740.00119 Control (Korea)/9–947

Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Eastern European Affairs (Stevens)95


United States Policy on Korea

I have pondered at some length the discussion yesterday concerning our policy regarding Korea and am increasingly concerned as to whether what seemed to be a fairly unanimous agreement to abandon the Koreans to their fate may not be a rather short-sighted policy from the standpoint of our long-range interests. Accepting the military opinion that Southern Korea is without strategic value to us, is, in fact, a strategic liability, and the more debatable judgment that there are likewise no political reasons (in the short-term sense) which impel us to remain in Korea, I am nevertheless of the opinion that there are important ideological imponderables which should not be overlooked in reaching a final decision on our Korean policy.

Ever since the zonal occupation of Korea began it has been evident that the Soviet objective has been control of the entire country. There is a reasonable chance of Soviet military withdrawal from Northern Korea if by such action American forces are withdrawn from the south. The Soviets, I am convinced, are not interested in permanent military occupation of Korea but consider control of the country vital to them, and would expect to effect such control after military withdrawal through the various infiltration devices which they have used with such success in the Balkans.

Having achieved control without direct responsibility, they could maintain that the pledge of independence to the Korean people had been fulfilled while still utilizing the country for their own purposes, as they do, for example, in Outer Mongolia.

In the ideological struggle between East and West, between communism and Western political concepts, individual political acts may have an importance far beyond their immediate local consequences. Korea is the one country in the world where Soviet and American forces are in direct contact and share between them the administration of the country. The United States is pledged to establish Korea as an independent nation. Korea consequently is a symbol to the watching world both of the East-West struggle for influence and power and of American sincerity in sponsoring the nationalistic aims of Asiatic peoples. If we allow Korea to go by default and to fall within the [Page 785] Soviet orbit, the world will feel that we have lost another round in our match with the Soviet Union, and our prestige and the hopes of those who place their faith in us will suffer accordingly. In the Far East the reliance of national movements on American support would be seriously shaken, and the consequences might be far-reaching.

It seems to me important that these factors receive serious consideration before a hasty decision is taken to withdraw entirely from Korea.

Francis B. Stevens
  1. Addressed to George F. Kennan, Director, Policy Planning Staff, and John M. Allison, Assistant Chief, Division of Northeast Asian Affairs.