Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Chinese Affairs (Clubb) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Rusk)

top secret

Subject: Chinese Communist Intervention in Korea: Counter-Strategy

Reference: CA Memorandum November 4, 1950 “Chinese Communist Intervention in Korea: Estimate of Objectives”

I. Chinese Communist Capabilities

The possible objectives of the Moscow-Peiping Axis have been made the subject of estimate in CA’s reference memorandum. The Communist allies must be presumed to have prepared for all eventualities they contemplate facing as a result of Chinese intervention in Korea, given known factors for the achievement of their aims. Those aims are undisclosed, but it is beyond question that they constitute objectives dangerous to the UN position in Korea. The Communist side have [Page 1088] full knowledge of the political and economic factors in being on the UN side, and it is to be assumed that they are bringing into play those factors which they have computed will be sufficient to overcome the forces ranged against them. That Communist calculation can be thrown off only by the introduction of new factors into the equation from the UN side. The following suggestions respecting the UN counter-strategy are offered.

II. Political Détente

GHQ SCAP still numbers the Chinese Communist troops at some three or four divisions. If that estimate is correct as of this date, the UN position is serious only in potentiality, not in actuality at this moment. We have time to consider the possibility of some détente that will give us opportunity to explore the possibilities of effecting a settlement through the UN apparatus. Granted that, by the record of Communism, the possibility seems slight, the very fact of exhaustion of all possibilities would tend to weld our allies closer to us—and one basic strategy must be to keep the affair in the UN framework. The Chinese Communists undoubtedly look askance at our support of the National Government, our efforts to keep Peiping out of the UN, our guerrilla contacts (which very probably have become known to the Communist side), our avowed anti-Communist position—even as we look askance on their motivations. The USSR has assuredly played on the Chinese Communist hopes and fears as a master-violinist on a fiddle. The two Governments have a formal alliance, and they are possibly bound by some agreement of August current. Even so, assuming the two sides have only limited objectives at this stage, they might be prepared to avail themselves of political means which might be offered to deal with the dispute—for so it is—in point. If their aims are unlimited, that is, if they assume the outbreak shortly of World War III, UN forces had better be elsewhere than in Korea.

This détente would be facilitated, possibly, by acceptance by Britain, France and the United States of the Soviet offer to discuss the problem of Germany. It is hard to see what could be lost by following this procedure, for it is not necessary that we surrender one iota of our position if we chose not to do so; but we might gain (1) a better understanding of the Soviet aims and (2) more time—which is sorely needed. It appears clear that the USSR chooses to proceed along the way to World War III by a path which makes it appear that the “peace-loving people’s democracies” are being forced into war by “imperialist warmongers”. Since ideas count for so much in war, we should not by sins of omission, in cases where action costs us nothing but a little time which may be of equal advantage to us, play into their [Page 1089] hands. It is hard to believe that, in the event of war at this time, we shall be able to avoid certain military defeats of serious nature for the UN side. It might be economic to concede the holding of a few conferences now, in the estimate that we might just possibly thus avoid the loss of a number of battles later. It is well, in times like the present, to leave no stones unturned.

The attendance of the Chinese Communist delegation at the UN in connection with the case of Formosa would offer, it would appear, a major opportunity for bringing about a political détente, both in respect to Formosa and otherwise, if such be possible. There might even develop an occasion for having informal discussions on the subject in which the Soviets might participate. The non-appearance of that Peiping delegation, on the other hand, would be an ominous sign that China, which has been clamoring to enter the UN, is in fact not now (if ever it was) interested in the rights and obligations of membership.

The virtue of considering the possibilities of moves in the field of diplomacy is pointed up in Mr. Peake’s memorandum of November 61 commenting on CA’s reference memorandum of November 4, 1950. Mr. Peake’s suggestion that Chinese Communist intervention is an effort to enhance the Communist bargaining position with respect to Japan, as well as to the status of Korea, Formosa and to the admission of the Chinese Communists into the UN, has some logical ground in the known fact that the Communists frequently adopt a threatening posture with the cold-blooded purpose of so frightening their enemies that the latter will surrender without a fight. If the Communist side were to rise to diplomatic bait at the present juncture, there would be some reason to assume that the present storm in China had been raised by the Chinese Communists for the calculated purpose of redressing the military balance in their favor by the means of a limited use of volunteers. The cloud of warlike propaganda is perhaps raised for the express purpose of showing the United States to be the aggressor, and the provocative actions of planes based in Manchuria may be designed to cause the United States Air Force particularly to take the actions with which we are to be charged. The Communist side would thus be offered an opportunity, on the eve of the scheduled hearing of the Chinese Communist charge of aggression against the United States, of proving their case by an approach from another angle, and of splitting the united UN front. The hostile planes as yet have patently constituted no real military threat.

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All of the above bears no suggestion, of course, of “appeasement”: it does propose the use of such political avenues as may be available, in an effort to localize, in Korea, the new hostile moves from the Communist camp.

III. Military Strategy

One way to shift the military balance back into the UN favor in Korea would obviously be to throw in more troops. It would appear inadvisable, in the light of political strains existing elsewhere, substantially to increase the present United States complement. Efforts should be made to increase the proportion of participation of other nations, in terms of both personnel and materiel. The other UN members may refuse to accept the greater commitment, in which event the question arises as to the advisability of tipping the balance back by the use of new weapons or new strategies. The following seem to offer themselves: (a) chemical warfare; (b) indirect employment of Nationalist forces; and (c) strategic bombing in Manchuria. Chemical warfare would be effective against Chinese Communist troops, who are reputedly ill-equipped for defense in that regard. The loosing of Chinese Nationalist forces against the mainland (by technically withdrawing the Seventh Fleet without public warning but after prior confidential notification to the National Government) would offer them the chance they purport to have desired, under optimum conditions where they would have the advantage of surprise and only a thin force of Communist troops arrayed against them. Strategic bombing (even atomic) of certain selected targets in Manchuria, especially if prior public notification were made that the population of all major cities of Manchuria should evacuate, would indubitably shake the Chinese aggressor.

Neither the first nor the last of the indicated lines of action should be adopted, by all of the rights of the case, without common agreement with our UN comrades at arms. That agreement would be practically impossible to get. There would be strong opposition to the use of chemical warfare against “defenseless” Asiatics—especially in Asia. The unilateral loosing of Nationalist forces in what would be deemed a contravention of the June 27 ruling, particularly at a time when the question of Formosa is to be made the subject of debate in the UN, would set poorly in public opinion—and it is dubious whether the Nationalist forces could or would in fact stray far from the apron-strings on the basis of the advice “You’re on your own: give performance and you may rehabilitate your position.” Incursion into Manchuria would hardly be countenanced by the UN as such, and if undertaken with less than united opinion would probably by itself set off the next Communist move, in the direction of a further splitting of the [Page 1091] sometime united UN front and possibly the expansion of the area of armed conflict. All three measures would promise, in sum, the weakening of the UN front and the expansion of the area of conflict. Our measures should rather be devised to strengthen the UN front, and to limit the area of conflict: it is the Communist design which intends the opposite, and we should avoid the Communist traps.

1. Refusal to Engage China Per Se

Military strategy must follow that political strategy which, it must be emphasized, contemplates maintenance of the united UN front, for the safety of each and every one of those States which have resisted aggression in Korea. This is the main reliance for resistance to aggression throughout the world. Again it is to be noted that, in the presence of three new divisions and a very handful of enemy planes, there would seem to be no immediate cause for a panic reaction. There would seem to be time to stabilize and await further developments, in a situation where the Chinese Communists have thus far publicly done no more than call for volunteer aid to Korea, before reaching decisions on matters of major political and military importance. Premature conclusions here might lead us to exactly the move that the USSR desire that we make. It is clear that any action which would result in an enlargement of the scope of the present hostilities, it [sic] in the present circumstances would very possibly bring about a further enlargement, by the action of the USSR, to the distinct disadvantage of ourselves and our friends. We are in no posture now to resist Soviet arms in either Japan or Germany. And it appears clear that, for whatever reason, the atomic bomb alone can no longer be counted on to deter the USSR and its satellites from taking a course which runs the danger of war. Perhaps it is the fact that the Soviet armaments, now at their prime, will within a couple of years be outmoded, obsolescent; perhaps it is that the USSR plans to use other weapons, of either chemical or bacteriological warfare, which it estimates will balance the atomic bomb; perhaps they count on the initial advantage they would gain by causing the destruction of Washington and/or its inhabitants in a sudden, deadly strike; but, in any event, they can count on the advantage of having the initiative and the ability to accomplish a surprise move against an opponent that remains still in a posture of self-defense. In circumstances like those, it is elementary common sense that we proceed warily until the intentions of the enemy become clearer, in order that we shall not fall into a trap vaster in scope than anything dreamed of by Machiavellian strategists of former eras. Even if strikes against Manchuria meant nothing more than hostilities with China, it would be practically impossible to disengage from such a war, and while we were slowly sinking in the quagmire of that vast [Page 1092] waste over which no victory could be anything but pyrrhic, we might see Japan, Germany, and all of Europe be lost before our eyes—and the United States placed in a danger such as it had never known before. It may be hard enough not to fight China, as things stand, without us ourselves deciding that the present course of things shall take on a graver turn still. We should refuse to engage, in order that we can disengage at will. If we ourselves willed the engagement, there could be no turning back on the road to disaster.

2. Temporary Holding Operation

The battle for Korea should be continued on the basis of General MacArthur’s standing JCS directive of October 9, pending definitive developments. The implementation of that directive, designed to localize the war, will admittedly be more difficult under the now changed conditions. It has not yet been established as impossible. The use of Manchurian airfields by enemy planes is an irritating factor. For so long as such planes do not appear in considerable numbers, real danger to either our ground forces or our air force seems absent excepting as a suspected potential. The presence of Chinese troops in the field in Korea is established, but the real reason for their being there remains something of a mystery in the light of the Peiping contention that they are volunteers and in view of the limited contact they have had to date with UN forces.

The temporary abandonment of an all-out offensive in favor of more wary tactics, with perhaps some withdrawals necessary for sake of strength and stability, may slow up time-schedules and throw previous planning awry. That we still have much room, strength and time for maneuver is shown by the very disposition of our forces on the northeast front, from which they could and would obviously be drawn back to consolidated positions across the neck of the peninsula if the high command considered that real danger threatened. This should be a period for some slowing up of military operations to permit political estimates and discussions with our allies, to the end that, in our haste to win a battle, we shall not lose the war.

3. Political Support for a War

It cannot be repeated too often that the Korean war must be kept within the UN framework. We should of course fulfill our obligations to the UN; we should not assume, however, that our will is the UN will, or disregard the fact that the obligations to be fulfilled are only as established by joint action in the UN, and also that others besides ourselves are rightfully called upon to fulfill the same obligations. We cannot go faster than the UN, or we shall find ourselves alone—which is the Soviet design. The form our strategy is to take in Korea must be determined, in the ultimate analysis, by the decision of the 53 [Page 1093] nations who joined in resistance to aggression in the first instance. Our task is to support that united front, which gives us a framework for action. If it can truly be said that the experience of Korea has become an element of strength in the UN power of resistance to aggression, it can with equal validity be noted further that the continuance in being of the UN is more important than Korea—assuming, for instance, that the UN refused to go as far as we might like in respect to the problem of Korea. Even in the hypothetical event of our experiencing certain military reverses stemming from UN action in Korea, a UN which remained united would continue to be a bulwark against aggression. And, united, it may still win the battle for Korea, despite the Chinese Communist intervention.

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