13. Memorandum on the Substance of Discussion at the Department of State–Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, Washington, February 4, 1955, 11:30 a.m.1

[Here follows a list of 27 persons present.]

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Mr. Murphy stated that the raising of the question of the NNSC by Defense at the NSC meeting on February 3, without prior consultation with the Department of State, had put the Department on the spot. He did not exactly understand why the matter had been so unexpectedly raised, particularly in the light of the fact that, as the JCS was aware, the subject of NNSC had been set up for discussion at the State–JCS meeting on February 4. Because there had been no prior State–Defense consultation on the NSC discussion, the Acting Secretary had not been prepared at the Council meeting, and therefore was not in a position to present the political aspects of the question.

Admiral Radford replied that he was convinced that it was the time to get down to work on the problem of the NNSC, and that it was sufficiently serious to be brought to the attention of the President. He thought the President should know about the differences of opinion between the two Departments, and the importance which Defense attaches to the matter. Admiral Radford recalled that at a State–JCS meeting in early December, Mr. Murphy had promised some substantive action within a week.2

Mr. Murphy rejoined that he was not aware of having made any such commitment, and noted that you could not order the Swiss and the Swedes around like a battalion. He pointed out that what we hoped to avoid during December was any action which would result in a debate on Korea in the General Assembly, and that we had clearly stated that we preferred to postpone action until the General Assembly had adjourned. Mr. Murphy emphasized that the operation in Korea was a United Nations, and not a United States proceeding. We had pressed the Swiss and the Swedes, Mr. Murphy recalled, to take on this responsibility under the Armistice.

Admiral Radford stressed that there were two salient aspects of the question: (1) the security of UN military personnel; and (2) continued delay means increasing Communist build-up of military forces to the relative disadvantage of our own side. Under the Armistice agreement, Admiral Radford said, we were unable to introduce improved matériel: all we can do is replace period hardware already on the spot, and this was becoming increasingly difficult because the matériel, particularly aircraft, which was in Korea at the time of the [Page 21] Armistice, had largely become obsolete. He said the question was: how long can we go on with this increasing danger from a military point of view?

Mr. Murphy said that Mr. Robertson would have some comments to make, and that following him Mr. Phleger, the Department’s Legal Adviser, would go into certain legal considerations.

Mr. Robertson said that the Department appreciated fully that the situation was an unnatural one, that there were repeated Communist violations to the agreement with respect to the NNSC, and that the work of the NNSC in North Korea was being completely vitiated by Communist action. But it was essential, he continued, that we have the expressed concurrence of the 15 other nations with which we were associated in this UN operation in any interference with the terms of the Armistice. He pointed out that we had been in continual communication with the 15 on the matter, and that it was only after long weeks of discussion with the British and the French that a tripartite démarche3 had been made to the Swiss and the Swedes which had resulted in the aides-mémoire4 from those two governments, copies of which were already in the hands of the JCS. Mr. Robertson said that we recommend that we call a meeting of the 16 to tell them the situation and suggest: (1) that they accept the proposal that the UNC introduce into the Military Armistice Commission (MAC), for discussion during a period not exceeding about two weeks, the Swiss and the Swedes preferred alternative that the NNSC be liquidated and the MAC assume those functions of the Commission dealing with the Armistice; (2) that the Swiss and the Swedes simultaneously be informed of this action as well as our doubts concerning its success, and that we ask the Swiss and the Swedes to tell us their practical proposals for a substantial reduction in personnel of the NNSC; (3) that if the Communists do not agree to the liquidation of the NNSC, and if the Swiss and Swedish practical proposals for reduction in personnel envisage a cutback to no more than two inspection teams (to be stationed in the demilitarized zone for the purpose of spot inspections where required), these proposals should then be introduced into the MAC, while we simultaneously seek a reasonable period to persuade the Swiss and the Swedes unilaterally to withdraw from the NNSC, or to reduce their personnel to this level and station them in the demilitarized zone if the Communists fail to agree; and (4) that if these steps fail, we convene another meeting of the 16 to discuss further courses of action.

Mr. Murphy interjected that the State Department fully recognizes the military aspects of the problem, but is aware also that it has [Page 22] important political implications. All steps should be taken in consultation with the 16, he said. It would be fool-hardy to take military action without consulting the others.

Admiral Radford again emphasized that General Hull was seriously concerned about the possibility of an incident occurring in South Korea involving the NNSC. Mr. Murphy said we were fully aware of that. Admiral Radford went on that the other 15 powers do not have the same concern that we do. The Admiral asked Mr. Murphy if the State Department did not recognize the seriousness of the situation. Mr. Murphy again stressed that the Department certainly does, to which Admiral Radford replied that nevertheless the matter had been dragging on for six months. Mr. Murphy concurred, but also pointed to the fact that the armistice negotiations, in which the Department of Defense had indicated keen interest, had gone on for a much longer time. He said that we would want to explore fully any possible action in the Security Council of the United Nations. Again Admiral Radford emphasized that both General Hull and Ambassador Briggs were very concerned, and well they might be since it is the U.S. which has the responsibility for the United Nations command. Once again Mr. Murphy made it quite clear that there was no lack of awareness in the Department of the risks involved. Mr. Robertson pointed to the repeated efforts made by the Department to encourage early action by the Swiss and the Swedes.

Mr. Murphy then called on Mr. Phleger to go over certain legal aspects of the situation.

Mr. Phleger said that the role of a lawyer was to give legal advice. He asked Admiral Radford if what he wanted was to be relieved of certain restrictions in the armistice agreement. Admiral Radford said that was right. Mr. Phleger noted that the armistice agreement in Korea was of a kind which seemed to be coming more and more popular in international affairs (a general armistice without a termination date, which was almost in the nature of a treaty of peace) but he added that it was also a political document. It was a contract, he continued, which, if broken by one side, brought into play certain rights on the part of the other side. The other side could either (1) terminate the agreement or (2) attempt to enforce the provisions which have been violated. Specifically, if we unilaterally terminated paragraphs 13(c) and 13(d) of the armistice agreement (those prohibiting the introduction of reinforced personnel or weapons), the other side could say that we had abrogated the agreement.

Mr. Phleger stressed that any provision to delete certain articles in an agreement must follow the same procedure as was followed when the articles were drawn up, and it must be done in the context of the same authority.

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Admiral Radford inquired if Mr. Phleger thought General Hull did not have authority to take the action the JCS favored. Mr. Phleger replied that in general the UN commander did not have such authority, though he did not want to be misunderstood: although UNC cannot terminate the agreement, there is a certain area in which he has a certain latitude—for instance, as to the specific logistic services offered to inspection teams, or as to the speed with which inspection trips are complied with—areas in which the armistice might in fact be affected.

Mr. Bowie asked Admiral Radford if his principal concern was to avoid an incident. Admiral Radford said that was General Hull’s principal concern. He said that General Hull wanted to bring violations of the agreement with respect to the NNSC to the attention of the MAC as grounds for abrogating the articles in the Armistice agreement pertaining to that Commission.

Again Mr. Phleger noted that any abrogation of the agreement could only be accomplished legally under the authority which had given rise to the agreement in the first place.

Mr. Murphy said that was why we felt that a preliminary meeting with the 16 was necessary.

General Ridgway asked if it was correct that Mr. Phleger believed that General Hull had no authority to withdraw the NNSC teams from South Korea without permission of the UN. Mr. Phleger said yes.

Admiral Radford then read General Hull’s signal of January 315 outlining his great concern over the problem. Admiral Radford added that it was hard for anyone to understand the feeling of concern on the part of a commander in the field who is under such constant risk.

Mr. Murphy asked the Admiral to define the risk, and the Admiral did so by reading from General Hull’s message. The Admiral highlighted the threats previously made by President Rhee, the fact that the situation was so serious that the teams had to be moved by helicopter in order to avoid having to have them proceed overland with the increasing chances of an incident, etc. General Hull had indicated, the Admiral said, that the risk was critical now and was bound to increase as U.S. troops were withdrawn and progressive responsibility were turned over to the ROK.

Mr. Murphy pointed out that this risk had always existed from the very beginning, and that without the provisions for the NNSC we would have had no armistice agreement at all.

Mr. Robertson suggested that his recommendations be approved and that we present a well documented case to an early meeting of the 16.

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Admiral Radford reverted to what had been told President Rhee during the latter’s visit to the U.S. some months ago,6 namely, that we would make every effort to find a timely solution to the problem.

Mr. Murphy pointed out that we had made every effort. Did the JCS feel that there had been any omission? If so, what were the omissions?

Admiral Radford said he realized that efforts had been made, but that there was extreme danger in the situation: it was full of dynamite. Mr. Murphy patiently reiterated that the State Department was well aware of the danger. Admiral Radford said that he did not know how many messages there had been from General Hull on this subject. That was why, he said, Secretary Wilson had been asked to take the matter up at an early meeting of the NSC. It was felt that the President should be informed of the situation.

Mr. Murphy said that, of course, the State Department was delighted to have the matter brought up in the NSC, but would have liked to have had our representative informed that the matter was to have been discussed. In that way, the President would have had a far better understanding of the problem. Continuing, Mr. Murphy stated that he does not recall having said last December that we would have an answer within a week; what he had said, as he recalled it, was that we hoped to have an answer from the Swiss and the Swedes within a week on our proposal.

Admiral Radford said that he might very well have been mistaken, but that he had understood otherwise.

Mr. Murphy reviewed the recommendations specified by Mr. Robertson, and asked the JCS if they concurred in the proposal to take the matter up with the 16 as indicated.

Admiral Radford said that such a procedure would at least have the effect of letting the ROK know that we were trying to do something.

Admiral Carney interjected to echo the view that it was a very dangerous situation. The plan which had been presented to the JCS would probably not work. Discussions could go on and on. We were permitting ourselves to be talked out of what we knew to be right. What we propose does not correct the existing situation, or alleviate the danger.

Again Mr. Murphy said that the danger had been with us ever since the armistice had been signed. It was not new. Admiral Radford agreed, but repeated that the danger was increasing.

Mr. Phleger asked point blank if the JCS was prepared unilaterally to abrogate the armistice. Admiral Carney said that we were prepared [Page 25] to terminate the privileges allowed to the NNSC. Mr. Phleger said that it was a question of looking at the balance of the advantages against the disadvantages in the situation, and determining what the consequences of a course of action are, and whether the effect of certain acts were worth the consequences they involved. Mr. Murphy added that if the UN “partnership” were too onerous, perhaps it should be terminated.

Admiral Carney inquired if it was not agreed that UNC was responsible for the security of his own forces. Mr. Murphy readily agreed. He had always had that basic and abiding responsibility. Admiral Radford noted that the UNC position at the time of the armistice was far better than it is now: then we had 8 divisions in the area; now, the problem of security was increasing. General Hull’s precarious position was not fully appreciated. There was a time element involved.

There was some discussion as to whether or not a military armistice was a political matter. It was emphasized by the State representatives in general that the political implications of the Korean armistice could not be completely divorced from the purely military considerations. General Ridgway noted wryly that he recalled very well from his experience in Korea just how much freedom of action he had had as military commander. He suggested the possibility of the U.S. Government authorizing UNC to take the action recommended by General Hull as an interim measure, and then informing the 16.

Mr. Murphy agreed to look at this proposition, but emphasized that we have this partnership and that we must respect it.

Mr. Murphy also suggested that at the projected meeting of the 16, we have someone from JCS present.

Ensuing discussion revolved around the question of whether or not General Hull had been informed of the U.S. Government’s plan. It was not clear that he had.

Reverting to the plan, Mr. Phleger speculated that he did not see how the 16 could object.

General Ridgway said that the question boils down to a definition of the concept of the responsibility of UNC. Mr. Robertson said that General Hull was there as the UN commander. General Ridgway agreed, but noted that the U.S. was the executive agent of the command. Mr. Robertson emphasized, however, that nevertheless he was representing UN.

Mr. Murphy then turned to the recommendation which had originally been made by Mr. Robertson. He asked the JCS if the proposals were agreeable.

Admiral Radford said that he thought we should draft a message to General Hull pointing out the situation and asking him for his [Page 26] comments, and whether or not he is prepared to take the continuing risk that the program involves. The Admiral repeated that he had given General Hull the impression on his recent trip that he could expect early action on the NNSC.

Admiral Radford said that General Hull was entitled to a clear picture.

Mr. Robertson said that Ambassador Briggs had been constantly informed of developments.

Mr. Murphy agreed that the matter should be discussed with General Hull and that it should also be taken up with the 16.

Mr. Robertson suggested that we ask the 16 if the interim measures contemplated by General Hull are agreeable, and preferable to unilateral action.

Admiral Radford inquired exactly what would happen if UNC acted unilaterally. Again Mr. Phleger pointed out that we have a contract, the armistice agreement, and that while we might be able to take emergency action as a temporary expedient, any substantive change in the contract would have to be agreed upon first by all the parties associated with us in it.

Mr. Murphy asked if it were absolutely necessary to comply with every request of the NNSC investigating teams in South Korea to proceed to this or that place. He asked what the other side was doing in North Korea. Admiral Radford read from General Hull’s message that during the entire armistice period, only one NNSC mobile inspection team in North Korea had been dispatched to an investigation point as requested.

Mr. McClurkin broke in to say that General Hull has the authority to fit his treatment of the NNSC to conform to treatment accorded it in North Korea. (However, ensuing discussion did not bring out that General Hull had been instructed in this sense.)

Admiral Radford then said that his position was that General Hull was entitled to a full presentation of the case. He said that General Ridgway had indicated that the Army was prepared to cooperate in the drafting of a message to General Hull.

Action on the message to General Hull was given to Mr. Sullivan7 (OSD), Mr. Stelle8 (S/P) and Mr. McClurkin (NA)

Mr. Murphy indicated that we should also draft a statement of the situation for the White House.9 Admiral Radford said that the President would be fully satisfied with the information contained in the joint message to General Hull to be drafted by State and [Page 27] Defense,10 and suggested that a copy of the message be made available to the White House.

[Here follows discussion of an unrelated subject.]

  1. Source: Department of State, State–JCS Meetings: Lot 61 D 417. Top Secret. A note on the title page reads: “State Draft. Not cleared with any of participants.”
  2. Reference to informal notes of the State–JCS meeting of December 4 (the only such meeting between November 20 and January 14) do not reflect any such commitment on the part of Mr. Murphy, or any other State Department representative at the meeting. In fact, the tenor of the discussion was that the operation, which the State Department favored as essential under existing political considerations, would take time. [Footnote in the source text. A memorandum on the substance of discussion at the State–JCS meeting of December 4, 1954, is ibid.]
  3. See footnote 4, Document 2.
  4. See Document 7.
  5. Reference’ is to CINCUNC telegram C–71309; see footnote 3, Document 10.
  6. For documentation on the visit of President Rhee to Washington in July 1954, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. XV, Part 2, pp. 1839 ff.
  7. Charles A. Sullivan, Director of the Policy Division, Office of Foreign Military Affairs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.
  8. Charles C. Stelle, member of the Policy Planning Staff.
  9. See Document 15.
  10. See telegram DA 975505, infra.