Memorandum by Mr. Walter P. McConaughy, of the Staff of the Ambassador at Large (Jessup)

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Rough Notes on NSC Senior Staff Meeting on Korea, August 25, 1950

Mr. Jessup observed that as to the operational problem there were two aspects, namely, operations behind the lines, presumably amphibious or airborne; and straight ground operations involving occupation. There were many different contingents which would have to be considered under each heading.

Mr. Jessup inquired whether any limitation should be placed on the freedom of the UN Commander to carry on ground operations north of 38 degrees.

Mr. Finletter felt that the group should adopt tentatively the view that there was no essential differentiation to be made between air, sea, and ground operations north of 38 degrees.

Mr. Jessup felt that as to ground operations a caveat should be observed:—The UN Commander should be instructed to keep well clear of the border of USSR and China. Land operations should not come as close to the borders as sea and air operations; Land operations around the narrow bottleneck area between 38 and 39 would seem permissible.

Mr. Jessup suggested that in principle no limitation be placed on operations which are an essential part of the strategy of defeating the North Koreans. It was agreed that UN consultations on this point would be required, also possible direct diplomatic discussions with the interested countries to preclude the possibility of other UN contingents from being called back by their governments when the 38th parallel is reached.

Admiral Wooldridge1 wanted a statement of what our eventual intentions in Korea were. He said that there was a very pessimistic CIA estimate dated August 18,2 regarding the dangerous consequences of any UN attempt at the military conquest of all of Korea. The Joint Chiefs would want to know the probable consequences of operations north of 38.

[Page 650]

Mr. Jessup brought up the question of what the US–UN position would be should Soviet-Chinese Communist forces enter the conflict. It was mentioned that if Soviet forces came in, the recommendations contained in NSC 763 would apply. If Chinese Communist forces came in, the recommendations in NSC 73/4 would apply.4 It was agreed that if the participation of Soviet or Chinese Communist forces should not be announced by their governments, such forces should be treated as if they were North Korean and might be fired upon without restriction. It was agreed that if the entry of such forces into the fighting was formally announced, “that would be something else again”. All agreed that the Korean incident should not be permitted to lead to war with the USSR or Chinese Communists.

There was general concurrence that the UN Commander should be allowed to go in with ground troops north of 38 degrees, but he should keep clear of the borders. It was further agreed that this general authorization should be limited as follows: “If intelligence indicates that important organized USSR or Chinese Communists opposition is pending, the UN Commander should not go in without reference of the matter to Washington”.

Mr. Jessup suggested that if the UN troops should be in hot pursuit of the North Koreans when 38 was reached, the UN troops should proceed, insofar as possible minimizing US participation and maximizing the participation of the troops of South Korea and other contingents. There should be no firm restriction on US participation, but the principle of minimizing the US role seemed desirable. Any suggestion of US occupation of all of Korea should be avoided.

Admiral Wooldridge wanted to know if UN forces would be in the front of any advance into North Korea.

Mr. Jessup thought that we would want to have diplomatic conversations with a few selected countries about that point. Various [Page 651] members suggested the following principles which did not meet any objections:

Roll-back operations would be approved so long as the UN forces keep well clear of the border.
It would be desirable for the North Korean troops to be destroyed south of 38 so far as possible.
UN adherence to the principle of unification of all Korea strengthens the case for operations north of 38 degrees.
The US has no desire to occupy Korea, but the Republic of Korea will need some help. We would be delighted to withdraw our forces altogether and let units of other UN members replace them. But we are not going to welsh on our UN commitment.
It would be desirable for the UN to re-affirm its position on unification, get UNCOK to assist the Republic of Korea and provide UNCOK with UN forces.
The permanent neutrality of Korea should be affirmed by the Republic of Korea and by multilateral declarations of all other states. But this does not call for the complete de-militarization of Korea.

Mr. Finletter wanted to know how soon after the end of hostilities elections would probably be held. He asked if one year would be a reasonable guess.

Mr. Jessup thought the time would probably be shorter—perhaps six months. Mr. Finletter wanted to know if UN forces would protect the government of Korea until elections were held and whether the UN forces could withdraw immediately after elections and the installation of the government of Korea.

Mr. Jessup mentioned that the State Department draft on Korea had something to say on this point.

Mr. Finletter feared that this would mean indefinite occupation of Korea, by UN forces. He suggested that if UN forces had to stay in Korea a “thin line” of such troops be kept near the frontier as a token force if requested by the government of Korea. The Soviets could not call such a token force a military threat to them. At the same time it would give us authoritative information on any border violations and make any communist aggression against the border a direct offense against the UN.

Mr. Finletter felt that US troops should get out of Korea as soon as possible with a clear indication that we have no obligation to return to defend Korea.

He thought we might give some thought to what we would do with our troops in Korea in case the going became very tough with increasing though covert support of the North Koreans by the USSR and Chinese Communist.

Mr. Jessup mentioned the possibility of North Korean guerrilla operations in the hills after formal hostilities have stopped. He inquired [Page 652] if the UN would have to mop up the guerrillas. The consensus was that the Republic of Korea would have primary responsibility for the job and that any necessary UN help should be provided by affiliated members so far as possible. The theme was repeated that we should pull the US out of major responsibility as fast as practicable.

It was agreed that if USSR forces should enter Korea, we should take it to the UN urgently. If our forces should be south of 38 degrees at the time, and if Soviet forces did not cross 38, it was surmised that the UN would probably do nothing. If our forces were north of 38 at the time and made contact with the Soviet troops, the evidence of Soviet aggression would be conclusive and the case for UN action would be stronger.

It was agreed that in case of Soviet occupation of either North Korea or all of Korea, the issue would be thrown into the UN and we would see what came out in debate. We didn’t want to precipitate war on the issue of Soviet occupation of Korea.

If the USSR forces enter south Korea, we might have to fight at least a rear guard action in order to evacuate our troops.

Mr. Finletter believed that we could agree on these general principles in advance:

Do not suddenly stop the UN offensive at 38.
Avoid aggravating sentiment of the people in North Korea against the UN and the US.
Refer any Soviet or Chinese Communist interference to the UN.
In case of complications requiring UN action, “defend, localize, and stabilize” until further moves are decided in Lake Success and Washington.

W[alter] P. M[cConaughy]
  1. Rear Adm. E. T. Wooldridge was the Senior NSC Staff member nominated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  2. Ante, p. 600.
  3. Dated July 10, p. 346.
  4. At its 66th meeting on August 24, with the President presiding, the National Security Council and the Secretary of the Treasury adopted NSC 73/4 as a working guide, with the understanding that final recommendations to the President regarding U.S. actions in the event of any of the contingencies envisaged would be deferred until it was established that the event was certain to occur (NSC files). Documentation relating to NSC 73 is scheduled for publication in volume i.

    The paragraph of NSC 73/4, relating to Chinese Communist intervention in Korea, read as follows:

    “In the event of the overt use of organized Chinese Communist forces in Korea:

    (1) The United States should not permit itself a general war with Communist China.

    (2) As long as action by UN military forces now committed or planned for commitment in Korea offers a reasonable chance of successful resistance, such action should be continued and extended to include authority to take appropriate air and naval action outside Korea against Communist China. The latter action should be continued pending a review of U.S. military commitments in the light of conditions then existing to determine further U.S. courses of action.”