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137 Department of External Affairs to Australian Delegation, United Nations

Cablegram 99, CANBERRA, 18 February 1948, 12.10 p.m.


Following basic considerations should govern attitude of Australian representative:-

(1) The Korean Commission operates by virtue of a resolution of the General Assembly. While the Commission may 'consult with the Interim Committee with respect to the application of this resolution', the committee has no power to vary in any way the terms of the resolution, or even to make recommendations to the commission. The term 'consult', however, implies that it would be quite within the competence of the Committee to make suggestions as to the manner in which the commission can best try to implement the Assembly resolution in the light of developments.

(2) The purposes of the elections mentioned in the resolution are -
(a) the attainment of the freedom and independence of the Korean people; and
(b) the election of a National Government.

It is clear, in our view, that neither of these objectives can be accomplished by the holding of elections in South Korea alone. Indeed, such elections under the aegis of the United Nations would be contrary to the intentions of the Assembly. Any such proposal should therefore be opposed. Moreover, our view that the Assembly resolution does not authorise the holding of elections to a National Assembly in one area alone is strengthened by the feeling that such action would be abortive in itself, and further aggravate and perpetuate the division between North and South.

(3) It is apparent that it will be impossible to hold satisfactory elections throughout Korea before 31st March, 1948 deadline, and that action by the Commission to form a National Government cannot therefore proceed. It is our view, however, that the Commission, after reporting this fact to the United Nations, has the further function of reporting to the General Assembly 'on the application of the resolution in the light of developments', and that it should therefore remain in existence until the next session of the General Assembly, continuing its stay in Korea for as long as it considers necessary. At that stage it will be open to the Commission to suggest an alternative solution to the problem.

(4) It is not outside the powers of the Interim Committee to express the opinion that, in the circumstances reported to it by the Commission, it feels that a further effort might be made by the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. to give effect to that part of the Moscow Declaration[1] relating to the independence of Korea. Whilst it is apparent that recent developments, such as the reported setting up in North Korea of a People's Republic which hopes to absorb South Korea, make a solution along these lines most improbable, the expression of such an opinion will serve to reflect the realistic view that the problem will not be solved if agreement between these two powers is not reached.

(5) Such agreement appears to be impossible, on the assumption that the report of the proposed establishment of a Government for North Korea is correct. This development might be used as an argument by some State members for proceeding with elections for a Government of South Korea under the supervision of the Commission. For the reasons advanced in paragraph (2), this appears undesirable. Moreover, such a Government could only be main[tain]ed, in the light of a probable threat from North Korea, by continued American military and economic aid and, in the last resort, by the full support of the United Nations, even to the extent of military assistance. It is doubtful whether such United Nations assistance could or would be forthcoming.

From the widest strategical and political aspect, the United States might decide unilaterally to establish a Government in South Korea and to maintain her armed forces there indefinitely for such purposes. Such a decision would be solely for the United States to make. Moreover, the commission could not be used to supervise any elections to this end in South Korea, at any rate without a new decision on the part of the General Assembly.

It may be advanced that the Commission itself should withdraw from Korea. If the Commission remains in Korea, the greatest of care must be exercised to avoid its becoming identified in any way with any elections or other political changes made by the United States authorities.

A final point is the suggestion that a Special Assembly might be convened to deal with this question. Such a suggestion should be resisted strongly, as the Slav Group would probably refuse to attend, and, even if they did not, the result would be an impasse, bringing further discredit on the United Nations in handling this problem.

This all reinforces the view initially expressed by the Minister that this question was one for the peace settlement and, secondly, for direct negotiation between U.S.S.R. and U.S. rather than one for the United Nations, unequipped for such a task.

(6) This will indicate the general view of the Government to this problem, but it should not be necessary for you to express them in Committee at this early date. In the light of information as to the course of debate, we will give more detailed instructions. We would also appreciate any information you may obtain on conditions and developments in Northern Korea.

[1] An agreement made in Moscow on 27 December 1945 by the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union, United States and United Kingdom that a joint Soviet-United States Commission should meet and consult with democratic Korean parties and social organisations regarding the setting up of a provisional Korean democratic government.

[AA : A1838, 3123/4/6]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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