Draft Memorandum by Mr. John P. Davies of the Policy Planning Staff
At some time during the past several weeks—but not later than last week—it must have become evident to the Kremlin that (1) we would not be thrown off the Korean peninsula, (2) the gamble for bringing all of Korea under its control was lost—at least for this inning—and (3) it could not count on its North Korean stooges alone to hold North Korea.
At that time of decision the Kremlin had two basic choices.
It could have in one form or another committed itself to the defense of North Korea (Peiping apparently having declined to snatch the chestnut from the fire). This would have been a clear warning well in advance of the 38 parallel’s becoming an inflamed issue, allowing the United Nations time to reconcile itself to attempting no more than the restoration of the status quo ante June 25, and enabling the U.S.S.R. to make on the ground careful and detailed dispositions of its own. However, given what the Kremlin must regard as the mercurial American temperament, such action, in Soviet calculations, would have also involved the risk of war with the United States. Furthermore, such action, no matter how dressed up, would have had world-wide political repercussions unfavorable to the Soviet cause.
The second choice for the Kremlin was to remain uncommitted in the Korean conflict. This was the choice which was made. In so doing, the Kremlin abandoned the optimum opportunity for guaranteeing that UN forces would be prevented from pressing north of the 38th, parallel. There could have been no solid reason to believe that delay in moving decisively to hold North Korea would lessen the risks or minimize the political disadvantages of such action. Bather, it was to be assumed that with the passage of time the risks and political losses from subsequent direct intervention would increase.
In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we are therefore warranted in drawing the following two alternative conclusions (which are likewise applicable to Peiping). The first is that, if the Kremlin is, determined to retain North Korea, its present course involves a deliberate acceptance of increasing risks of war with the United States. The second is that the Kremlin is prepared to accept the loss of North Korea, as it did that of Azerbaijan—unless by chance an opportunity appears for intervention without what it would consider serious risks, of war with the United States.[Page 754]
The logical development of the first alternative would be that the Kremlin may be seeking to lure us into over-commitment and overextension deep into the peninsula, whereupon it would strike with overwhelming force. This is a possibility against which we must ever be on guard. It is a risk, however, which we accepted when we joined in the Korean conflict. It is one of the situations in human affairs when, threatened by dark and menacing uncertainties, the part of both prudence and wisdom is to proceed confidently and quietly about one’s own business.
If, as we have reason to suspect, the Kremlin has made the fundamental decision that it is prepared to lose Korea, it by no means follows that the rulers of Russia will sit back and passively watch the collapse. Because they think, plan and operate in flexible, opportunistic politico-military terms they will keep playing the game for the breaks, not only in the final phases of the current military operations but on into the future.
In this contingency we may expect the Kremlin to attempt to prolong North Korean resistance as long as possible. If Moscow has been pressing Peiping to go to the rescue of North Korea, that pressure is likely to be maintained. Meanwhile, the Soviet and Satellite governments may be expected to seek, through the United Nations and other channels and by means of intimidation and offers of a deal, to bring hostilities to an end in such a fashion as to preserve North Korea. Any signs of hesitation over advancing north of the 38th parallel would be exploited. And as the final defeat of the North Koreans approaches, the Kremlin would withdraw most of the its native political stooges and such military elements as can be salvaged across the frontiers into the USSR and Manchuria. After we consider the North Korean conflict to be over and victory won, these elements and their successors will be employed for agitation, subversion and violence across the borders against Korea. This will continue so long as the Soviet system exists and Korea remains independent of it.
So much for a projection into the more distant future. Let us now return to the present situation. If the Kremlin is prepared to leave North Korea to its fate, a potentially divisive condition would exist between the native rulers of North Korea and the mass of the population. The regime is in the position of having betrayed the people it has dominated. For, although there may be some symbolic sacrifices by some of the leaders fighting to the bitter end, most of them will be looking over their shoulders for escape to USSR and Manchuria. For the great bulk of the North Korean soldiery and civil population there is either no possibility of escape or no desire to leave their native land. Once the average soldier and average citizen fully realizes this, such solidarity as exists amongst the North Koreans will be greatly [Page 755]strained. If they see a hopeful alternative to all that confronts them now—defeat, reprisals and extinction—such psychological bonds as now exist between them and their rulers will give way.
What is now missing in this situation is a declaration from our side putting forward to the mass of North Korean soldiery and citizens an alternative—peace, no reprisals, unification and a tolerable future existence. But to advance such a proposal at this moment involves certain risks. A statement of the conditions for peace, liberation and unification implies an undertaking on the part of the United Nations, including ourselves, to fulfill those terms in North Korea. As such, it is a commitment on the part of those who make it, a commitment which we—and even more our allies—would not be willing to fulfill were the USSR to announce its determination to defend North Korea. Therefore, the cautious and sure course would be one whereby we would test Soviet (and Chinese) intentions by a probing military action well north of the 38th parallel and, if there were no reaction, to hold and expand that military position while simultaneously announcing the conditions for peace, liberation and unification.
If such a probing action can be undertaken two or three days hence, the proclamation of conditions might be delayed. But, if not, we should make the announcement forthwith. The probabilities of reducing enemy resistance, saving American lives and shortening the duration of the conflict outweigh the possible risks and difficulties involved.