180. Letter From the Director of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs (Parsons) to the Ambassador in Korea (Dowling)1

Dear Red: You are doubtless curious as to the motivation of our telegram 2602 and developments on the level of forces question subsequent to your comprehensive and well thought out reply, Embassy telegram 356.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff report requested by the President came forward October 11, 1956,3 and stated in the first paragraph that “The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider the initial step which must be taken prior to a realistic determination of the minimum levels of U.S. and ROK forces in Korea is to modernize U.S. forces and equipment to include atomic capable forces.” The paper then estimated that if our forces in Korea were provided atomic capability, a reduction in ROK strength, consisting of a shift of four infantry divisions to reserve status, could be effected. No reference was made to the possibility of any reduction in the event U.S. troops are not given atomic capability nor were any cost estimates included on “modernizing” U.S. and UNC forces. The net saving, if any, to the U.S. in military aid and defense support and to the ROK military budget of a shift in four ROK divisions to reserve status was likewise omitted.

When the NSC Planning Board met on October 22 to consider the Joint Chiefs of Staff report, the Department’s representative asked the JCS representative whether from a purely military point of view any reduction in ROK forces was possible in the event [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] are not introduced into south Korea. The answer was a flat “no” at which point Gordon Gray said that Secretary Wilson would shortly send his comments on the JCS report to the NSC and would give as his opinion that a mere transfer of [Page 343] four divisions to reserve status was not worth all the difficulties inherent in the introduction of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. Furthermore, Defense was not prepared to agree to any decision on level of forces in Korea, either U.S. or ROK, until a world-wide survey was completed about mid-December.

As you know, it has consistently been L’s opinion that the introduction of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] into south Korea would be a clear violation of Article 13(d) of the Armistice. FE believes that reaction throughout the world and in the UN is a highly important factor to be considered. Introduction of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] must in the end depend, among other things, upon its effect on U.S. world-wide policies, objectives, and position. It is FE’s opinion that the introduction of such weapons could be justified only were we to possess incontrovertible evidence of a similar violation on the part of the Communists. As far as we know here, such evidence is not at hand.

Where all this leaves us I don’t exactly know at this point except that the Planning Board still desires a new policy paper on Korea which is certainly difficult to prepare until a decision is made on this important policy question. At the same time, DRF is preparing estimates on the economic implications within the ROK of force reductions and on world-wide reaction to the introduction of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Out of this “new look” at Korea may come a revised NSC paper, revised, that is, in format and perhaps courses of action but with the same long and short-term objectives.

This whole exercise has, of course, been inspired by a growing concern that the Congress can at some future date reduce our various foreign commitments in the interest of the domestic Defense budget which apparently is steadily growing as a result of new weapon developments. Korea, involving the largest sums of money, is the first on the list for review at the NSC level and will be followed by Formosa, Viet-Nam, Pakistan, and Turkey.

In connection with the force level problem, you will be interested in some insights into the thinking in JCS and Army acquired at a recent State–JCS meeting which I attended.4 Admiral Radford reported that General Lemnitzer was disturbed about General Yi Hyong-kun. At another point in the State–JCS meeting they said they did not wish to cut U.S. troops in Korea since they are important from the viewpoint of internal political stability until such time as the succession question is finally settled.

On the succession question, we have recently received a number of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reports which we found [Page 344] particularly interesting, and apparently reliable. We summarized two to them in a memorandum to Mr. Robertson5 These two reports ran as follows: The first, dated early October [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reported that [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] in the event of President Rhee’s death, Chang and the Democratic Party would receive the support of the police, students, and general populace. The Liberal Party would disintegrate, and the Army under its present leader would support Chang but would try to control him. The second report, also dated early October, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] says that the Liberals could not oppose Chang’s succession because they had favored the constitutional amendment in 1954. His succession, however, would mean their end, unless they staged a coup d’état, which would be highly uncertain of success.

[4-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] AFFE/8 Army also reported on the effects of the assignments. From a careful reading of the data and analysis in these reports, we can secure no clear-cut picture of a new line-up within the Army.

We have been inclined to read these various reports as indicating an increasing probability that the succession will be more or less uneventful. Thus, in the short run things look better. However, the frequent references to the possible disintegration of the Liberal Party tend to give pause. It is possible that in a relatively short time a one-party system, under Chang Myon, would lead to difficulties in U.S.-ROK relations of a character similar to those we have experienced with President Rhee. At the same time, we can share some of the military concern over Yi Hyong-kun. Certainly in their view a smooth working relationship between the ROK military and UN forces (including U.S.) is essential for maintaining a unified UN Command. Such a relationship, no doubt, tends to decrease the probability of ROK forces being used for internal conflicts. There can be no doubt that such a relationship makes it more difficult for President Rhee to use force for purposes that could lead to excessive embarrassment of the U.S.

The thoughts of the Embassy on these questions: “if succession, then what?”, “how about Yi Hyong-kun?”, “what’s happening to the UN Command relationship with the ROK command?”, and the many related questions would be more than welcome.

With warm personal regards,

Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: Department of State, Seoul Embassy Files: Lot 64 F 22. Top Secret; Official–Informal.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 173.
  3. Document 172.
  4. See Document 175.
  5. Not found in Department of State files.