Draft Memorandum Prepared in the Department of Defense for National Security Council Staff Consideration Only

top secret

U.S. Courses of Action in Korea

the problem

1. To determine the implications of taking military and political actions in areas north of the 38th parallel.

2. To determine the courses of action the United States should adopt which would contribute to the security and stability of Korea.


Military Factors

3. The present military objective of the unified command is to defeat the North Korean forces and to restore international peace and security in the area. The Security Council resolution of 27 June noted that the authorities in North Korea had not withdrawn their armed forces to the 38th parallel in compliance with the resolution of 25 June, but did not specifically limit military ground operations of the unified command to the area south of the 38th parallel.

4. From the point of view of military operations against North Korean forces as now constituted, the 38th parallel has no more significance [Page 529] than any other meridian. There are no restrictions to preclude engaging and defeating North Korean land forces wherever found, by whatever means are necessary, in the same fashion that air and naval power now are used to destroy military targets anywhere in Korea.

5. The principal deterrent to military operations north of the 38th parallel other than North Korean armed forces, would be the entry of major Chinese Communist or Soviet forces in action in order to oppose further advances by the ground forces of the unified command. The movement of Chinese Communist or Soviet forces might be delayed, however, by destructions along the lines of communication external to Korea. Furthermore, skillful coordination and timing of military and political operations in North Korea might deter Soviet or Chinese Communist movements.

6. On the basis of available intelligence, it is not expected that the North Korean forces will be augmented by organized bodies of Chinese Communist troops, Soviet ground forces, or Soviet air forces as long as the ground fighting is confined to the area south of the 38th parallel.

7. Each of the following courses of action could be interpreted as in consonance with the UN Security Council resolutions of 25 and 27 June, 1950:

The minimum offensive effort by the unified command in Korea might be to carry out “repel the armed attack” provision of the 27 June UN resolution in seeking only a limited military offensive by forcing the North Korean armed forces to withdraw to positions north of the 38th parallel. The unified command would thus employ its troops only as far as the 38th parallel, and if the remaining North Korean forces had retreated north of the 38th parallel, hostilities might cease. The United Nations would be back where it was on 24 June 1950; the former military instability would again obtain. The USSR could use this force in being as a striking force for a second attempt to gain control of Korea. Thus, a return to the status quo ante bellum would not insure security. It would not provide the unification which all Koreans so desperately desire, and it would still require a very great outlay of funds to reconstruct and secure South Korea. On the other hand, a cessation of hostilities by the forces of the unified command on their arrival at the 38th parallel would be less likely to incite the Kremlin to military action and might lay the basis for a negotiated settlement.
As an alternative objective, the unified command could occupy Pyongyang and vicinity, in addition to key communications points in the center and east of Korea between 40° and 39° latitudes. An unoccupied, demilitarized zone might then be set up in depth along the Chinese and Soviet frontiers to allay their suspicions. But Korea would still not be united, and the security problem would be as great, if not greater, than in the case of a minimum effort.
A maximum effort would include the pacification and occupation of all Korea by the unified command, which would take any and all appropriate measures within Korea to accomplish its mission. The United Nations could then arrange elections to establish a government for all Korea. The future military frontier would coincide with the international boundary sanctioned by law, custom, and treaty, and perhaps guaranteed by UN authority and force.

8. Any consideration of US courses of action in support of UN action in Korea must assume that the United States will mobilize and use sufficient resources to gain its military objectives in Korea, while strengthening its military capabilities for execution of emergency war plans.

9. The courses of action considered in this report are based also on the assumption that the Soviet or Chinese Communist governments will not overtly enter the hostilities in Korea, and will not initiate general hostilities. Should the Soviet or Chinese Communist government enter overtly into the hostilities in Korea, the courses of action in NSC 73/11 and NSC 762 would apply.

Political Factors

10. For centuries Korea has been a cross-road of conflict. In modern times foreign occupation and exploitation have stunted Korea’s growth as a nation. A ruthless Japanese rule erased Korea as a nation, and a post-war irreconcilable split divided Korea. Even today some governments view the fighting in Korea solely as another clash of great powers, and not as the measures taken by the United Nations in its responsibility to restore peace and security in Korea.

11. The urge for union is irrepressible and fundamental among all Koreans. During 40 years under the Japanese, their fondest hope was independence; today it is unification and independence. Five years of bisection culminating in a bitter, destructive civil war will probably intensify their desire for union.

12. The 38th parallel is a geographical artificiality violating the natural integrity of a singularly homogeneous nation. It began as a temporary military convenience; it became the eastern outpost of the iron curtain. As a result, the political economy of Korea has temporarily branched off in two completely different forms. One of the serious problems of reconstruction will involve the integration of the different political and economic institutions now established in the south and the north. However, after the cessation of hostilities, the intrinsic unity of Korean economic and human resources will help recast a divided Korea into one mold, provided political conditions permit.

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13. The United States proposed the 38th parallel as the dividing line for the acceptance of Japanese surrender, but never intended it as a rigid frontier. During 1945–1947 the United States made repeated efforts to find agreement with Soviet authorities in order to unite Korea. The Moscow Decision of 1945, the sessions of the Joint US–USSR Commission in 1946 and 1947, the Hodge–Chistiakov exchanges in 1946–1947, and the Marshall-Molotov exchanges of 1947 are familiar landmarks of our persistent but unsuccessful effort to persuade the USSR to join in unifying the two occupation zones under a single provisional government.

14. Attempts at unification continued under the aegis of the United Nations but with no more success. By its resolution of 14 November 1947 the General Assembly sought the objectives of freedom and national independence for all Korea, and set out a program for its attainment. The United Nations Commission on Korea (UNCOK), established by subsequent resolutions of the General Assembly, has been, and still is, charged with seeking Korea’s unification by pacific settlement. On 21 October 1949 the General Assembly reaffirmed these objectives and the mission of UNCOK, and called upon the member States “to refrain from any acts derogatory to the purposes of the present resolution”. While the General Assembly for three years has sought to unify Korea by peaceful means, it has never formally considered nor explicitly approved the unification of Korea through military means.

15. Yet, the United Nations did succeed in establishing in South Korea a sovereign government recognized by 32 nations. The General Assembly resolution of 12 December 1948 declared that there has been established “a lawful government (the Government of the Republic of Korea), having effective control and jurisdiction over that part of Korea where the Temporary Commission was able to observe and consult and in which the great majority of the people of all Korea reside; that this Government is based on elections which were a valid expression of the free will of the electorate of that part of Korea and which were observed by the Temporary Commission; and that this is the only such Government in Korea.”

16. The Government of the Republic of Korea, despite many weaknesses, demonstrated a growing capacity to govern prior to hostilities. As UNCOK pointed out in its report of 26 June 1950 to the Secretary General, “there have been distinct signs of improvement in recent months in both economic and political stability of the country”. Recent elections for the National Assembly gave significant gains to moderate elements. However, the more conservative elements have exercised power in the Government of Syngman Rhee, usually in a harsh and authoritarian manner. Syngman Rhee has not been popular. In North [Page 532] Korea communist propaganda undoubtedly has aroused considerable hostility among Koreans to the South Korean administration. Political reconstruction in Korea will present a complex challenge.

17. In view of the establishment of a Soviet-style police state in North Korea, it is difficult to weigh the degree of popular support for or opposition to the regime there. The relatively large number of refugees who have fled south during the past five years indicates the possibility of considerable discontent. The ravages of war may create in North Korea a population hostile to the Communist authorities. They will, in any event, attempt to unite occupied South Korea to North Korea by so-called national elections.

Politico-Military Considerations

18. By a quick and crushing victory of the North Korean military forces in South Korea, the USSR would have gained its long-standing goal of the complete absorption of Korea into its orbit. Furthermore, the building of a “cordon sovietaire” from the Soviet borders of Sinkiang to the southern shores of Korea would have neared completion. Only Japan and the Philippines at the edge of the orbit, and Southeast Asia to the South, would have still remained outside. Yet, the aggression in South Korea may result in the opposite effect—the failure to complete the cordon.

19. In this light, the situation in Korea now provides the United States and the free world with the first opportunity to regain territory from the Soviet bloc. Since a basic policy of the United States is to check and reduce the preponderant power of the USSR in Asia and elsewhere, then UN operations in Korea can set the stage for the non-communist penetration into an area under Soviet control.

20. Penetration of the Soviet orbit, short of all-out war, would disturb the political, economic and military structure which the USSR is organizing between its own Far Eastern territories and the continguous areas. The bonds of Manchuria, pivot of this complex outside the USSR, would be weakened, for a free and strong Korea could provide an outlet for Manchuria’s resources and could also provide non-communist contact with the people there and in North China.

21. The significance in Asia of the unification of Korea under UN auspices would be incalculable. The Japanese would see demonstrated a check on Soviet expansion. Elements in the Chinese Communist regime, and particularly important segments of the Chinese population, might be inclined to question their exclusive dependence on the Kremlin. Skillful manipulation might drive a wedge between the Chinese Communists and the Kremlin. Throughout Asia, those who foresee only inevitable Soviet conquest would take hope.

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22. For the above reasons, it is probable that the danger of a free, united Korea will lead the Kremlin to try to prevent its total loss. When North Korean forces appear to be losing, or even before, the Kremlin may launch a vigorous attempt to mediate the dispute, or may employ Chinese or Soviet military forces to hold part or all North Korea. However, it is possible that, notwithstanding its considerable military strength located in the Far East, the Kremlin will not jeopardize its uncompleted strategic arrangements in the Far East to risk a general war to prevent a full-fledged, rapid, and determined UN effort to unite Korea.

U.S. Interests and Obligations

23. In subscribing to the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations, the U.S. pledged its support to Korean independence. Our intentions have been measured in our diplomatic support, military aid, and economic assistance. Our obligation to the United Nations to block a breach of the peace, is fixed.

24. The broad objectives of the United States were stated in NSC 8/2,3 approved by the President on 23 March 1949, as follows;

  • a. To establish a united, self-governing, and sovereign Korea as soon as possible, independent of foreign control and eligible for membership in the UN.
  • b. To ensure that the government so established shall be fully representative of the freely expressed will of the Korean people.
  • c. To assist the Korean people in establishing a sound economy and educational system as essential bases of an independent and democratic state. A more immediate objective is the withdrawal of remaining U.S. occupation forces from Korea as early as practicable consistent with the foregoing objectives.”

25. The political value to the United States of establishing a free, united, and stable Korea and of carrying out the resolve of the United Nations justifies our current military effort in behalf of South Korea.


26. The following principles form the basis for consideration of U.S. actions:

The unification of Korea conforms with Korean aspirations, U.S. policies, and the objectives of the United Nations.
The establishment of a free and united Korea and the elimination of the North Korea Communist regime, following unprovoked military aggression, would be a step in reversing the dangerous strategic trend in the Far East of the past twelve months.
The 38th parallel, inland of itself, has no military significance other than such an artificial barrier as would limit if not prevent a military victory.
The chief potential limitation on the objective of unifying Korea will be Soviet military countermeasures including the use of Chinese Communist troops, or Soviet diplomatic and political actions in the UN.
Consequently, the timing and speed of U.S. politico-military operations are crucial, and call for especially close working relationships.
In the long run, a maximum UN effort will be needed in securing peace in Korea and in meeting the acute problems of political and economic reconstruction.
The continued functioning of the Republic of Korea, as the only sovereign government in Korea, is indispensable to the re-establishment of the rule of law in Korea and is necessary to the fulfilment of U.S. objectives.
Long-range policies in support of independence for Korea conform to the general objectives of the United States in Asia.

27. In consonance with the above principles and in pursuit of its basic long-range objectives with respect to Korea, the U.S. should take measures to effect:

The establishment of a free, independent and stable Korea oriented toward the U.S.
The security of Korea against foreign aggression and internal subversion.
The reconstruction of Korea in political, economic, and social fields to develop a stable, self-sustaining, and advancing state.

28. As the basis for realizing these objectives, the United States should take the following series of actions:

a. Statement of Aims:

At an appropriate time, the President should proclaim that our peace aim is a united, free, and independent Korea, as envisaged by the UN. Such a statement should be supported by a Joint Resolution of Congress.
Again at an appropriate time, the U.S. should seek to translate this aim into UN objectives. In view of the possibility that uncoordinated measures would provoke Soviet counter-action, either in the military or diplomatic field or both, the United States should seek UN action in two states [stages]: first, at the 1950 meeting of the General Assembly, the United Nations should immediately endorse the resolutions of 25 and 27 June and 7 July, of the Security Council and seek maximum support for the unified command; second, at a later date, at the moment when the unified command has taken the offensive, the United Nations should re-affirm the basic UN aims in Korea along the lines of the General Assembly Resolution of 14 November 1947.
No statement of U.S. general objectives should be made until the unified command has launched offensive military measures to carry out the military objectives listed below. Until such time, great caution and discretion should be taken in public discussion of the 38th parallel.
In the meantime, the U.S. should use all its diplomatic means to forestall any Soviet effort to mediate the conflict on any terms short of the unification of all Korea on a free and representative basis under UN auspices.

b. Military Objectives:

The unified command should seek to occupy Korea and to defeat North Korean armed forces wherever located north or south of the 38th parallel.
To achieve this objective, the Commanding General of the unified command should pursue military operations in Korea without regard to the 38th parallel.

c. Occupation Problems:

As an interim measure the U.S. should encourage the UN to strengthen UNCOK to render it more effective in maintaining liaison with the government of the Republic, and with other political elements in Korea, in observing the course of hostilities, and in supervising the care of refugees and the civil organization of reoccupied areas.
At or about the time of surrender or the cessation of hostilities, the U.S. should encourage the UN to create a new UN organization, incorporating UNCOK. This organization would be responsible for the long-term reconstruction and security of Korea. It should include (a) a UN administrator for relief and reconstructions; (b) a commission to supervise national elections and the reformation of the national government of the Republic of Korea to include all of Korea; and (c) a border commission to observe the integrity of the Korean frontier and it should use the international security forces provided by the UN to police this frontier.
The United States should be prepared to provide its share of forces required to police the Korean frontier until such time as Korean forces are trained and equipped to take over that responsibility. Likewise, the U.S. should seek firm commitments from UN members to furnish military forces for occupation purposes until the mission of the UN is accomplished.

d. Politico-Military Measures:

The United States should make a maximum effort to support and strengthen the governing bodies of the Republic of Korea. The quality of administrative personnel should be improved, the National Assembly restored to full working order, and civilian teams selected and trained to take over reoccupied areas to provide effective follow-up of military operations.
Psychological warfare should be intensified to discredit the Communist regime and improve Korean morale.
An ad hoc committee of departmental representatives should be established immediately to develop detailed reconstruction plans to include recommendations for military, economic, and political assistance.
The UN, and perforce the U.S., should not be deflected from its present course of action or stated objectives in Korea by any proposals by the USSR or minority groups in the UN which fall short of complete achievement of the present U.S. and UN objectives.

  1. Related documentation is scheduled for publication in volume i .
  2. See footnote 2 to the memorandum by the JCS, July 10, p. 346.
  3. For the complete text, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vii, Part 2, p. 969.