Draft Memorandum by Mr. John P. Davies of the Policy Planning Staff

top secret

Chinese Communist Intervention in Korea

It is possible that Chinese Communist intervention in Korea may be limited both in form and duration. In this context, Peiping may be nominally making good on its promise not to stand idly by, making a token show of force, seeking to intimidate the U.N., hoping that a peace-maker will bring about a negotiated settlement providing for at least a buffer zone on their frontier, but ready to yield all of these in the event that it is confronted with determined force. If this is the case, Peiping’s intervention is essentially a bluff and the bellicose Chinese Communist propaganda is designed to persuade the U.N. to seek a solution of the Korean conflict by means other than military decision. The fact that so much of the frankly truculent propaganda about atomic bombing is broadcast in English to North America lends plausibility to such a thesis.

Other considerations, however, suggest that the situation is more ominous than indicated above. Chinese Communist capabilities are such that its intervention can be greatly expanded both in volume and duration. Even if intervention is limited in form it can easily be limitless in time.

Ideologically the Chinese Communists have every reason to foster Korean Communist resistance and, ultimately, expansion on the peninsula.

As the power in control of the mainland of China, the Peiping regime entertains governmental concern over the security of its frontiers. However mistaken it may be, the Peiping regime regards the U.N. forces in Korea as hostile. It undoubtedly recognizes that Korea and Manchuria are a geopolitical unit, that two wars have been fought to make them so. Yet Peiping derives no comfort from the fact that it is the U.N. and not the U.S. alone which was advancing on Manchuria. In its eyes the U.N. in Korea is acting not as a universal organization but in its alternate personality, as a free world alliance.

The fact that the United States is the moving spirit in the U.N. operation in Korea is of major importance in Peiping’s reactions. Quite aside from their ideological antipathy to us, the Chinese Communists view us with morbid distrust and hatred. This is the product of five years of intensely bitter civil war in which they regarded us as allies of their enemies, culminating in the galling frustration of our action this summer with regard to Formosa.

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We may assume that the Kremlin has done nothing to make Peiping any more understanding of us. To the contrary it is to be assumed that the Kremlin is actively egging China on to support covertly at least, the Korean Communists and to embroil itself more deeply with the West.

It would be rash to assume that Peiping has so parted with its senses as to have ignored the question of U.S. reactions to its intervention. Our reaction to the invasion by the North Koreans must have persuaded both Peiping and Moscow that the reactions of the American people and Government are not easily predictable. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that preventive war talk in this country is taken more seriously abroad than here. Therefore, it is likely that in deciding to intervene in Korea, the Chinese Communists took into account all possible retaliatory action to which we might resort. If this is so, it is probable that Chinese Communist propaganda assertions that they were prepared for our bombing of China were genuine. It, therefore, seems likely that Peiping has accepted the risk of violent United States reaction.

At the same time there are indications that the Chinese Communists know the limitations of what we can do to China. And this being the case, they may even have looked further and anticipated (whether rightly or wrongly) an American public reaction against the futility of war against China and a turning to the doctrine of a preventive war against the U.S.S.R. In this sense Peiping may genuinely anticipate and accept the imminence of World War III.

If all of this—or even a large part of it—is so, the Chinese Communists may be on the rampage. The invasion of Tibet—an obvious compensation for Formosa—is a clear indication that Peiping has reconciled itself to foregoing membership in the U.N., that it is not adverse to being regarded as an international outlaw. We must, therefore, take into our calculations the possibility that Communist China is in a mood to pursue a reckless, rather than a cautious, course throughout East and South Asia.

What is the relation of the Kremlin to the foregoing developments? Let us attempt to put into perspective the Kremlin’s interest in the local situation along the Manchurian-Korean border.

The Kremlin’s first concern is of course with Western Europe and the United States. Asia, in Stalin’s mind, “should be regarded as the rear, the reserve of imperialism.” As such it is for the Kremlin a theater of diversionary operations. If the United States, the United Kingdom and France can be drawn into deep military commitments in Asia, that is all to the good, provided that the Free World engages itself in hostilities with someone other than U.S.S.R. itself, permitting [Page 1080] the Kremlin to nourish its own strength for the main theater of conflict.

This strategy is as old as the U.S.S.R. As early as 1920 Lenin indicated that he was aware of the advantages to the U.S.S.R. deriving from bad relations between Japan and the U.S.* In 1936 Stalin instigated the Chinese Communists to make common cause with the Nationalists so as to form a joint diversion against Japan. Now the pattern is being repeated with Peiping joining with the Korean Communists and openly proclaiming that we are playing the role which the Japanese did in the 30’s. No war is declared: it was the “China Incident”, now it is the Korean police action.

It is not to be necessarily assumed, however, that the Kremlin was able easily to persuade the Chinese to embark upon this dangerous course of intervention. Korea is not like Formosa or Tibet, claimed as Chinese territory. Nor is it even, as Indochina is, a potential suzerainty. It has been since 1945 (North Korea actually and South Korea potentially) a particular Soviet sphere from which Chinese influence was assumably pretty well excluded. Therefore, the Kremlin may have had to introduce special inducements.

An obvious means of spurring Peiping intervention would be Kremlin stimulation of the already marked suspicions of the Chinese Communists regarding U.S. intentions toward China. In international affairs Mao and company are bigots and novices while the Kremlin is adept and practiced at provocation. The theme that World War III is not only inevitable but imminent was current in China at the time the new regime established itself and announced its policy of “leaning” to the Soviet side. It then lapsed and has only recently been revived in evident currency. In so far as it is believed by the rulers of Communist China it is a counsel both of defensive desperation and of tight alignment with the U.S.S.R. Finally, it is probable that Peiping asked for Soviet material support and will get it, within limits. And it may even have been able to exact the return of some measure of control over Manchuria.

Whatever the Kremlin may have had to give to induce Chinese intervention—it was worth it; even if it cost yielding temporarily exclusive Soviet control over the Korean Communist movement. It promises the possibility of bailing out world Bolshevism from an impending [Page 1081] fiasco threatening greater demoralization and damage than even the Tito defection. And it probably removes, at least for the foreseeable future, the possibility of Chinese Communist exceptionalism. A termination of the factional feud in the Japanese Communist Party would be a reasonably sure sign of this.

The Kremlin is, of course, alert to the grave and unpredicable risks which flow from Chinese intervention. It may even be inviting them, seeking to precipitate World War III. What seems more likely, however, more in keeping with the Kremlin’s political personality, is that it accepts rather than seeks the risks of general conflict. It cannot believe that the risks do not exist, even though it is twice removed from formal responsibility—itself to Peiping and Peiping to the “volunteers”. The Kremlin undoubtedly realizes now that it is not dealing with controlled incidents—as it did with the Axis in Spain and the Japanese at Nomanhan. In this situation it is playing with the volatile fire of American democracy.


On the basis of evidence at hand, we do not know what course Peiping and the Kremlin will follow in the coming months. Not only are their intentions veiled from us, but also—situations such as this tend to generate their own imperatives. We must proceed, therefore, on the basis that the situation confronting us contains a wide range of possible developments. At best we may be able to bring about a local solution to which Peiping and Moscow accede. At the worst we may find ourselves in World War III. Our objective should be to seek the first and urgently prepare for the second.

In a sense, these two objectives tend to be mutually exclusive. To commit ourselves to a local solution might, in certain circumstances, tend to defeat our preparations for global war. To prepare for global war, in certain contexts, might tend to impel the Kremlin to resort to arms immediately. Our policy must take into account these pitfalls.

Furthermore, we should avoid maneuvers uncoordinated with an overall plan. It is too late to expect that isolated assurances regarding the Yalu hydroelectric installations will mollify Peiping. Nor are threats of bombing or invasion likely to move us further toward our objectives.

What is needed is a unified policy directed toward our two objectives. It would be best defined and set forth in a special message by the President to the Congress along the following general lines.

The intervention of Chinese Communist “volunteers” in Korea is a matter of the gravest importance to the civilized world. It is an act of defiance to the law-abiding members of the world-community. It is [Page 1082] a clear warning that an outlaw is at large in the world community and that all peace-loving countries must look to the defense of their homes.

Accordingly, the United States is immediately mobilizing.

It is mobilizing as a matter of prudent defense. It is not mobilizing to take aggressive action. It will continue to support fully the United Nations action in Korea. It will assist the Korean people to defend their homes. But it will not take action which will give international renegades the excuse for plunging the world into chaos. If general war must come it will be through the action of the outlaws.

Meanwhile we will provide the arms and supplies necessary to enable Korea to defend itself. We will assist in the training of as many Korean soldiers as are necessary to expel and withhold the marauders. We will not withdraw our troops until there are Korean forces to take their places. And we will participate in the United Nations’ constructive endeavors to rehabilitate Korea and further the development and progress of this free nation.


On the basis of evidence at hand, we do not know what course Peiping and the Kremlin will follow in the coming months. Not only are their intentions veiled from us, but also—situations such as this tend to generate their own imperatives. We must proceed, therefore, on the basis that the situation confronting us contains a wide range of possible developments. At best we may be able to bring about a local solution to which Peiping and Moscow accede. At worst we may find ourselves in World War III. Our objective should be to seek the first and urgently prepare for the second.

First let us examine and dispose of certain alternative courses which we might follow.

Recognizing the grave risks that the present situation might degenerate into World War III, we might decide that we should withdraw our forces from the Korean theater in order to (1) avoid provocation, and (2) husband our strength for the great test with the Soviet world as a whole. Such a course would probably alleviate the present crisis, but new dangers would immediately ensue as a direct result. In the first place, the American people would be confused and humiliated by a decision of this character. It would be a body blow to morale at the center, the maintenance of which is essential if we are to win the world-wide struggle in which we are engaged. The effects of such action on the rest of the Free World would be little short of disastrous. In most of these countries, confidence and the will to resist Bolshevism [Page 1083] would be shattered. In the rest, it would be gravely shaken. To decide to withdraw from Korea would be to avoid a current crisis in exchange for which we would be confronted with a situation of even greater isolation and menace than that in which we now find ourselves.

An alternative course would be to break off contact with the enemy and fall back to a purely defensive position. This would be at best a temporizing course. It would be interpreted by the Kremlin and Peiping as a precipitate retreat inviting bold exploitation. It would have only delayed the necessity for our making a decision.

A third course would be to seek immediately to negotiate. In the present circumstances such a move would be made in the context of a reverse. To negotiate in the present circumstances would be simply to register the present situation which is, from our point of view, weak and unsatisfactory.

Finally, we might immediately carry hostilities to Manchuria and China Proper. At present the only feasible attack would be by air and naval action. Even these limited means would probably cause full-scale Chinese intervention from Manchuria. To provoke full-scale reaction at a time when the Chinese Communists are committed on a limited scale would be, at best, premature and at worst reckless—unless we deliberately seek to set off a chain of events designed to bring on World War III.

Let us now return to the recommended policy of (1) seeking a localized solution in Korea, and (2) preparing for the possible imminent outbreak of World War III.

It is essential that the dual phases of this policy be developed simultaneously and be made public simultaneously. In essence one is a course of moderation and, in Peiping’s fevered eyes, perhaps even reassurance. The other is a warning. To attempt only to localize might be regarded as a gesture of weakness. To expand radically our military strength without indications of temperate intent would be regarded by our adversaries as an alarm signal of aggressive American design possibly requiring forestallment.

In pursuing a strategy of localization we should, obviously, seek to avoid action which we calculate would bring the Chinese Communists overtly into the Korean conflict. The same holds true with respect to our actions affecting the U.S.S.R.

Tactically this means that in the present situation we should not cross or take hostile action across the Manchurian border on land or in the air, nor should we advance into Chinese territorial waters or attack the Chinese coast. This rule is, of course, subject to revision by this Government and the U.N. in the light of later developments.

Inside Korea our tactics should be, if and when militarily feasible, to maintain the offensive; otherwise to accept a defensive stance.

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Meanwhile we should promptly repair our neglect with respect to maintaining responsible private points of contact with the Peiping regime, both for obtaining interpretations of Chinese Communist intentions and conveying to Peiping information designed to influence its policy.

It is of major importance that we immediately begin to expand the ROK military force with a view to obtaining manpower to meet probable additions to Chinese strength in North Korea, provided that we calculate that the ROK will resist mounting pressure and that we can provide the necessary material.

Finally it is tactically essential that our activities be taken in the U.N. context, that we seek to bring other members of the U.N. along with us in our policy and that we avoid becoming politically isolated, as the Kremlin desires. To bolster Korean morale and win international support we should, in addition to pursuing military objectives, calmly and confidently lay stress on the constructive phases of the U.N. effort—rehabilitation, education and development.

Our strategy of preparing for the eventuality of World War III must concentrate on building strength at the center. This calls for implementing most of the recommendations of NSC 682 at a far faster tempo and on an expanded scale. It is a policy closely approaching mobilization.

At the same time we must move ahead rapidly in the NATO—and if that proves immediately impossible, rethink our policy regarding Europe.

Japan must be built up. Its meagre capabilities to defend itself must be added to. Its abilities to product materiel, including arms, should be developed so that the strain on us for supplying an expanding ROK Army can be eased.

Finally the question arises regarding the risks of this dual policy. They are the same risks which we consciously accepted in June.

That of Soviet intervention is basic and ever present. If it occurs, whether thinly disguised or open, a new situation will have been created requiring a decision in the light of circumstances at the time. The present recommended course is designed to minimize these risks.

There is also the risk of alternating military commitments between the Chinese and the U.N. forces mounting to the point that general hostilities with Communist China eventuate. This is also recognized in formulating the recommended policy. The tactics involved in localizing the conflict are designed to meet this risk. If notwithstanding these efforts, we find ourselves drawn into general hostilities with [Page 1085] Communist China, it does not necessarily mean that the U.S.S.R. would honor its alliance with Communist China. The likelihood of that occurring would increase as we departed from retaliatory air and naval action and expanded the conflict in two respects—toward the Soviet frontiers and onto the ground. Were we to restrict our reaction to punitive air and naval action, to South Manchuria and China Proper, the U.S.S.R. might be content to limit its participation to supplying the Chinese Communists and we, for our part, might be able to foresee a termination to the action simply through air and naval disengagement. For us to become more deeply engaged in hostilities with Communist China would, in the foreseeable future, not only create a far greater risk of open Soviet involvement but also create a situation, even if the U.S.S.R. did not enter the hostilities, in which we could not impose a decision and from which we could not extricate ourselves.

  1. Lenin, Speech to Moscow Party Nuclei Secretaries, Nov. 26, 1020: “What saved us was that while Japan was gobbling up China she could not move westward, through all Siberia, with America in her rear, and she did not want to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for America. What would have saved us still more would have been a war between the imperialist powers. If we are obliged to tolerate such scoundrels as the capitalist thieves, each of whom is preparing to plunge a knife into us, it is our direct duty to make them turn their knives on each other. When thieves fall out, honest men come into their own.” [Footnote in the source text.]
  2. The remainder of the memorandum was paginated separately but was attached to the main section of the manuscript in the original and was apparently intended to be a revised set of conclusions for the November 7 draft.
  3. The NSC 68 series dealt with U.S. Programs and Objectives Relating to National Security; documentation is scheduled for publication in volume i.