Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file

Memorandum of Discussion at the 143d Meeting of the National Security Council Wednesday, May 6, 19531

top secret
eyes only

Present at the 143rd meeting of the National Security Council were the President of the United States, Presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Under Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense; the Deputy Director for Mutual Security. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Director of Defense Mobilization; the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Acting Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; Commissioner Thomas E. Murray, AEC; the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; Mr. Robert Cutler, Special Assistant to the President; Mr. Lewis L. Strauss, Special Assistant to the President; Mr. C. D. Jackson, Special Assistant to the President; Colonel Paul T. Carroll, Military Liaison Officer; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

There follows a general account of the main positions taken and the chief points made at this meeting.

[Here follows discussion on item 1. “The Large Ship Reactor and Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Programs” and item 2. “The Situation in Indochina and Thailand”.]

3. The Situation in Korea

4. Analysis of Possible Courses of Action in Korea (NSC 147;2 NSC Actions Nos. 759 and 711-e;3 Memo for NSC from Executive Secretary, subject: “Future Courses of Action in Connection with the Situation in Korea”, dated March 30, 19534)

General Bradley briefed the Council first on the military situation in Korea and subsequently on developments in the armistice negotiations, concluding with a summary of General Harrison’s latest report to the effect that the Communists had begun to propagandize in favor of settling the prisoner-of-war problem and the armistice by means of a political [Page 976] conference. General Bradley pointed out the very great danger of a political conference prior to the conclusion of an armistice. This would permit the Communists to build up their forces while stringing out the political conference, thus placing the UN forces in a trap.

With this judgment Secretary Smith expressed complete agreement, the more so, he added, since if we agreed to a political conference it would be quite likely his misfortune to be the chief U.S. representative at it.

Mr. Cutler then reminded the Council that at its last meeting it had requested the Department of Defense to appraise the desirability of an actual or simulated build-up of our forces in Korea.5 He then asked Secretary Wilson or General Bradley to speak to this point.

General Bradley replied that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were convinced that we would not succeed in fooling the Communists by any kind of fake build-up of strength in Korea. The Chiefs were very skeptical of invoking psychological pressures if we were not actually prepared to resume the offensive if and when the armistice negotiations broke down. General Bradley outlined what forces and matériel would be available to commence such a build-up in Korea if the Council did decide to authorize such a build-up. But General Bradley also warned that the sending of additional men and matériel to Korea would seriously affect our commitments in other vital areas and would require more funds and higher force levels. In summary, said General Bradley, it was the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that we should not only not move any new units to Korea, but not even alert such units for movement unless and until we had made a prior decision to step up the pace of our operations in the event that the armistice negotiations collapsed.

Mr. Cutler interposed to explain that the NSC staff had attempted to present in tabular form the six possible alternative courses of action open to the United States in Korea in this contingency.6 While, said Mr. Cutler, it was not his intention to propose a discussion of these alternatives by the Council until we knew the probable outcome of the armistice negotiations, he hoped that this chart of the alternatives would prove helpful later.

The President expressed appreciation of this latest effort to set forth in convenient form the Korean alternatives, and then asked the Council whether it believed it would be profitable to have the military brief them on the several choices of action in Korea which were open to us, the briefing to be done in simple operational and descriptive terms. The briefing, the President thought, should also include a clear statement by the Chiefs of Staff as to which of the several possible courses would be [Page 977] most desirable for the United States in terms of total cost to the nation in both human and material resources. The President emphasized that he wished the briefing to avoid technical phraseology and to be accompanied by charts and maps.

General Bradley informed the Council that the Joint Chiefs, in their recent paper setting forth several alternative courses of action in Korea,7 had deliberately and by design avoided making any choice among these alternatives. They believed that it was inappropriate for them to fix on any military course of action until the Council itself had decided on what our national objective was. The Joint Chiefs, said General Bradley, are all too frequently accused of interference in the political decisions of the Government.

Secretary Smith first, and then other members of the Council, expressed warm approval of the President’s proposal for a military briefing. Secretary Smith stated that most of the possible military courses of action in Korea involved difficulties from the point of view of foreign policy. As set forth in NSC 147, these foreign policy difficulties became increasingly more severe as the military courses of action became more drastic. Nevertheless, said Secretary Smith, he thought it quite possible that if we were to adopt the sixth and most drastic of these military courses of action and were able thereby to secure a victory in a short time, our allies might welcome our choice. If, on the other hand, victory eluded us and the struggle was protracted, we must anticipate grave difficulties.

In view of Secretary Smith’s remarks, the President suggested that it would be very useful for General Bradley to plan his briefing in conjunction with the State Department in order that the military courses of action could be accompanied by a clear statement of their foreign policy implications.

The President then reverted to a statement made by General Bradley in the course of his briefing on the military situation in Korea. General Bradley had pointed out that the Communists seemed to be attempting to put planes in back on four airfields in North Korea, and the Air Force had been making these fields targets for recent attacks. With regard to this, the President inquired whether these airfields might not prove a target which would test the effectiveness of an atomic bomb. At any rate, said the President, he had reached the point of being convinced that we have got to consider the atomic bomb as simply another weapon in our arsenal.

General Bradley expressed some doubts as to the usefulness of any of these fields as a target for an atomic bomb.

[Page 978]

There ensued, in conclusion, a discussion of the time when the military and the State Department should present their briefings on the alternatives open to the United States in Korea. It was first thought that the briefing should be scheduled in two weeks time. Secretary Smith, however, said it was quite possible that the armistice negotiations would break down during that interval, and the President therefore directed that the Council meet a half an hour earlier next week and the briefings be scheduled for that meeting.

Action on Item 3:

The National Security Council:

Noted an oral briefing by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the military situation in Korea and on developments in the Korean armistice negotiations.

Action on Item 4:

The National Security Council:8

Noted an oral report by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, in response to NSC Action No. 777-e, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Consider that the Communists are not likely to be fooled by deceptive or psychological warfare measures not related to an actual build-up in Korea.
That such measures, to be effective, must be predicated on a prior decision and preparations to assume the offensive in Korea in the event armistice negotiations break down.
Could make available certain additional forces to carry out such a decision, but this would reduce our offensive capabilities elsewhere and would require additional funds and personnel.
Noted a request by the President that Mr. Cutler circulate to the Council a letter from Ambassador Lodge relative to reimbursement by our allies for logistical support furnished to their troops in Korea by the United States.9
Agreed that the following briefings on the subject should be presented at next week’s Council meeting:
A briefing by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on feasible military courses of action in Korea, together with their choice of the most advantageous course for the United States to adopt.
A briefing by the Department of State on the probable effects of such courses of action on other nations, particularly our allies.

Note: The actions in c-(l) and (2) above subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State, respectively, for implementation.

[Page 979]

[Here follows item 6. “NSC Status of Projects”.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. This memorandum was drafted by Gleason on May 7.
  2. Dated Apr. 2, p. 838.
  3. For NSC Action No. 759, see the memorandum of discussion at the 139th meeting of the NSC, Apr. 8, p. 892. NSC Action No. 777-e, taken Apr. 28, read as follows: “Agreed that the Department of Defense should study and report on steps which might be taken during the Korean armistice negotiations either to build up forces in Korea or to give the impression that such a build-up was taking place.” (S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) files, lot 66 D 95)
  4. Not printed, but see footnote 2 p. 838.
  5. See the memorandum of discussion at the 141st meeting of the NSC, Apr. 28, p. 945. The reference to the “last meeting” was incorrect; the real or simulated build-up was discussed at the 141st NSC meeting, not the 142d.
  6. See the table in the NSC Staff Study of Apr. 2, pp. 854856.
  7. Presumably this reference was to the JCS estimate, which was attached to NSC 147, but is not printed.
  8. The following paragraphs and note constituted NSC Action No. 782; a record copy can be found in S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) files, lot 66 D 95.
  9. The text of subparagraph b has been corrected in accordance with the text of the record copy cited in footnote 8 above.