795.00/12–3153: Telegram

The Deputy Representative for the Korean Political Conference (Young) to the Department of State


199. Repeated information Seoul, Tokyo, CINCUNC, Taipei unnumbered.

In view ROK opposition to our 8 December proposal, reiterated in effect by Rhee on 21 December, and divisive issue this presents to Communists, I associate myself with Ambassador Briggs’ recommendation (Seoul’s 560 to Department2) for over-all re-appraisal US position with respect to Korea. Urgency this matter indicated by considering position we would face if arrangements should be worked out with Communists for resumption Panmunjom negotiations. With respect preliminary talks and Political Conference, seems to me out here that concentrated effort effect closer alignment ROK views on composition Political Conference might well be first order of business re talks before we try move their resumption or before UNGA happens to reconvene. I can have no illusions such alignment will be possible or any easier now than it was during past two months, in light over-all context our policies and current conditions Korea. In this connection I wish to offer following comments:

  • Part 1.

    Our policies in Korea face difficult future resulting from obstacles erected by Communists and from hurdles created by intransigeance and incapacity ROK Government.

    Sturdy hard-working people are shackled by poor leadership across the top. Despite his sense of history, his understanding of Communism, his patriotism and certain marks of leadership, President Rhee does not have effective Cabinet or government with whom we can deal on regular responsible basis. President’s abilities do not include creation effective administration, nor virtue surrounding himself with able lieutenants. Coupled with tendency toward irresponsible, capricious administration, stultifying mediocrity and widespread corruption, there is unfortunate trend toward autocratic, one-man, unrepresentative [Page 1681] government. Opposition parties, groups and leaders are being silenced. Signs multiply of President’s intention to develop one-voice press.
    Authoritarian government here might not be major problem if it were competent, responsible and just, or if it were evolving in ways responsive to needs of Korean people and of Asia generally. Korean people themselves have many admirable qualities and abilities, but they lack experience in self-government, in the mechanics of operations any government, and particularly in foreign relations. In fact, nearest thing to civil service currently existing in [is] ROK Army, built and fostered by US military authorities in stress of battle, but likely to wither, or rust, or be undermined by politics during protracted uneasy armistice if UNCROK relationship is substantially altered.
    As possibility of unification fades away, ROK Government and people may not only be more frustrated than today, but they may conclude that United Nations (and especially US) have miscalculated in Korea and ignored obvious intention of Chinese Communists try to append and control North Korea to Manchuria. In short, they may blame US for their woes. Indefinite division of Korea will create exceptionally difficult social and economic problems (assuming ROK can survive with present area), but most acute and exasperating consequence for US will probably be in field of ROK foreign relations, not alone with US but likewise with rest of free world. It may take several years and complete change of ROK leadership before ROK relations with non-Communist Asia are stabilized. Except to extent he is able give impression of defying US, and of getting away with it, Rhee has surprisingly little standing in this part of world. As long as he continues present policies toward Japan, India, British Commonwealth and UN, ROK will suffer. If Rhee intensifies his drive for absolute power, standing of ROK abroad (and specially in US) may be further impaired. In those circumstances position of United States regarding Korea could become even more difficult in near future.
    Two recent developments may tend harden President Rhee’s attitude on Political Conference and cooperation with USA in international matters: The Indian action on the majority interim NNRC report, and the announcement of the two-division withdrawal. He may make resumption talks as difficult as possible. He may return to his absolute rejection India and neutrals at Political Conference, on which by mid-December he gave some indication of softening.
  • Part 2.

    Among the numerous possible conclusions to be drawn from foregoing, following impress me as particularly pertinent:

    American Government and people have tremendous stake in Korea, yet we cannot adequately carry out our commitments and meet our national interests if trend toward absolutism, poor leadership and [Page 1682] intransigeance continues to grow. Notwithstanding this, collapse of US-ROK relations will probably not occur because ROK leans so heavily upon US for everything. Time may be on our side if used in patience and persistence.
    In this context of absolutism, poor leadership and intransigeance, our present projects may founder in Korea because we attempt too much, too soon, on too large scale, or in too shallow a receptacle. We should perhaps consider some retrenchment on big, expensive, generally directed aid programs that require extensive implementation by ROK Government. Perhaps goals in Tasca and Nathan reports3 should be stretched out in time, or modified. More emphasis might be put on “grass-roots” approach, with more direct dealing at community level with tangible needs of people; this is aim of modest armed forces assistance program ($15 million) operating under General Taylor’s leadership. Perhaps we should seek to disengage somewhat at top and deal more directly with communities, professions and groups. There might then be fewer difficulties at the governmental level and wider understanding of our aims and methods in the country, both of which would facilitate our national objectives here.
    In relations with ROK Government itself, we should seek greater respect and better performance. In view of recent ROK record of behavior with reference to Political Conference, economic aid and Japanese relations, would it not be advisable consider strictly pay-as-you-go basis with President Rhee. Favors (for example, erasing ROK $20 million indebtedness merely because ROK asks us to do it) might well be withheld until collaboration is being regarded by ROK as two-way street and reciprocal enterprise.
    We should help foster development of ROK civil service. Creation by army shows what can be accomplished with hard work and inspiring leadership; to accomplish this in civilian area, in peacetime, will be more complex and delicate and doubtless require considerably more time. Likewise, exchange of students, professors and leaders. Cultural and professional fields should be expanded to maximum limit by Korean personnel able to meet requirements.
    Political implication of growth of ROK military establishment are not all reassuring. Maintenance of armed forces as non-political instrument, in country lacking historic democratic traditions, would be difficult in best of circumstances. In terms maintenance armistice agreement pending political settlement, and possible negotiated troop withdrawal in a political conference or other forum, it is essential that relations between UNC and ROK military be maintained on as close and [Page 1683] comradely a basis as possible, which, however, may be affected as withdrawal of US contingents from Korea takes place.
    Partition of Korea may be long-term phenomenon. While this falls far short our declared objective of unification, it may conform for time being to political realities of struggle between free and Communist world. In other words, buffer area may, de facto, be North Korea with demilitarized zone and some eventual form UN observer group or NNSC as safety valve. This at least provides space ahead of us for air-front, opportunities for observing and probing Red China in northeast Asia, and strong hold on Asian continent near center Red China’s power. This bridgehead would then be outermost point in arc swinging through Japan, Okinawa, Formosa, Philippines into Indochina. This is uncomfortable and unhappy situation for ROK people, but better than being plunged into possible World War III on Rhee’s narrowly nationalistic terms, regardless over-all political realities and strategic considerations. Collaboration with ROK on such military outpost, together with effect joint policy statement and mutual defense treaty, if ratified, might counteract ROK opposition Political Conference and ROK reaction failure unify Korea peacefully.
    Finally, our appraisal and planning should be on basis of 5, 10, 20 or more years depending on duration and development Communist regime in China and elsewhere, since time means nothing to them. We have major long-term responsibility in Korea. If we cannot succeed in devising effective peaceful pressures in political conference, United Nations or elsewhere to get Chinese Communists out of Korea, road ahead may be long as well as difficult, with no easy solution. In immediate future we might begin exposing Chinese Communist designs on North Korea in terms their “conquering” and occupying it in classic fashion historic Chinese imperialism. I have consulted fully with Ambassador Briggs on this telegram.

  1. There was no time of transmission indicated on this telegram, but it was received at the Department of State at 10:51 a.m., Dec. 31, 1953.
  2. Not printed. (694.95B/12–1953)
  3. The Tasca Report is printed as Attachment 2 to NSC 156/1, July 17, p. 1389. The Nathan Report is not identified.