Skip to main content

Historical documents

166 Shaw to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram 76, TOKYO, 24 February 1949, 4.10 p.m.


Following are some conclusions reached as a result of my work with the United Nations Commission on Korea in Seoul from 5th February to 23rd February, 1949. Fuller documentation follows.

1. As a result of the elections in South Korea in May, 1948 and the endorsement of the Government of Korea by the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 12th December, 1948, the division between North and South Korea has hardened and the problem of unity is much more difficult than last year.

2. The Korean Government's only conception of unity is the subjugation of the North and the appointment of members from there to the National Assembly in Seoul. President Rhee would like to embark on this venture as soon as he is convinced that the balance of military power is in his favour and that there would be no foreign intervention. He is being discouraged from such a course by the Americans but political and economic insecurity in the South may be a factor favouring it.

3. President Rhee regards the purpose of the United Nations Commission as a prop in the interest of both the rights of the people of South Korea and in his struggle against the North. On the plea that South Korea is threatened by a Communist revolt President Rhee has asked that the Commission should not cause unrest by having any dealings with destructive elements, i.e. any of the political opponents. In his view the Commission should mobilize opinion among the democratic members of the United Nations in favour of his Government and thus force the U.S.S.R. not to intervene on the part of the North in the event of civil war.

4. Accordingly the Korean Government has discouraged the Commission from attempting what might be effective approaches to the North. It is resolutely opposed to the Commission's dealing with any Koreans other than representatives of the Government. Far from encouraging any breakdown of investigations[1] with the North the Korean Government is resolved to impose restrictions on economical intercourse.

5. North Korea radio continues to criticize the Commission violently and there is only a slight chance that some change in the policy of the U.S.S.R. in the Far East might make contact possible. In regard to Governmental institutions it is probable that North Korea is at least as totalitarian as the South or more so.

6. If there is such a thing as the view of the ordinary Korean it would be participation in favour of immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops and settlement by the Koreans of their own problems one way or other. Because of the agreement between the Government of the Republic and the United States regarding the training of the Korean Army the Commission has postponed the consideration of the troop withdrawal problem.

7. American interests in Korea are political rather than strategic. From a military point of view, South Korea is valueless either to the United States or to a potential enemy. The training of army and economic aid are part of the world programme to bolster anti-Communist regimes and the Americans in Seoul stress the importance of the Commission's presence there as a 'stabilising' influence. In their view the problem of Korean unity can probably be solved only as part of the overall east-west agreement.

8. In view of the above, it is unlikely that the United Nations Commission will accomplish much, if anything, in the tasks of breaking down the barrier between the North and the South, assisting in the development of the Government and ultimately bringing about the independence and unity of Korea.

9. The next few weeks may delay the outcome of the approach through the U.S.S.R. and other channels such as Hong Kong for contact with the North and reaction of Korean Government to the Commission's determination to interview non-officials. Jamieson will return to Tokyo at the end of March to report and to re-establish domicile.

10. If stated purposes of the General Assembly resolution are frustrated it may have to be determined whether the Commission should remain in Seoul or whether it should file a report and leave. There are political factors such as the support for the anti-Communist regime in South Korea and for the American policy which must be weighed against probable absence of positive achievement.

[1] Possibly a word in the sense of 'barriers' was meant.

[AA : A1838, 852/20/4, V]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top