795.00/5–1154: Telegram

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

top secret

1155. Repeated information priority Tokyo 685, niact Geneva 72. Geneva for Smith; Tokyo pass CINCUNC. For the Secretary from Dean. Head other mission1 said this morning he conceived mission to be (1) to get more effective military service for less money, (2) to train and equip more Asians so as to permit withdrawal from Asia American divisions to US mainland in order permit more maneuverability, (3) to teach Asians how to use simpler weapons in order to utilize greater Asian manpower and not necessitate matching our excessively expensive standards, (4) to match our withdrawals with greater number ROK troops but with lighter weapons or equipment.

Said further in interviews with KMAG and ROK commanders he found them copying our tables of organization and expensive equipment to last detail whereas Eighth Army was emphasizing cutbacks, and greater number of tighter divisions, with fewer men and less equipment. Further, our generally publicized statements of fighting communism to the limit in Far East and supporting ROKs were therefore [Page 245] somewhat inconsistent with our daily practices in Korea and current inquiries into possible cut of expenses and men. Therefore all this was leading to progressive lack of confidence by President Rhee in our government and its over-all policies and to a sense of Korean discouragement. Rhee told him he gets similar feeling from Formosa, Burma, Vietnam and Thai and that somehow they think they are not being treated fairly.

In reply, we said we were trying to put forward basic formula at Geneva which would preserve US–ROK allied unity and put onus for failure on Communists but that Rhee refused to consider anything as purely propaganda formula reputedly not acceptable to Communists but insisted rather on looking through formula to what active practical operating results in Korea would be if Communists actually accepted formula.

Said further that based on eastern philosophy Rhee believed something was either right or wrong and you could not confuse fundamental principles of strength and weakness and of pushing and yielding. For to Rhee Chinese Communists were aggressors and must be so labelled.

But under our plan B, part of aggressors could stay in north during elections, plus 350,000 North Korean Communist soldiers and to Rhee Communists were Communists whether Chinese or North Korean and our program for alleged free elections under UNCURK which Rhee regarded as having totally inadequate civilian manpower and without army support of communications and transportation in north together with substantial withdrawal of troops and facilities in south before elections was completely unrealistic.

Rhee says such program would force him publicly to backtrack on statements that he would never deal or cooperate with Communists, and result our program was nothing but bringing into play coalition government with Communists which we were trying to force down his throat just as General Marshall had attempted with Chiang Kai-shek and end would be the same, i.e., complete loss of Korea to the Communists.

Further Rhee asks, if we are sincere about helping Indochina, why do we not bomb factories and supply lines on Chinese mainland from advanced air bases in Korea rather than from Philippines, Okinawa or Japan and if we are going to pull our forces out of Korea we must therefore be getting ready to abandon Korea to her fate just as we did in 1949, assuming, of course, phased withdrawal means we can’t come back later and use bases under mutual pact.

Rhee’s questioning raises doubts in our minds whether we could use Japanese bases to drop atomic bombs on China mainland or USSR, [Page 246] and whether Japan might deny or withdraw such bases use for such purpose in which doubt General Hull and Ambassador Allison2 concur. If we withdraw from Korea and concentrate on Okinawa question arises whether that base might not be knocked out, and doesn’t that warrant re-examining question of having unquestioned right to use advanced Korean air bases even though we don’t wish to fight a war in Korea?

Inasmuch as our economic rehabilitation program has had hard work getting off the ground, and have not outlined it to Rhee in its entirety, and we are still antagonizing him by forcing Korea to buy in Japan if latter is low bidder which according to Rhee builds up a Japanese economy already relatively prosperous from Korean war, while Korea, our ally, is still struggling along in some cases from our own bombing, we have no tangible visible proof of our aid to Korea.

For all these reasons Rhee is getting increasingly allergic to talk that does not promise some immediate, definite tangible result, and he cries out against any more general talk.

To solve problem reference plan B acceptance believe there are at least two alternate solutions:


In order obtain Rhee’s acceptance plan B, believe we should think out immediately at highest level basic principles of our over-all military security program in Far East on a unified rather than bilateral basis for Formosa, Philippines, Okinawa, Korea and Thailand with concentration on Asian ground forces backed up by atomic weapons immediately available which forces can be moved from one place to another as needed and as needed supplemented by our Navy and Air Force. Not necessary or advisable bring Japan in such open-ended program for moment. This, of course, assumes armistice ended by plan B or otherwise we are restricted as to weapons by its terms.

Work out immediately for Korea its precise relationship to the whole program and give Rhee soon as possible definite principles for building up ROK divisions and total dollar value equipment we plan for him to have on a truly realistic basis and tell him very plainly that there is not going to be any more.

Explain precisely why 20 divisions just about limit he can man and pay for and we supply with available equipment and that we and he cannot possibly man and pay for and we equip 35 divisions. Explain we will give him artillery that is interchangeable conventional weapon and atomic cannon but presently would not supply atomic ammunition. To demonstrate effectiveness of latter we would put on demonstration for him at Okinawa.

Tell him precisely what we will do over next few years in the way of economic aid on a hard realistic basis with no nonsense about it and just how it is going to be administered by the US including Japan purchases and why in both North and South Korea if plan B put into effect and Korea unified.

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Explain precisely the function of our military pact and when it will and won’t work.

Or if he won’t take plan B,


Tell him frankly that without any attempt at political settlement with the Communists we will work out independently a mutually phased timetable for withdrawal of our own troops and the Chinese Communists, reduce economic aid to ROKs to a minimum, reduce our military aid to him to the minimum, bearing in mind there may be possible Korean strikes or sabotage and active interference with our troop and equipment withdrawal. We would then denounce mutual defense pact, assuming it is promulgated.

Tell Rhee he then free to work out any political basis he pleases with the Communists which we will examine but with no commitment to aid or recognize.

Further that if the Communists unprovokedly attack him we will come to his aid in accordance mutual defense pact while in effect. But tell him in no uncertain terms we won’t aid him if he attacks or provokes attack.

Tell him this is high-level long term program which will not be changed under pressure and must have his approval to whole plan and promise of cooperation.

Believe we should also tell him frankly about our Japanese program and that he has nothing to fear. Since we have explained this Japanese program to Commonwealth believe we should tell Rhee so he can be fully informed on our thinking and he can stop worrying about our rearming Japan.

Rhee can then take his choice of cooperating with us on proposed plan B or not if that’s what we still want.

Rhee and ROK generals are intelligent enough to know that if we fight in Indochina, the important Chinese bombing targets are from Peiping northwestward to Anshan, Mukden, Harbin and Vladivostok for which neither Philippines nor Okinawa bases are as suitable as Korea and with Okinawa knocked out and Japan bases possibly forbidden for that purpose we must be really withdrawing from Far East if we are willing to give up Korean bases in complete withdrawal. For if Communists can’t come back, can we maintain right to use bases in Korea under mutual pact?

To attempt to carry out plan B without ROK cooperation will not seem realistic to Communists and hence its announcement without ROK’s blessing will not be very convincing.

Believe we must have something definite and basic to tell Rhee which will arouse his continuing interest and allay his fears of abandonment.

In this event believe there is excellent chance of getting his cooperation.

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If he refuses then without question we should be prepared without wobbling to carry out alternative two above and its consequences should be carefully considered before making statement to Rhee.

Even our top military commanders and ambassadors have not been briefed on our overall thinking in Far East and hence small wonder Rhee dismayed by piecemeal briefing, newspaper accounts of withdrawal and vague rumors of cutbacks without specific information believe there is enough general information in Washington to formulate such basic principles immediately without waiting several months for detailed report of current mission and believe serious danger deterioration US-ROK relations which can set in very fast if something is not done promptly or if we announce plan B without ROK concurrence.

Whoever is authorized to brief Rhee should make sure these basic principles after being formulated at high level will be carried out without any further backing or filling or it will do no good to adopt this program.

Such a program could make American manpower much more mobile, would permit doing job with Asian ground forces supplemented by US Navy and Air Force and use the atomic cannon and other weapons as need be.

Foregoing outlined generally today at meeting in Tokyo with Generals Hull and Taylor and Ambassadors Allison, Briggs and Dean after extended discussion. Except for Briggs and Taylor, others have not seen actual text this message but they concurred in its formulation and advisability and necessity of its presentation. General idea also discussed head of other mission.

  1. Reference is to General Van Fleet.
  2. John M. Allison, Ambassador in Japan.