159. Editorial Note

A contemporary intelligence estimate on probable developments in North Korea over the next few years opens as follows:

[Page 287]

“The Problem

“To analyze the present strengths and weaknesses of the North Korean regime and to estimate future developments and trends over the next few years.


  • “1. The Korean Communist regime will almost certainly retain firm control of North Korea through 1960, and the USSR will probably retain its predominant influence over North Korea’s internal and external policies. Communist China probably will continue to make a substantial economic contribution to North Korea and its military forces will continue to be available for the defense of North Korea. Although Communist China will continue to play an important part in the formulation of Bloc policy toward North Korea, we believe it will not attempt to dislodge the USSR as the dominant power there. (Paras. 50–51)
  • “2. The objective of the Communists continues to be the gaining of control over the entire Korean peninsula. We believe that they will not resort to force to obtain this objective, at least so long as the US remains committed to the defense of the ROK. However, the Communists will continue their attempts to undermine the ROK through overt and covert political, diplomatic, economic, and propaganda appeals to South Korea for economic, political, and cultural contacts, and for ‘Korean’ measures to bring about unification. We believe that in present circumstances the Communists will probably not make substantial progress in these efforts. However, either in the event of the death of Rhee or a decline in US economic and military support, their unification tactics are likely to be accelerated and much more effective. (Paras. 53–54)
  • “3. The Communists will probably continue to press for the withdrawal of UN/US forces, and for international negotiations on Korean unification, but they almost certainly will not make any concessions which would weaken their firm hold on North Korea. In fact they would probably accept serious military risks to maintain their position. (Paras. 52–53)
  • “4. Despite reductions in over-all strength since the Armistice, Communist armed forces in Korea could still launch a limited attack with little warning. The Chinese Communists will continue to have the unopposed capability to reinforce units in contact along the demarcation line with a maximum of six armies in from 10 to 14 days after the initiation of movement from present assembly areas. North Korean armed forces now include a re-equipped and reorganized army of some 350,000 men and an air force with 310 jet fighters [Page 288] (Fagots) and 65 light jet bombers (Beagles). Although the North Korean ground force is well below the strength of the 650,000-man ROK army and may undergo a strength reduction of 80,000 this year, North Korean air force strength is far superior to that of the ROK. (Paras. 40, 42, 48–49)
  • “5. The Chinese Communists have steadily reduced their troop strength in Korea and now have less than 300,000 men in the area. The chances are about even that Chinese Communists will complete the withdrawal of their troops within the next year or so in order to enhance the independent appearance of the North Korean regime and to increase pressure on the US/UN command to complete its withdrawal. However, the Chinese Communists may wish to retain some troops in North Korea in order to maintain political influence in the area and a rough parity of ground force strength with the ROK.1 (Paras. 44, 52)
  • “6. Although living standards remain extremely low in North Korea, rehabilitation of the severely damaged industrial and agricultural industries is well advanced. With substantial material and manpower assistance from the Bloc, industrial output is rising and will probably reach 1949 levels in most sectors by the end of 1956. By 1961 the North Korean economy will probably be able to make a modest contribution to the Bloc’s economic potential in the Far East in the fields of metals, chemicals, and electric power. However, a serious manpower shortage, lagging production in agriculture, and lack of adequate consumer goods industry will continue beyond 1956 to hamper efforts to raise living standards and to increase the regime’s appeal in the ROK. (Paras. 27–29, 33–38)” ([Document title, number, and date not declassified] Department of State, INRNIE Files)

The remainder of the document is not printed and was not presented for declassification.

According to a note on the cover sheet of the document, “The following intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate: The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and The Joint Staff.” All members of the Intelligence Advisory “ [Page 289] Committee concurred on July 3, except for the Atomic Energy Commission representative and the Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, who abstained because the subject was outside of their jurisdiction.

In a memorandum dated July 5 to Special Assistant for Intelligence W. Park Armstrong, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jones referred to this estimate as “an estimate on North Korea which highlights the intelligence deficiency with respect to non-military developments in North Korea.” FE, he noted, had long been concerned by the deficiency of such intelligence, and he suggested that the CIA be encouraged to expand its role in reporting and processing intelligence on North Korea. (Ibid., FE Files: Lot 58 D 3, Korea 1956)

  1. The Special Assistant, Intelligence, Department of State, believes that the factors impinging on a Chinese Communist military withdrawal from Korea are so uncertain as to make it impossible to estimate that the chances are about even that complete withdrawal will occur within the next year or so. Although such a move would conform with the Communists’ current ‘peaceful’ pose, such factors as Chinese Communist interest in maintaining influence in North Korea, Chinese Communist commitment of military labor in Korea as a contribution to North Korean rehabilitation, possible Soviet uneasiness about the strength of the North Korean forces at this stage of development, and the desirability of timing a military withdrawal in such a way as to gain maximum political advantage may militate against complete withdrawal in the immediate future.” [Footnote in the source text.]