United Nations Korean Relief Agency Is Formed Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

United Nations military involvement in the Korean War began shortly after North Korean forces attacked South Korea in June of 1950. Over time, the U.N. General Assembly resolved to do more than fight. Soon, it created a relief agency to provide emergency aid to the two Koreas and to lay the foundation for rebuilding a democratic, independent nation upon armistice.

Summary of Event

Divided into two countries—North Korea and South Korea—after World War II, the Korean peninsula existed in an uneasy limbo. On September 2, 1945, Japanese forces above the thirty-eighth parallel of the Korean peninsula, where the nations were split, surrendered to troops of the Soviet Union; those below the thirty-eighth parallel surrendered to troops of the United States. The Moscow Agreement between the United States and Soviet Union had included a plan for the unification of the peninsula into one independent state. Two years later, however, the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) remained separate. United Nations Korean Relief Agency United Nations;war relief Korean War (1950-1953);United Nations [kw]United Nations Korean Relief Agency Is Formed (Dec. 1, 1950) [kw]Relief Agency Is Formed, United Nations Korean (Dec. 1, 1950) [kw]Korean Relief Agency Is Formed, United Nations (Dec. 1, 1950) [kw]Agency Is Formed, United Nations Korean Relief (Dec. 1, 1950) United Nations Korean Relief Agency United Nations;war relief Korean War (1950-1953);United Nations [g]Asia;Dec. 1, 1950: United Nations Korean Relief Agency Is Formed[03340] [g]North Korea;Dec. 1, 1950: United Nations Korean Relief Agency Is Formed[03340] [g]South Korea;Dec. 1, 1950: United Nations Korean Relief Agency Is Formed[03340] [c]United Nations;Dec. 1, 1950: United Nations Korean Relief Agency Is Formed[03340] [c]Humanitarianism and philanthropy;Dec. 1, 1950: United Nations Korean Relief Agency Is Formed[03340] [c]Organizations and institutions;Dec. 1, 1950: United Nations Korean Relief Agency Is Formed[03340] [c]Human rights;Dec. 1, 1950: United Nations Korean Relief Agency Is Formed[03340] Chang, John M. Rucker, Sir Arthur MacArthur, Douglas [p]MacArthur, Douglas;Korean War

In November of 1947, with the intention of moving toward unification, the United Nations established the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNCOK). UNCOK was the U.N. organ for encouraging reunification of the two Koreas and facilitating the creation of one government through national elections. Only South Korea acknowledged the intervention. In early 1949, both Korean nations applied for U.N. membership, but North Korea’s membership was not considered by the U.N. assembly.

Meanwhile, tension had been building on the Korean peninsula. When North Korean forces invaded the Republic of Korea on June 25, 1950, few were completely surprised. In resolutions on June 25 and June 27, the U.N. Security Council resolved to establish a Unified Command (UC) to repel North Korean forces in their invasion. The Security Council then asked U.N. member states to provide military forces and other assistance to the UC, which was to be established under the leadership of the U.S. military. The UC got into the fray, with General Douglas MacArthur of the United States commanding.

Thousands of Koreans were killed in the invasion and ensuing battles, with additional destruction of property, infrastructure, and livelihood. The war drove more than one million Korean men, women, and children from their homes. The strength of the attack, combined with the initially weak responses by South Korean and U.N. forces, caused the battlefront to traverse the peninsula. Refugees were contained in impromptu camps, most lacking adequate food, running water, sewage systems, and medical facilities. Malnutrition and illness ensued, causing thousands of deaths in the civilian population, particularly among children and the elderly.

At a meeting of the Security Council on July 31, a joint draft resolution was submitted—by France, Norway, and the United Kingdom—requesting aid for civilians affected by the Korean War. In support of this resolution, John M. Chang, a South Korean physician, reported to the council that more than one million people had been driven from their homes and forced into areas with insufficient shelter, provisions, or medical care. He requested tents, medicine, clothes, and food. He expressed optimism that the free nations of the world would do everything in their power to assist his country in its time of need.

Arne Sunde Sunde, Arne of Norway, then-president of the Security Council, had introduced the draft resolution and immediately averred. He stated that the United Nations was not just concerned with matters of government aggression, but was also concerned with “protecting the liberty and well-being of the Korean people.” Aid was to be administered through the UC, whose presence on the ground qualified them to organize humanitarian efforts. The U.N. Economic and Social Council Economic and Social Council, U.N. (ECOSOC) unanimously adopted relief measures on August 14.

On October 7, several months into the war, the United Nations created the U.N. Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea United Nations Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK), which would consist of representatives from Australia, Chile, the Netherlands, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Turkey. This strategic body would play an advisory role, recommending policies and leadership for future unification.

Several weeks after the formation of UNCURK, another resolution was introduced to the General Assembly. ECOSOC outlined plans for an agency that would provide long-term relief and rehabilitation in Korea. The agency was to relieve the UC of its humanitarian role and to work with the Korean people and government even after hostilities ended. The ESC believed that such a program would ensure strong foundations for a newly unified nation. The United Nations created the U.N. Korean Relief Agency (UNKRA) on December 1, 1950.

UNKRA was responsible to the General Assembly and expected to follow suggestions from UNCURK. The agency was considered a foundation for establishing a successful independent democratic government and for repairing the nation’s economic infrastructure. UNKRA’s first priority was to provide basic food and shelter and to prevent disease. It was also charged with facilitating the creation of future programs for Korean self-reliance in agriculture, medical care, transportation, power, labor infrastructure, and other economic endeavors.

The UNKRA plan called for involvement of member states as well as any nongovernmental and intergovernmental agencies that might provide specialized services and aid. Relief supplies were to be donated through aid organizations or distributed through private channels—when deemed necessary by UNCURK—with any proceeds reserved for further relief efforts. In this way, the agency made efforts to combat inflation while empowering Korean authorities to control rationing and pricing. Intergovernmental agencies included the International Red Cross, the World Health Organization, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Food and Agriculture Organization, U.N. (FAO), the International Refugee Organization (IRO), and the International Labor Organization International Labor Organization (ILO). These agencies brought expertise to aid and relief efforts in the war-torn country. The ILO, for example, provided worker registration services for refugees, and the FAO solicited food donations and arranged for reduced pricing from its member states. It was argued that this division of labor among voluntary organizations kept red tape to a minimum, giving each agency more control and efficiency in fulfilling its specific role.

UNKRA was assigned a $250 million budget for the period between early 1951 and early 1952. The UC continued to administer aid to Korean refugees until military conditions stabilized to a point that would allow UNKRA to safely begin operations without security. In April, 1952, Sir Arthur Rucker, formerly head of the IRO, was appointed deputy agent-general of UNKRA. He set up UNKRA headquarters in Pusan, Korea. Unfortunately, the final armistice of the Korean War, effective on July 27, 1953, and approved by the U.N. General Assembly on August 28, did not bring about a unification of the Korean peninsula.


The Korean War tested the flexibility of the fledgling United Nations and its charter. When diplomatic efforts toward unification failed and North Korea attacked, the United Nations assumed a military role by organizing a Unified Command to repel aggression. As the suffering of the Korean people became widespread, the UC evolved to organize and distribute humanitarian assistance. Simultaneously, UNCURK was created to begin focusing on postwar policy and decisions. Finally, these functions culminated in an active body—developed as UNKRA—to fill both short- and long-term needs. With the immediacy of a strictly aid-based agency, UNKRA organized immediate aid with the plan of shifting the focus to establishing foundations for long-term reconstruction in Korea.

The Korean War marked a beginning for U.N. action, both with the use of military force and the invoking of specialized agencies during a time of aggression. The war tested the efficacy of the U.N. organizational structure, and its power to reach goals outlined in its charter, “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” United Nations Korean Relief Agency United Nations;war relief Korean War (1950-1953);United Nations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bailey, Sydney D., and Sam Daws. The United Nations: A Concise Political Guide. 3d ed. Lanham, Md.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1995. An overview of the United Nations, with chapters on disarmament, peace and security, and the U.N. charter.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Council Makes Plans for Relief Program in Korea.” United Nations Bulletin 9, no. 10 (November 15, 1950): 535-539. Details proposals made to the General Assembly on the structure and hierarchy of UNKRA among U.N. agencies in Korea.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Deputy for Korea Reconstruction.” United Nations Bulletin 9, no 9 (May 1, 1951): 444. Discusses the appointment of Sir Arthur Rucker to head UNKRA.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fullerton, Maryellen. “The International and National Protection of Refugees.” In Guide to International Human Rights Practice, edited by Hurst Hannum. 4th ed. Ardsley, N.Y.: Transnational, 2004. Examines the international community’s role in protecting political and other refugees. Recommended for study of the legal implications of refugee status and human rights.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodrich, Leland M., and Anne P. Simons. United Nations and the Maintenance of International Peace and Security. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1955. A detailed study of the U.N. charter and its first ten years of action in conflict and the threat of conflict.
  • citation-type="booksimple"


    Guide to the U.N. in Korea: A Year of Collective Action. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, 1951. Focuses on U.S. military action and the Unified Command in Korea.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meisler, Stanley. United Nations: The First Fifty Years. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995. An overview of United Nations as an organization, covering its history and principles.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Program and Policies to Rebuild Korea’s Economy.” United Nations Bulletin 9, no. 12 (December 15, 1950): 670-674. Clarifies the goals of each U.N. agency involved in unification projects.

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Categories: History