July 19794 June 19822 years, 329 days 
U.S. Army
18Sennewald, Robert W.General
Robert W. Sennewald
(born 1929)
4 June 19821 June 19841 year, 363 days 
U.S. Army
19Livsey, William J.General
William J. Livsey
1 June 198425 June 19873 years, 24 days 
U.S. Army
20Menetrey, Louis C. Jr.General
Louis C. Menetrey Jr.
25 June 198726 June 19903 years, 1 day 
U.S. Army
21RisCassi, Robert W.General
Robert W. RisCassi
(born 1936)
26 June 199015 June 19932 years, 354 days 
U.S. Army
22Luck, Gary E.General
Gary E. Luck
(born 1937)
15 June 19939 July 19963 years, 24 days 
U.S. Army
23Tilelli, John H. Jr.General
John H. Tilelli Jr.
(born 1941)
9 July 19969 December 19993 years, 153 days 
U.S. Army
24Schwartz, Thomas A.General
Thomas A. Schwartz
(born 1945)
9 December 19991 May 20022 years, 143 days 
U.S. Army
25LaPorte, Leon J.General
Leon J. LaPorte
(born 1946)
1 May 20023 February 20063 years, 278 days 
U.S. Army
26Bell, B.B.General
B.B. Bell
(born 1947)
3 February 20063 June 20082 years, 121 days 
U.S. Army
27Sharp, Walter L.General
Walter L. Sharp
(born 1952)
3 June 200814 July 20113 years, 41 days 
U.S. Army
28Thurman, James D.General
James D. Thurman
(born 1953)
14 July 201112 October 20132 years, 80 days 
U.S. Army
29Scaparrotti, Curtis M.General
Curtis M. Scaparrotti
(born 1956)
2 October 201330 April 20162 years, 211 days 
U.S. Army
30Brooks, Vincent K.General
Vincent K. Brooks
(born 1958)
30 April 20168 November 20182 years, 192 days 
U.S. Army
31Abrams, Robert B.General
Robert B. Abrams
(born 1960)
8 November 2018Incumbent2 years, 68 days 
U.S. Army

Deputy CommanderEdit

Deputy Commander Term Service branch
Portrait Name Took office Left office Term length
Lieutenant General
Stephen G. Wood
6 November 200624 November 20082 years, 18 days 
U.S. Air Force
Lieutenant General
Jeffrey A. Remington
24 November 20086 January 20123 years, 43 days 
U.S. Air Force
Lieutenant General
Jan-Marc Jouas
6 January 201219 December 20142 years, 347 days 
U.S. Air Force
O'Shaughnessy, TerrenceLieutenant general
Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy
(born 1962)
19 December 20148 July 20161 year, 202 days 
U.S. Air Force
Bergeson, ThomasLieutenant general
Thomas W. Bergeson
(born 1962)
8 July 201630 July 20182 years, 22 days 
U.S. Air Force
Eyre, WayneLieutenant-general
Wayne Eyre
(born 1968)
30 July 201826 July 2019361 days 
Canadian Army
Mayer, StuartVice admiral
Stuart Mayer
(born 1964)
26 July 2019Incumbent1 year, 173 days
Royal Australian Navy

Contributing forces: 1950–1953Edit

During the three years of the Korean War, the following nations were members of the UNC.[15] On 27 July 1953, the day the Armistice Agreement was signed, UNC reached a peak strength of 932,964:

During the course of the war, UNC was led by Douglas MacArthur, Matthew B. Ridgway, and Mark Wayne Clark. After the armistice was signed, John E. Hull was named UNC commander to carry out the ceasefire (including the voluntary repatriation of prisoners of war).[17]

Post Korean War (1953-present)Edit

Following the signing of the Armistice Agreement, UNC remained in Korea to fulfill the functions of providing security and stability on the Peninsula, as well as supporting UN efforts to rebuild the war-torn Republic of Korea. Much of the fifties was marked by continuous negotiations in Military Armistice Commission meetings while the international community worked to bolster South Korea's economy and infrastructure. During this period, North Korea maintained economic and military superiority over its southern neighbor owing to Chinese and Soviet support.

The sixties proved a tenuous decade on the Korean Peninsula, punctuated by a period of hostilities often referred to as the "Second Korean War." The period between 1966 and 1969 saw a heightened level of skirmishes in the DMZ as well as major incidents including North Korea's attempted assassination of South Korean leader Park Chung-hee and seizure of the USS Pueblo.

The seventies saw a brief period of rapprochement that later contributed to structural changes to UNC. In 1972, the North and South Korean governments signed a Joint Communique calling for more peaceful ties between the two Koreas. Concurrently, consecutive U.S. administrations (Nixon, Ford, and Carter) sought to decrease the South Korean reliance upon U.S. forces for maintaining deterrent capabilities on the Korean Peninsula. On 7 November 1978 a combined 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 that of South Korea.

From 1978, UNC maintained its primary functions of maintaining and enforcing the Korean Armistice Agreement, facilitating diplomacy that could support a lasting peace on the Peninsula, and providing a command that could facilitate multinational contributions should the armistice fail. UNC decreased in size, and over time, many of the billets assigned to UNC became multi-hatted with U.S. Forces Korea and Combined Forces Command.

The 1990s again saw notable change in UNC. In October 1991, UNC transferred responsibility of all DMZ sectors except for the Joint Security Area to the ROK military. In 1992, UNC appointed a South Korean General officer to serve as the Senior Member to the Military Armistice Commission. This led to the Korean People's Army and Chinese People's Volunteers boycotting MAC meetings. The collapse of the Soviet Union also led North Korea to question the alignment of their choices for the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission. They no longer recognized Czech or Slovak representatives when Czechoslovakia when the nation split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and North Korea expelled the Polish delegation in 1994. Also in 1994, North Korea dismissed the Chinese People's Volunteers from the Panmunjom mission, owing in part to their protest over China's warming ties with South Korea.

Since 1998, UNC has seen a gradual increase of permanent international staff within the command. In between 1998 and 2003, several of the original contributors to the Korean War began deploying personnel to Korea to support UNC's armistice maintenance functions. This internationalization has continued over the next decades. In May 2018,[18] Canadian Lt. General Wayne Eyre became the first non-American to serve as deputy commander of the UNC.[18][19][20][21] Succeeding him was Australian Vice Admiral Stuart Mayer, continuing the trend of non-American leadership in UNC.


United Nations Command-Rear is located at Yokota Air Base, Japan and is commanded by a Royal Australian Air Force group captain with a deputy commander from the Canadian Forces. Its task is to maintain the SOFA that permits the UNC to retain a logistics rear and staging link on Japanese soil.[22]

Future of the Joint Security AreaEdit

To further the September 2018 inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement, UN Command, Republic of Korea Armed Forces, and North Korean People's Army officials met in a series of negotiations to deliberate the demilitarization of the Joint Security Area. The first two meetings in October led to Demining activities within the JSA, de-arming of personnel, and sealing off of Guard Posts. On November 6, 2018, UNC conducted a third round of negotiations with the South Korean military and North Korean People's Army on "Rules of Interaction" which would underwrite a Joint Security Area where both sides of the Military Demarcation Line—the de facto border—would be open to personnel. For undisclosed reasons, the North Korean side refused to meet to finalize these rules and the next step for realizing a demilitarized Joint Security Area.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The North Korean-Chinese MAC was replaced by the "Panmunjom Mission" under exclusive North Korean administration.


  1. ^ a b c "United Nations Command > History > 1950–1953: Korean War (Active Conflict)". www.unc.mil. Retrieved 2020-11-05.
  2. ^ "United Nations Command > History > 1950–1953: Korean War (Active Conflict)". www.unc.mil. Retrieved 2020-11-05.
  3. ^ "United Nations Command > Resources > FAQs". www.unc.mil. Retrieved 2020-11-06.
  4. ^ "The United Nations in Korea | Harry S. Truman". www.trumanlibrary.gov. Retrieved 2020-11-06.
  5. ^ State Department message to DPRK URL retrieved November 29, 2006
  6. ^ "Let the UN Command Remain a Tool for Korean Peace". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2020-11-06.
  7. ^ Joint Security Area / Panmunjom URL retrieved April 9, 2006
  8. ^ Pak Chol Gu (7 May 1997). "Replacement of the Korean Armistice Agreement: Prerequisite to a lasting peace in the Korean Peninsula". Nautilus Institute. Retrieved 2 May 2013. UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali noted in his letter to the Foreign Minister of the DPRK, dated 24 June 1994: I do not believe, though, that any principal organ of the United Nations, including the Secretary General, can be the proper instance to decide on the continued existence or the dissolution of the United Nations Command. However, allow me to recall that the Security Council, in operative paragraph 3 of resolution 84 (1950) of 7 July 1950, limited itself to recommending that all members providing military forces and other assistance to the Republic of Korea 'make such forces and other assistance available to a unified command under the United States of America'. It follows, accordingly, 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. ^ "United Nations Security Council Resolution 82" (PDF). 25 June 1950. Retrieved 2016-03-04.
  10. ^ "United Nations Security Council Resolution 83" (PDF). 27 June 1950. Retrieved 2016-03-04.
  11. ^ Korean ScholarshipsNavy Today, Defence Public Relations Unit, Issue 133, 8 June, Page 14-15
  12. ^ "United Nations Security Council Resolution 84" (PDF). 7 July 1950. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 2016-03-04.
  13. ^ Kyung Y. Chung (1989). Analysis of ROK-US Military Command Relationship from the Korean War to the Present (PDF) (master thesis). Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: United States Army Command and General Staff College. p. 7. ISBN 978-1249403975. OCLC 939481483. citing James P Finley (1983). The US military experience in Korea, 1871-1982 : in the vanguard of ROK-US relations. San Francisco: Command Historian's Office, Secretary Joint Staff, Hqs., USFK/EUSA. p. 59. OCLC 10467350.
  14. ^ Coleman, Bradley Lynn (October 2005). "The Colombian Army in Korea, 1950–1954" (PDF). The Journal of Military History. Project Muse (Society for Military History). 69 (4): 1137–1177. doi:10.1353/jmh.2005.0215. ISSN 0899-3718.
  15. ^ United Nations Command Archived March 12, 2013, at the Wayback Machine retrieved June 27, 2011
  16. ^ Personnel from the Italian Red Cross Military Corps (Corpo Militare della Croce Rossa Italiana) and the Italian Red Cross Volunteer Nurses Corps (Corpo delle Infermiere Volontarie della Croce Rossa Italiana).
  17. ^ Paul M. Edwards (10 June 2010). Historical Dictionary of the Korean War. Scarecrow Press. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-8108-7461-9.
  18. ^ a b "UN Command names Canadian to key post in South Korea for the first time". The Globe and Mail. 13 May 2018. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  19. ^ Pinkerton, Charlie (2018-11-05). "Canadians at centre of 'potentially historic turning point' in Korea – iPolitics". Ipolitics.ca. Retrieved 2019-07-18.
  20. ^ "Deputy Commander UNC > United States Forces Korea > Article View". Usfk.mil. 2015-05-01. Retrieved 2019-07-18.
  21. ^ "Can United Nations Command become catalyst for change in the Korean peninsula?". National Interest. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  22. ^ "Fact Sheet" (PDF). December 22, 2015. Retrieved March 27, 2018.

Further readingEdit

  • Grey, Jeffrey. The Commonwealth Armies and the Korean War: An Alliance Study. Manchester University Press, 1990.