Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file

Memorandum of Discussion at the 175th Meeting of the National Security Council, Tuesday, December 15, 19531

top secret
eyes only

Present at this meeting were the President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Acting Secretary of State; the Acting Secretary of Defense; the Acting Director, Foreign Operations Administration; the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Acting Secretary of the Treasury; the Attorney [Page 1659] General; Walter Williams for the Secretary of Commerce (for Item 3); the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; Robert R. Bowie, Department of State; General Porter, Foreign Operations Administration; the Assistant to the President; Robert Cutler, Special Assistant to the President; C. D. Jackson, Special Assistant to the President; the Deputy Assistant to the President; the Acting White House Staff Secretary; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

There follows a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the main points taken.

[Here follows discussion on items 1. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security,” 2. “Continental Defense,” and 3. “Development of Nuclear Power.”]

4. Report by the Vice President

In anticipation of the Vice President’s arrival, Mr. Cutler reviewed briefly the relevant courses of action in NSC 170/1 and Annex A thereto.2 He also read a telegram from General Hull, dated December 10, which was also germane to this subject.3 In view of the situation, Mr. Cutler said that it seemed to him sensible to press forward now with our courses of action designed to deter President Rhee from reinitiating hostilities. He asked Secretary Smith to speak to this point.

Secretary Smith stated that while Tyler Wood had finally arrived at a satisfactory understanding with President Rhee,4 the discussions had been extremely acrimonious. Furthermore, the other serious problem, namely, the conflict between Rhee and the Japanese, remained unresolved. President Rhee was behaving quite outrageously, and there was no solution in sight. Moreover, continued Secretary Smith, we are of course now faced with the possibility of further difficulties as a result of the breaking off of the Panmunjom negotiations, which he felt were not likely to be renewed on any satisfactory basis. While the prisoners would undoubtedly be released, we may have difficulties with India on this point. Krishna Menon has stated that the prisoners could not be released in the absence of a political conference. Secretary Smith again pointed out that Rhee seemed to be talking a great deal of late about a unilateral renewal of hostilities. While Assistant Secretary Robertson apparently believes that Rhee is bluffing, one could never tell, since Rhee is such an incalculable quantity.

Admiral Radford thought there was very good reason at this point to review the courses of action set forth in NSC 170/1, with particular [Page 1660] respect to ways and means of preventing Rhee from initiating hostilities. He noted that General Hull, among other things, had been directed to consult with ROK army leaders in order to prevent Rhee from acting unilaterally. There was danger that General Hull would, in following this directive, talk to so many leaders that it would be as good as publishing to the world an effort to undermine the loyalty of the ROK army to President Rhee. Admiral Radford thought we should go very slowly in implementing such a course of action, and the President expressed emphatic agreement with this view. Secretary Smith also commented on the danger of giving NSC 170/1 as a directive to the people in the field. It should, he thought, have been confined to the people around this table. Secretary Smith further suggested that when Admiral Radford went to Korea in the near future he should sit down and explain to General Hull the objectives we sought in NSC 170/1 and devise the best ways and means of reaching these objectives.

The President said that it had certainly never been his intention to take action which would undermine the esprit de corps of the ROK army or destroy its loyalties. He not only agreed with the proposal that Admiral Radford discuss this subject with General Hull, but recommended that Generals Hull and Taylor be brought back every few months for consultation.

After a brief discussion of the situation in Iceland and the status of our bases in Morocco, the Vice President arrived from the State Department and was asked by Mr. Cutler to report to the Council briefly on the results of his conversations with President Rhee.

The Vice President stated that the best way to summarize his talks with President Rhee was first to analyze what we are seeking to accomplish in Korea. President Rhee was a very complex character, as we all knew. The Vice President had had two conversations with Rhee, one lasting two hours and the other an hour and a half, and these conversations had heightened the Vice President’s impression of Rhee’s complexity. On the other hand, it was important to distinguish between what Rhee says and what he will actually do—his public actions from his private thoughts. Rhee had what might be described as a conspiratorial mind, not unlike that of a Communist. Accordingly, it was possible to draw erroneous conclusions from his statements.

My assignment, continued the Vice President, was to deliver to Rhee the letter from President Eisenhower.5 This letter was unequivocal in content, and I delivered it. Rhee’s reaction was one of considerable emotional shock, and he began at once his sparring tactics to avoid the commitment which President Eisenhower’s letter had asked for. At last, however, we did get down to the commitment, and when we had reached this point Rhee finally said, after protestations of his desire to [Page 1661] follow President Eisenhower’s wishes and to respect U.S. interests, that he would not do anything unless and until he had informed the President of the United States.

In subsequent conversations with our Ambassador and other officials, they all stated their feeling that Rhee had gone further than he had ever gone before. Actually, however, said the Vice President, at his final meeting with President Rhee he went even further. He had prepared in advance two typed pages of what he was going to say, and he gave these two pages to the Vice President after he had read them aloud.

Rhee believes that in the battle with Communism you must always make an effort to retain a good bargaining position, just as the Communists always sought such a position. It was necessary for them continually to fear what you might do. Hence any public announcement by Rhee of a denial of intent to resume hostilities without U.S. approval would actually weaken the position of the United States at the conference table. Indeed, such an announcement would assure the Communists of much greater freedom of action. Why, inquired Rhee, could not President Eisenhower make the same use of me and the ROK as the Communists use their satellites—to take positions which subsequently the USSR itself might or might not stand by, depending on the circumstances?

The Vice President also commented that Ambassador Dean was inclined to agree that this argument of President Rhee had some merit and that it was indeed unwise to pull all of Rhee’s teeth.

So, to sum up: I do not believe that Rhee will take any action of the sort we fear without prior notification to the President. Nor will he take any action unless he is assured that the U.S. will go along. He will, however, continue to utter threats for reasons which are not, even now, wholly clear to me, since he knows in his heart that as a practical matter he can never get away with any course of action which would forfeit U.S. support.

Another complicating factor is that Rhee hears from time to time from friends in the United States that he will actually have American support if he “goes it alone”. The Vice President stated that he had done his best to disabuse Rhee of this belief, speaking to him as a friend. All in all, therefore, the Vice President felt that we have finally got across to Rhee the realization that we will not back him up if he moves along the course that he has threatened. This realization, said the Vice President, would almost certainly control Rhee’s action. He will nevertheless continue violently to oppose the presence of the Soviet Union at the political conference except as a belligerent. Moreover he will continue to be violently opposed to India’s presence, since he regards that nation as no more than a Communist satellite.

[Page 1662]

Secretary Smith observed that if this report proved to be accurate, we could certainly make great use of Rhee as a threat to the Communists.

The Vice President answered that that was precisely why Rhee was so anxious that his pledge to the President should not be made public.

The President inquired whether it would not be a good idea to place in the files of the Council a single copy of the original memorandum which the Vice President had sent from Korea describing his conferences with Rhee.6 No other copies were to be made.

Admiral Radford pointed out that the Vice President was presumably unaware of the recent decision to withdraw two divisions of our troops from Korea. We have been discussing the best means of making a public announcement of this move. Should Rhee be told privately of this proposal before the public announcement was made? Secretary Smith answered that President Rhee should by all means be told in advance.

The Vice President said that he had one final point to make. We very frequently hear, particularly from diplomatic personnel who are irritated by Rhee’s maneuvers, that Rhee did not have the genuine support of the people of South Korea. If I am convinced of anything as a result of my visit, continued the Vice President, it is the very complete support which the President enjoys in Korea and also the strong popular desire to achieve the unification of Korea. Accordingly, we must be very cautious in judging the temper of the Korean people. This had proved very different from what the Vice President had anticipated before he got to Korea.

The National Security Council:7

Discussed a preliminary oral report by the Vice President on his recent world trip, with specific reference to his conversations with President Rhee.

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Drafted by Gleason on Dec. 16.
  2. Dated Nov. 20, p. 1620.
  3. Reference was to telegram C 66454, CINCFE to the Department of the Army, Dec. 10, not printed. (JCS records, CCS 383.2 Korea (3–19–45))
  4. For the text of the agreement signed at Seoul on Dec. 14 on a program for strengthening the Korean economy, see Department of State Bulletin, Jan. 11, 1954, pp. 65–67.
  5. For text, see the enclosure to the letter from Dulles to Nixon, Nov. 4, p. 1591.
  6. This memorandum is printed in its original form as a draft telegram from Nixon, Nov. 13, p. 1609.
  7. The following paragraph constituted NSC Action No. 986, a record copy of which can be found in S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) files, lot 66 D 95.