The Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Kennan) to the Secretary of State

top secret

Dear Mr. Secretary: Because time may be short between my return and your departure for Bogotá,1 and because I have a Sunday to spare here in Manila, I am taking the liberty of setting forth in this letter some thoughts I have had in the course of this trip about our over-all problem in the western Pacific area.2 Details of this presentation might be changed by further conferences I am scheduled to have here in Manila—but hardly the general picture.

i. the situation today

Our most immediate and important problem in the western Pacific area is strategic.

Today, as far as I can learn, we are operating without any over-all strategic concept for the entire western Pacific area.

The situation in the various component areas seems to be as follows:


In Japan, the terms of surrender have been substantially enforced. We are remaining in Japan principally because we have no international mandate to leave. Meanwhile we are occupying ourselves there, with

combatting disease and unrest;
guiding the Japanese through an elaborate reform program which it will take years to complete and the effects of which on Japanese society are now incalculable;
running the Japanese economy and trying to bring about recovery—against formidable odds, some of which are of our own making; and
building up and operating the top-heavy logistical structure (including housing and care of the dependent population) required, under our present procedures, to perform the above functions and to maintain in Japan a combat force of almost negligible proportions.

None of these activities has any particular relationship to our long-term strategic problems. We have formulated no definite objectives with respect to the military security of Japan in the post-treaty period. [Page 532] Our present establishment could neither conduct ground operations in Japan on any considerable scale nor could it be rapidly withdrawn in an emergency. The problem of its future has not, as far as I can learn, been integrated with the base development in the Marianas and elsewhere, or with the problem of the Ryukyus.


The presence of our forces in Korea is pursuant to an international mandate which has proved unrealistic and is soon to be swept away by the march of events in that area.

The forthcoming elections in Korea may create in short order a situation which will not only compel us to get out but may also require us to use force to protect our withdrawal. At the present time, our combat strength in Korea, as in Japan, is minimal in comparison with its own logistical structure, and our forces are encumbered with a large body of dependents, whose care and protection absorbs much of their attention.

The Ryukyus.

Our forces find themselves in the Ryukyus by virtue of conquest and of a curious international hiatus concerning the future of those islands. Our people everywhere are agreed that Okinawa has great strategic importance, and that we have a serious responsibility to the natives of the islands, whose lives were terribly shattered by the war and who look to us with peculiar confidence and attachment to protect and help them in the future.

Because of the uncertainty, however, concerning the future of the islands, we have been able neither to develop the islands adequately as a U.S. base nor to enter on any serious program of rehabilitation of the civilian economy and social structure. (The communists are beginning to exploit this fact in order to influence local opinion against us.) Our authorities find themselves frustrated at every turn by the complete uncertainty surrounding the political future. Meanwhile neither our presence on the islands nor our plans for the future seem to rest on any firm concept of strategic objectives for the area as a whole.

The Philippines.5

In the Philippines, we are following a line of conduct which seems to give us the worst of all possible worlds. We maintain bases just large enough to cause anxiety to the Filipinos, who think they would again serve as lightning-rods to attract military operations to the area in [Page 533] time of war, but not strong enough to give them a real sense of security from renewed invasion. We have a military assistance agreement; but it is being only half-heartedly implemented; and the Filipinos are disgusted and discouraged with its operation.

As far as I can learn we have not made up our minds whether the islands constitute for us

territory which, by virtue of our past commitments, we are morally obligated to defend from invasion as we would our own; or
territory which is important as the location for advance or staging bases useful to U.S. security but which is otherwise of no great military interest to us; or
territory which is of little or no strategic importance to us and where our interests do not warrant the maintenance of base facilities, but where we see ourselves committed by past political engagements and moral considerations to maintain some show of military power.

If any decisions have been taken on these choices, they seem not to be known to the people on the spot.

ii. limitations on our future effort

In charting a unified strategic concept for the area, we must try to see ourselves realistically and to take account of some of our own congenital limitations in overseas operations in peace time.

To my mind, the most important of these limitations are:

The unstable nature of any U.S. policies requiring recurring grants of money from the Congress for purposes which are not firmly anchored in American public opinion;
The lack of any civilian agency at home properly set up to conduct overseas administration, and the general reluctance of competent American civilians to serve the Government patiently and modestly in remote areas in time of peace; and
The inordinate logistical burden now borne by U.S. force overseas, particularly in areas where dependents are permitted, with the consequent disproportion between combat units and others.

These considerations lead me to feel that extensive garrisoning and civil affairs commitments should be kept to a minimum.

iii. a suggested strategic-political concept

(I apologize for being so bold, as a civilian, to offer suggestions on matters which are largely military; but it is essential that some overall pattern including military as well as the political factors be evolved. The suggestions stem from the best advice I could get from a number of competent officers of the armed forces. I put them forward only tentatively, as something to be shot at by the experts when the proper time comes.)

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In my opinion the most desirable political-strategic concept for the western Pacific area would be as follows:

While we would endeavor to influence events on the mainland of Asia in ways favorable to our security, we would not regard any mainland areas as vital to us.6 Korea would accordingly be evacuated as soon as possible.
Okinawa would be made the center of our offensive striking power in the western Pacific area. It would constitute the central and most advanced point of a U-shaped U.S. security zone embracing the Aleutians, the Ryukyus, the former Japanese mandated islands, and of course Guam. We would then rely on Okinawa-based air power, plus our advance naval power, to prevent the assembling and launching any amphibious force from any mainland port in the east-central or northeast Asia.
Japan and the Philippines would remain outside this security area, and we would not attempt to keep bases or forces on their territory, provided that they remained entirely demilitarized and that no other power made any effort to obtain strategic facilities on them. They would thus remain neutralized areas, enjoying complete political independence, situated on the immediate flank of our security zone.

The first of these points needs no elaboration. I believe that it coincides with strategic thinking both in Washington and in Tokyo.

As for the second, I know that this coincides with the thinking of General MacArthur,7 and I think it would have substantially unanimous concurrence of the other senior officers in this area.

As for point 3: again I can say that this meets General MacArthur’s views, as far as Japan is concerned. He points out that we cannot expect to maintain strategic facilities in Japan in the post-treaty period unless we wish to open the road to similar demands by others of the Allies. This applies, in his opinion, not only to the Russians: the Chinese and Australians would probably both want bases in Japan if we were to have them. General MacArthur does not consider bases on Japanese territory essential to our defense, as long as Japan itself remains demilitarized and neutralized. I consider that this solution is by far the simplest and most practical from the political standpoint.

As for the Philippines, things are not so simple; and I am sure we will encounter a wide variety of views with respect to this proposal. There does seem, however, to be a pretty unanimous feeling here that we must either do one thing or another with regard to the Philippines: i.e., either we must go in with all four feet on a full-fledged program of military assistance and base development, designed to provide the [Page 535] Philippines with a genuine sense of security in the face of the prospect of future invasion, or we must remove our bases entirely from the islands and reduce our military assistance program to something which would be realistic in the light of local conditions. I personally feel that the latter course would be preferable because of the limitations cited above on any large-scale U.S. overseas action in peace time, and because I fail to see what possible motive any potential military opponent of our country could have for invading the Philippines today if we ourselves did not have any military facilities on the islands. I believe that both General Jones, Chief of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group, and General Moore, Commanding General of the Philippines–Ryukyus Command, would have some sympathy for this view, although they might not put it just the way I have. Here too, of course, as in the case of Japan, the absence of U.S. bases on the islands would be conditional on the assumption that no other power had military facilities here or showed any intention of seeking any.

The Navy will feel, I am sure, that its needs would not be adequately met by this concept. It will argue that this precludes it from obtaining permanently the facilities it is now enjoying at Yokosuka, in Tokyo Bay, and that there is no other suitable base in the area I am discussing. It rejects the idea of installing itself at Okinawa, remembering the 180 vessels which it lost there in the 1945 typhoon.

I have much sympathy for the Navy’s feelings in this matter. Eventually, I suppose, the JCS will have to evaluate its needs from the straight military standpoint. I should be surprised, however, if these needs were to prove great enough to over-ride all the other considerations, political and otherwise, which argue for the concept I have advanced.

If not, then the role of the Navy under this concept, would be as follows:

It would continue to show the flag actively in the entire western Pacific area, making frequent visits to Japanese and Philippine ports along the lines of present policy in the Mediterranean.
We would endeavor to make arrangements whereby we could continue to use the repair and other facilities at Yokosuka on a nominally commercial basis, but actually much as we have been doing since the surrender.
The Navy would install itself as best it can at Okinawa, for shelter and refueling purposes, with due typhoon precautions.

iv. Implementation

1. Japan.

The recommendations which I am submitting with respect to Japan would serve the concept outlined above.

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2. Korea.

As I have wired to Butterworth,8 we should not delay any longer in beginning the gradual removal of our dependents from Korea. Furthermore, I believe that General Hodge9 should be given authority to go as far as he likes in the immediately forthcoming period along the lines of raising, training and equipping a Korean constabulary. Together with that, our policy should be directed towards the earliest possible withdrawal, with the smallest possible loss of prestige.

3. Okinawa and the Ryukyus.

Our first task with regard to Okinawa and the Ryukyus is to terminate the uncertainty surrounding their future. I believe that we should make up our minds right now (preferably in the form of a National Security Council paper) that we intend to hold on to Okinawa and to such other strategic facilities as we require in the archipelago, south of the 29th parallel as long as the present international situation endures. The question of how to make this decision public would then be one of technique, on which Dean Rusk10 might have some views. Presumably, the question should first be aired and cleared in the UN; but we should accept no solution short of a trusteeship for the islands as a whole and a strategic trusteeship for such of them as we require for our military purposes. If this cannot be obtained in the UN we should not hesitate to make a public announcement to the effect that the circumstances of the war have left us with the de facto custody of the Ryukyu people; that they are incapable of looking after their own protection; that in the absence of international agreement as to their future security it would be an act of irresponsibility to leave them defenseless; that on the other hand we cannot proceed with an orderly and progressive rehabilitation and development of life in the islands unless there can be some certainty about the future and unless we can lay plans for some time in advance; and that we have therefore decided that the present status will be continued for a minimum of ten years and as long thereafter as world conditions may necessitate. Having done that, we should then make permanent arrangements for the handling of civilian affairs on the islands and proceed with a vigorous program of base development and of economic rehabilitation. The Okinawans themselves, who constitute the bulk of the population, would be only too pleased with this solution.

It would be further possible, and I think desirable, for us to recruit and train an Okinawan auxiliary force, along the lines of the Philippine [Page 537] Scouts, for various sorts of guard duty, etc., on the islands. This should reduce the logistical burden on our own forces stationed there.

The Army planners are thinking about a scheme, I believe, under which our units would not be permanently stationed at Okinawa but would be rotated fairly frequently; and no dependents would be permitted. I think this would be highly desirable.

4. The Philippines.

The implementation of this program with respect to the Philippines would undoubtedly raise delicate political questions on which I am reluctant to comment, in view of my own unfamiliarity with the subject. It is my understanding, however, that the Filipinos are torn on their own thinking on this subject, and that some of them are now toying with the idea that a Philippine Republic having no foreign bases or forces on its territory and relying formally on the United Nations for its security might be no less secure than one which is partially, but inadequately, garrisoned by a great military power, for reasons which must always remain here an object of conjecture and suspicion. I may be wrong on this; but I think that much could be accomplished in bringing them around to our way of thinking if we were first to make up our own minds and if then someone with full authority to speak for our Government in these matters were to talk the matter out with Roxas11 and explain to him something of our thinking as well as some of the strategic facts governing their own position. In any case, by offering to withdraw our bases we would force the Filipinos to ask specifically for their retention if they still wanted them. This would enable us to name our terms and would place responsibility squarely on the Philippine Government for retention of the facilities in whatever form we might arrange.

In my view, any military withdrawal from the Philippines should be accompanied by a continuation, and even accentuation, of all our non-military activities here, and with loyal and generous assistance to the Philippine Government in any training programs of a semi-military nature, such as constabulary or guerrilla organization, which might be feasible. We are seriously committed by our past statements to aid these people where we can. I am persuaded that it is useless for them to try to maintain—and therefore useless for us to help them to maintain—a regular modern armed force. The standards of public health throughout the country are still not adequate to the maintenance of effective reserve strength. And the finances will not permit, within the foreseeable future, the maintenance of a standing force on a scale that could play any serious part in the prevention of invasion against major attack. Guerrilla forces are another matter. These require [Page 538] no higher central organization and no elaborate technical equipment or training. They lie close to the instincts of the people and to the geographic character of the country. They could play a serious part in frustating the long-term objectives of a possible invader.

The above is only a rough outline, and would stand a lot of polishing.

I have talked mostly about military matters; but my interest in this concept stems directly from the fact that it would provide us with the basis of a political program for this area. If we knew that these proposals, or something like them, constituted our long-term strategic concept, we would have firm points of orientation for our short-term policies in this area. We could then approach the immediate questions of the Jap peace treaty, the Ryukyus, and our base difficulties in the Philippines, in a confident and consistent manner; and I think we could avoid most of the pitfalls which now seem to me to loom across our path. But without some such concept, we cannot move at all. In drafting my own recommendations on Japan, I was obliged to assume some over-all concept; and the one I assumed was the one outlined above.

I need hardly stress the desirability of an early clarification of our policy in this area in view of the trend of world events and the necessity of having all our hatches battened down for the coming period.

I except to be home about March 24. Presumably, we will then be able to proceed to the working out of a firm government position on these questions. Meanwhile, I hope the considerations set forth above may be of some interest and value to you.

Very respectfully yours,

George F. Kennan
  1. Secretary Marshall would attend the Ninth International Conference of American States which met at Bogotá, Colombia, from March 30 to May 2, 1948; for documentation on United States policy with respect to that conference, see vol. ix, pp. 1 ff.
  2. Kennan visited the Philippines before returning to the United States from Japan.
  3. For documentation on United States policy with respect to the occupation and control of Japan, see vol. vi, pp. 647 ff.
  4. For documentation on United States policy with respect to Korea, see vol. vi, pp. 1079 ff.
  5. For documentation on cooperation between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines, see ibid., pp. 625 ff.
  6. For documentation on United States policy with respect to China, see volumes vii and viii .
  7. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Commanding General, United States Army Forces in the Pacific; Supreme Commander, Allied Powers in Japan.
  8. W. Walton Butterworth, Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs.
  9. Maj. Gen. John R. Hodge, Commanding General, United States Army Forces in Korea.
  10. Dean Rusk, Director of the Office of United Nations Affairs.
  11. Manuel Roxas, President of the Republic of the Philippines.