Learn about the beta


Intelligence Estimate Prepared by the Estimates Group, Office of Intelligence Research, Department of State

I.E. No. 7

Korea (Preliminary Version)

i. prospects in korea

A. The North Korean objective in invading South Korea is outright control over the Korean peninsula. North Korea presently [Page 149]intends to attain a decisive victory through: the capture of Seoul in the next 7-day period. In the next 72 hours, North Korea may make a “peace offer,” but it can be taken for granted that this offer will be of such nature as to involve the surrender of the Rhee Government and will not indicate modification of the original objective.

B. Without effective US aid, the South Korean forces will offer immediate resistance along the Seoul defense line, in which effort they will receive strong popular support. The Communists will not be capable of developing effective local resistance behind the lines. The South Korean forces are, however, militarily inferior to the North Korean forces and are not considered capable of offering more than limited resistance because of the lack of equal armor, heavy artillery, and aircraft. It is anticipated that the inferior equipment and their limited supply of ammunition will within a short period force a break at some point in the defense line, the eventual loss of Seoul, and the collapse of organized resistance. At the point when military defeat appears imminent, the will to resist among the South Korean people is also likely to collapse.

US withdrawal would signify the end of organized resistance in South Korea. In view of Defense Department estimates, the delivery of limited US aid and the assumed failure of the US to make a full commitment to South Korea would have an adverse effect on Korean morale and, while limited resistance would be maintained for a period, the capture of Seoul would end organized resistance. If military assistance were received from the US immediately, in effective quantities, and including critical armaments—planes, artillery—the will to resist of the South Korean military forces and people would be strengthened.

ii. u.s.s.r. motivations

A. The North Korean Government is completely under Kremlin control and there is no possibility that the North Koreans acted without prior instruction from Moscow. The move against South Korea must therefore be considered a Soviet move.

B. A Kremlin decision to resort to open aggression in Korea is in line with the increasing militancy that has marked Soviet policy during the past eight months. However, it is unique among moves during this period, in fact among postwar moves generally, in that it clearly carries with it the definite risk of involving US armed forces and hence the risk of a general war. (The Kremlin probably discounts this risk, but even allowing for a heavy discount, the Kremlin must recognize that there still remains a possibility of war breaking out.) The Kremlin must therefore have either (1) considered Korea as more important than we have assumed, or (2) calculated that under any circumstances an armed clash with the US is more imminent than we [Page 150]had estimated. It is estimated that of these two alternatives, the first is the more likely.

C. There have been indications since early June that the USSR has been reviewing its Far Eastern policy with a conference in Moscow of practically all of the top Soviet Representatives in Far Eastern areas. It therefore can be assumed that the move in Korea was decided only after the most minute examination of all factors involved in the Far Eastern situation. Ambassador Panyushkin’s2 and General Derevyanko’s3 special function in this decision might well have been to estimate probable US reaction to the invasion.

D. While overt indications were that the conference was concerned with particular local Far Eastern situations—specifically US moves on the Japanese Peace Treaty, on aid to Indo-China, and further assistance to Korea—it is not believed that the attack on South Korea was resorted to merely for the purpose of achieving or furthering local Korean aims. Considering the apparent US commitments to South Korea, is estimated that Moscow would not have taken the risks involved—even allowing for a heavy discounting of these risks—unless liquidation of the South Korean Government was called for by the Kremlin’s global strategy, as distinct from North Eastern Asian strategy.

E. The liquidation of the South Korean Government would fit into Soviet global strategy in the following particulars:

  • 1. It offers a test on ground militarily most favorable to the Soviet Union of the resolution of the US in its announced policy of “total diplomacy.” Such a test would probably be considered important in connection with possible Chinese moves in support of Ho Chi Minh,4 Burmese Communists, or Malayan Communists; possibly, a satellite attack on Yugoslavia; and possible Soviet moves in Germany or Iran.
  • 2. A severe blow would be dealt US prestige throughout Asia and the encouragement which has been felt in widely scattered areas in consequence of the promise of more active American support of anti-Communist forces would be reversed. Equally important, the feeling would grow among South East Asian peoples that the USSR is advancing invincibly, and there would be a greatly increased impulse to “get on the bandwagon.”
  • [3.] Soviet military control of all Korea would be, from the Soviet standpoint, an important step in making secure the approaches to the USSR. During recent weeks Moscow has demonstrated increasing sensitivity over this matter—i.e., Baltic, Black Sea, and Iranian approaches. Elimination of the US “salient” in Korea would deny to the US any area where land forces could be staged for an attack on either Soviet Far Eastern territories or China.
  • 4. Soviet military domination of all Korea would give Moscow important weapon for the intimidation of the Japanese in connections with Japan’s future alignment with the US. The Kremlin may estimate that with control of Korea, elements in Japan favoring a neutral course would be greatly strengthened. Moreover, Soviet military leaders may estimate that if war does actually come, possession of Korea would be of great strategic value in neutralizing the usefulness of Japan as an American base.

iii. consequences in the far east

A. Japan.

The consequences of the invasion will be most important in Japan. The Japanese will unhesitatingly assume that the invasion is Soviet-directed and forms part of an over-all strategy which, at some point, includes Japan. Japanese reactions to the invasion will depend almost entirely upon the course of action pursued by the United States since they will regard the position taken by the United States as presaging US action should Japan be threatened with invasion.

Failure of the United States to take any action in Korea would strengthen existing widespread desire for neutrality. Defeat of the ROK would greatly intensify Japanese feelings of vulnerability while at the same time the failure of the US to assist the ROK would add force to the argument that alignment of Japan with the United States would, while inviting Soviet aggression, in no way ensure American protection of Japan against such aggression. Although this reaction might be counterbalanced to some degree by the commitment of significant additional US military strength to Japan and the restoration of Japanese sovereignty to the point where the Japanese could feel themselves at least partially partners in a defensive arrangement rather than the unwilling tools of American strategy, the undercurrent of doubt as to ultimate US intentions would remain sufficiently strong to reduce Japan’s utility and reliability as an ally.

Rapid and unhesitating US support for the ROK, on the other hand, would reassure the Japanese as to their own fate and, since Soviet aggressive intentions in the Far East will be underlined for the Japanese by the invasion, would enhance their willingness to accept US protection and its implications, though not the indefinite continuance of US direction of internal affairs.

Should US support be insufficient to prevent defeat of the ROK, the question of the value to Japan of similar support—as against the provocation support constitutes—will inevitably be raised. Considerations that will enter into the formation of Japanese attitudes under such circumstances—other than the immediate factors responsible for the Republic’s defeat—will include the following: (1) the degree to which American opinion appears to be moving toward the conclusion [Page 152]that a Communist Korea renders Japan valueless as a US base, or, conversely, enhances Japan’s value as a base; (2) the degree to which the Japanese regard Japan’s geographic, political, and economic situation as so different from that of the ROK that the defeat of the Republic does not point to US inability to defend Japan; and (3) the degree to which the Japanese feel that considerations of the undesirability of precipitating World War III are valid in the case of Korea, but would not be applied to themselves.

B. Nationalist China.

The remnants of the National Government of China on Formosa have long viewed the outbreak of World War III as their only real hope of survival and they doubtless therefore welcome the Communist attack on South Korea. Their reaction to a US withdrawal from Korea would be all the more severe. The tendency for flight or defection to the Communists would increase, military morale and governmental efficiency would deteriorate, and prospects for a Communist take-over would greatly improve.

Ineffective intervention by the US in Korea would have a somewhat less adverse effect, but the encouragement derived from increased militancy of the US would be more than cancelled by the fear that the US is unwilling to make the commitments necessary for success in stopping Communism in the Far East.

If the US were to adopt measures that succeeded in defeating the aggressive North Korean forces, the Chinese Nationalists would gain greatly in morale, efficiency, and general will to resist.

C. Communist China.

The Communist victory in Korea that would almost certainly follow US withdrawal would operate to the advantage of the Chinese Communist regime both at home and abroad, inasmuch as that regime would share in the increased prestige of the international Communist movement. This gain would, however, be over balanced by the repercussions on China of any stiffening of the US position elsewhere in the Far East as a result of the reverse suffered by the US in Korea.

If this hypothetical stiffening of the US position were to include effective measures to forestall Chinese Communist capture of Formosa, the Chinese Communists might come to view the Korean adventure as a move by the USSR in disregard of Chinese Communist interests. It is possible, however that the Chinese Communists were consulted before the attack on South Korea and that, for one of two reasons, they did not oppose the launching of that attack:

The invasion, of Formosa may be scheduled for the very near future, in which case any US reaction to actual or impending defeat in Korea might not occur in time to change the military situation in China.
The invasion of Formosa may already have been called off as beyond the capabilities of the Chinese Communists. This possibility, however, is less likely of the two, in view of the sustained and intensive Chinese Communist propaganda build-up on the need to take Formosa.

If a defeat for US policy in Korea is not counteracted by a strong move elsewhere in the Far East, developments in Korea may be expected to cause Chinese Communist leaders to adopt more bold and militant tactics in their attempts to promote Communism in other parts of Asia. Specifically, a major force—fear of US intervention—that now inhibits direct Chinese Communist military intervention in Southeast Asia would be very much weakened. The consequences of ineffective intervention by US in Korea would differ from the above only insofar as the fact of US intervention—even though ineffective—would sustain, or possibly even increase, Chinese Communist fears of US intervention to check Communist expansion elsewhere in the Far East.

Effective intervention by the US in Korea would produce a marked psychological reaction in the public mind and in the minds of the Chinese Communist leaders. Doubts would be created, or increased, as to the ultimate success of the Soviet camp in the cold war. In view of its public commitment to that camp, the prestige of the Chinese Communist regime would suffer, both within China and in other parts of the Far East. Resistance to the regime, both passive and active, would be encouraged. Within the regime itself, the doubts would take the specific form of a questioning of the advantage for China of the Soviet alliance. The Chinese Communist leadership would be impressed not only by the relative weakness or ineptness of the USSR in its Korean adventure, but also by the threat of the newly militant posture of the US in the Far East, a threat that had all but been created by Soviet blundering. As a consequence, the strength of the Chinese Communist ties to the USSR would be significantly weakened.

D. Southeast Asia.

The countries of Southeast Asia have not been particularly aware of Korea and its problems. The only personal contact that most Southeast Asians have had with Koreans occurred during the war when the Japanese used Koreans as guards, informers, prostitutes, and in other similar capacities, in conjunction with their own armed forces. These Koreans were a particularly hated and feared group, considered inferior in most respects, but more ruthless than the Japanese themselves. When they are remembered, the reaction to any news from Korea would be highly unsympathetic regardless of the specific context.

If the US abandons South Korea, whether or not token military assistance has been provided, the Southeast Asian leaders will lose [Page 154]whatever confidence they may have had in the effectiveness of US aid to combat Communism. Although regional attitudes toward Chinese Communist imperialism may not be changed, the increased confidence of Chinese minorities in Southeast Asia in the Communist destiny will strengthen opportunities for Communist penetration. Failure of the United Nations to solve peacefully the Korean issue would not immediately affect the Southeast Asian countries since, with the exception of Indonesia, reliance on the UN has not been an important consideration. However, hope that the UN might become an effective international organization will have been virtually destroyed.

iv. consequences in europe

Success of the current Soviet-sponsored invasion of South Korea will cause significant damage to US prestige in Western Europe. The capacity of a small Soviet satellite to engage in a military adventure challenging, as many Europeans will see it, the might and will of the US, can only lead to serious questioning of that might and will.

In occupied Germany, the success of the North Korean invasion forces will cause especial alarm. Germans in all Zones will inevitably consider the possibility of the East German paramilitary police playing in Germany the same “unifying” role the Soviet has assigned to its North Korean forces. Neutralist pressures and pressures for some sort of West German security force may be expected to increase.

Communists will make much of American inability or unwillingness to support effectively those who cast their lot with the US and will stress the line that the American imperialists are willing to fight only to the last Korean, Formosan, etc. Propaganda will be increased to point up Communism and Sovietism as a wave of the future.

  1. The cover sheet of the source text bore the following statement: “This is an Intelligence Report; nothing in it is to be construed as a statement of US or Departmental policy or as a recommendation of any given policy.”

    An attached memorandum, dated June 27, from W. Park Armstrong, Jr., Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Research and Intelligence, to William J. Sheppard, Deputy Director of the Executive Secretariat, stated that copies of this document were delivered in the late afternoon of June 25 to Dean Rusk, George F. Kennan, Counselor of the Department of State and Director of the Policy Planning Staff, and officials in the Bureau of Public Affairs.

  2. Alexander Panyushkin, Soviet Ambassador in the United States.
  3. Gem Kuzma Derevyanko, Soviet representative on the Allied Council for Japan.
  4. President of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam.