Eisenhower Library, Dulles papers, Korea

Memorandum by John Foster Dulles to Dwight D. Eisenhower

top secret
personal and private


  • The Korean War
It is probable that the dominant will with which we have to deal is that of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin cannot impose its will on Communist China in the same arbitrary way that it imposes its will upon Poland, Rumania, etc. Nevertheless the Chinese Communist Party accepts the dominance of the Soviet Communist Party as leader of the world proletariat.
If this conclusion is sound, the considerations which determine whether or not the Communists will continue the war are global considerations and not considerations limited merely to the battle line in Korea or the desires of the North Koreans or Chinese Communists. There is no doubt that Moscow looks on the Korean war as only one of many fronts. What it does there will be determined not by local considerations alone, but by other situations in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
From the Soviet standpoint the Korean war:
holds a large part of the U.S. land forces on an Asian peninsula where in the case of general war they might be lost. (I do not think that the Soviet now plans a general war but the bad strategic disposition of U.S. land forces consequent on the Korean war is an advantage to Soviet Russia which no doubt they calculate weakens our resolution with respect to other actual and potential areas of conflict such, for example, as Iran.)
absorbs large amounts of military equipment which slows down the rearming of Western Europe, of Chinese nationalists on Formosa and of native and French forces in Vietnam.
provides an excuse for Soviet Russia to hold onto Port Arthur and to control Manchuria.
provides a propaganda gold mine which is being exploited to the immense advantage of the Communist position throughout all of Asia.
provides a source of serious friction between the U.S. and the other NATO powers.
maintains a constant military threat to Japan, which builds up anxiety and neutralism there.

The foregoing factors could make the Soviet Union want to continue the war, irrespective of the prisoner-of-war issue, so long as it can get these advantages without the risks of a military defeat in Korea. That risk probably seems negligible under present circumstances because the United Nations side seems not to have the will, and perhaps not the capability, to win in Korea a victorious decision.

However, the prisoner-of-war issue is doubtless important, not primarily from the standpoint of the actual prisoners taken in the Korean war, but from the standpoint of the world-wide situation. If there is no forcible repatriation, that may encourage defections everywhere. If there is forcible repatriation, enabling the Communists to make an example of those who have been “disloyal”, that will deter future desertions and facilitate consolidation of the Communist position.