795.00/12–3153: Telegram

The Ambassador in Korea (Briggs) to the Department of State

secret

605. Repeated information Tokyo 357, Manila 23. Repeated information Taipei by pouch. Tokyo pass CINCUNC. Manila for Robertson.

Although ROK Government reaction to Eisenhower announcement re withdrawal two divisions from Korea1 has on whole been unnaturally restrained, it is evident genuine surprise, confusion and disappointment mingled with some disillusionment are prevailing reactions.

Comment, whether official, editorial or private, has been disturbed and has reflected uncertainty as to interpretation. In general, move criticized as failing correctly assess Communist aims and methods, as poorly timed from viewpoint negotiating situation in Korea with Communists, and as blow at ROK objective unifying Korea. There has been some recognition by responsible individuals and one or two newspapers of fact withdrawal should be considered in context world-wide developments and world-wide responsibilities of US. This has been limited however.

Although there is as yet little substance on which to base conclusions re effects this move on ROK, following possibilities should be considered. It may engender a certain feeling of abandonment and thus be blow to ROK morale, civilian and military. With respect specific effect on Rhee’s thinking re unilateral ROK action, it might conceivably spur him to decision to act earlier in order embroil UN Forces before they are substantially weakened. I doubt however that Rhee has either (1) made decision to take unilateral action or (2) been pushed toward affirmative decision on this question by Eisenhower announcement. Conversely, move may have healthy effect in driving home to Rhee and other ROK leaders facts of (1) US has world-wide commitments which must influence her actions in Korea, (2) domestic opinion in US does not favor renewal of war and this has been factor in withdrawal move, (3) prospect unifying Korea by force is slight and ROK cannot count on US military support.

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Therefore, balance my estimate is that US move, although sharp disappointment to ROK, is not likely precipitate sudden action on part ROK. (However, due his absence from Seoul I have not seen Rhee since his evening meeting with Radford and Robertson.)

Briggs
  1. On Dec. 26, Eisenhower released a statement that U.S. ground forces in Korea were to be “progressively reduced as circumstances warranted” and, as an initial step, two Army divisions were to be withdrawn and returned to the United States. Eisenhower cited as justification for this action the armistice, the capabilities of ROK forces, and increased U.S. air power; but he warned that, if aggression should occur in Korea, the United States would be ready to oppose it “with even greater effect than heretofore.” For a complete text of the statement, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953, pp. 860–861.

    According to a memorandum by Cutler to Smith, Dec. 17, 1953, the President agreed with Cutler that it was not desirable for information on the withdrawal of U.S. ground forces in Korea to be sent to the Far East by message. Instead, Radford, who was going to the Far East, was to convey the information to Rhee before Eisenhower’s announcement on Dec. 26. (795B.551/12–1753)