Memorandum of Conversation, by Burton Kitain of the Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs

top secret

Subject: The Korean Situation

Participants: Prime Minister FE–Mr. Dean Rusk
S. G. Holland1 FE–Mr. John Emmerson2
Mr. A. D. McIntosh, Permanent Secretary of External Affairs NA–Mr. U. A. Johnson3
BNA–Mr. L. Satterthwaite4
BNA–Mr. B. Kitain
G–2–Major G. L. Converse
Sir Carl Berendsen, New Zealand Ambassador G–3–Lt. Col. C. R. Wright
Mr. George Laking, Counselor

After a short military briefing on the Korean situation by Major G. L. Converse and Lt. Col. Charles R. Wright, Mr. Rusk outlined for the Prime Minister five alternatives open to the United Nations in Korea. The first would be to inject all the possible force of the United Nations in an attempt to finally defeat the Communist forces. The disadvantages of this course were: a) the Communists had an almost unlimited supply of manpower to counter our moves, and, b) we did not wish to commit the greater part of our forces in Korea.

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The second alternative would be to withdraw completely from Korea. This was objectionable because it would be disastrous for the United Nations and would serve as a warning for other small nations lying on the periphery of the Iron Curtain to make an immediate settlement with the Communists.

The third alternative, that of maintaining an indefinite military stalemate, could not be considered because the United States had no desire to have its forces whittled away by continuous attrition or to lose the bulk of the professional cadre of its forces on this remote battlefront. In addition, public opinion would not accept an indefinite “half-war, half-peace” in which the United States was prevented from using its air power against China itself.

The fourth alternative was to attack the Chinese mainland by air and sea and to support a mainland attack by Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces in an attempt to bring down the Peiping regime, a course which even if acceptable to our friends would be inadvisable because of the great probability of direct Soviet intervention.

The fifth and most viable course of action was that of stabilizing the military lines so as to convince the enemy that victory would demand a prohibitive price. It might then be possible to arrange a cease-fire during which a Korean settlement might be brought about on a minimum basis of a return to the status quo ante June 1950. We would strive for a withdrawal of all foreign troops and attempt to leave the ROK forces as strong as possible. The risk that the entire aggression might be repeated, however great, was unavoidable. Once these preliminary steps had been taken, it would then be possible to discuss other Far East questions with the Peiping regime.

The Prime Minister thanked Mr. Rusk for his frank exposition of our thinking and stated that before the discussion was carried any further he wanted to assure us that we had his wholehearted support. There had been too much criticism of the United States and not enough support, he asserted. Any questions he might ask, therefore, were in no way intended to be critical but were posed solely to clarify his thinking. Before asking these questions, however, he wanted to explain the position of the British Commonwealth and the situation faced during the recent Prime Ministers Conference. The Prime Ministers had gone to London with a basic desire to present a united Commonwealth front to the world—a task rendered most difficult by the hostile attitude of India and Pakistan. The Prime Ministers had searched desperately for some possible solution of the Korean crisis which would not involve the world in a general war. The Prime Minister stated that there was a strong feeling at the Conference that there must be no appearance of a break between the Commonwealth [Page 157] and the United States. The situation was resolved when word was received that the United States acquiesced to the five principles presented to the General Assembly. When, however, the Chinese refused this proffered solution, Mr. Holland was convinced that the Commonwealth must follow the lead of the United States.

The Prime Minister then asked us several questions concerning the results of the military campaign, which were answered by Mr. Rusk.

The Prime Minister stated that when the United Kingdom recognized Communist China, New Zealand opposed and refused to follow suit.

Mr. Rusk indicated that the first gap in US-UK relations appeared when the UK recognized the Communist regime in China but that the US had been convinced that this gap would inevitably close. The Chinese Communists would either become less intemperate, in which case the US would be willing to move toward the UK position, or they would become even more provocative, in which case the UK would move toward the US position. The Prime Minister then asked if the fifth alternative as stated at the outset of the conversation were to be adopted and the US were to agree to discuss the general Far East situation after the cease-fire had been arranged, would this not imply US agreement to Communist control of Formosa and to Peiping’s entrance into the UN? Mr. Rusk indicated that as long an anyone wished to discuss a question the US could not avoid replying. The US, however, would not agree to Chinese recognition in the UN, but, for the sake of general US policy in the UN, it would not consider such a question as subject to a veto. Similarly the US would not agree to Communist control of Formosa until the Peiping regime had given some indication that it intended to “settle down” and cease disturbing the peace in the Far East. Mr. Holland asked for how long Peiping had to “be good” before the US would be willing to consider altering its position on these two questions; did the US consider the door still open to a settlement with the Chinese Communists? Mr. Rusk indicated that with respect to the former the US position was flexible; as for the latter the US considered that the Chinese had “closed the door” but that “the key had not been thrown away.” The US, however, has had contact with the Peiping regime during the past few months and there have been several opportunities for rapprochement, but the Peiping regime has reacted only by intensifying its efforts to stir up trouble in the Far East.

The Prime Minister again thanked Mr. Rusk for his frank discussion and indicated his wholehearted support. He asked if there were anything he could do. Mr. Rusk stated that he would discuss with the Secretary the question of further troop contingents from [Page 158] New Zealand for Korea. Mr. Rusk thanked the Prime Minister for his enthusiastic support.

Mr. Holland then asked Mr. Rusk if he might call again before leaving Washington to discuss the Japanese Peace Treaty and the Pacific Pact. An appointment was arranged for 10:30 Thursday morning.5

  1. Mr. Holland visited Washington from February 5 to 10 in the middle of a two-week stay in the United States en route to New Zealand following the Commonwealth Prime Ministers meetings in London during the previous month.
  2. Planning Adviser, Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs.
  3. Director of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs.
  4. Deputy Director of the Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs.
  5. February 8; see the memorandum on p. 1570. For documentation on the Japanese Peace Treaty and the Pacific Pact, see vol. vi, Part 1, pp. 777 ff.