MAY 5, 2018


When the two Korean leaders took historic steps across the Demarcation Line, they did not need the United Nations. Yet when they pursue further steps towards more lasting, practical peace, they will need the U.N. to finalize it. Will the U.N. be prepared for a relevant role and will Secretary-General Guterres be given or allowed a credible role?

It is generally overlooked that U.S. and other foreign troops sent to South Korea were authorized by the United Nations Security Council. Resolutions 82-85, in June and July 1950, prepared grounds for sending troops and created a "unified command" under General Douglas MacArthur, who was authorized to take military action.

Interestingly, the Soviet Union had boycotted meetings to protest the non-recognition of the new regime of the People's Republic of China. That absence, however, allowed the resolutions to pass without a Soviet veto. There was one abstention, from the "Soviet Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." The Soviet delegation learned from that strategic lesson, although too late.

Secretary-General Trygve Lie of Norway was blocked from his post and had to eventually leave it in 1953, replaced by a presumably amiable, neighboring Swede Dag Hammarskjold, who surprised all delegates and inspired the world, as an internationally credible leader.

Whatever intended or unintended consequences of accomplishing the planned, long-awaited top-level meetings, agreement on measures will need a wider, all inclusive framework. Officially ending the confrontation along the Demarcation Line on Parallel 39 will make the initial Resolutions obsolete. New Resolutions will reflect the new world.

More to the point, a potential role for Secretary-General will very much depend not only on his personal standing among the two Koreas, but also with other key members. Secretary-General Guterres had openly taken a position against North Korea a year ago during a Security Council debate chaired by U.S. outgoing Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. That may be one reason why his role had been limited.

Mr. Guterres' attendance at the Olympics in the South -- without visiting the North, like his Under-Secretary for Political Affairs did to visit U.N. offices there -- was indicative of the strained relations. However, the experienced politician, like former Prime Minister of Portugal, will hopefully find a way to offer positive good input. His designation of Special Representative to handle that crucially delicate issue would certainly make a difference.

The representative, whoever he assigns, would at least have to know what is "naengmyeon."