185. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson) to the Acting Secretary of State1


  • Review of Policy with Respect to Korea (NSC 5514)

In response to the National Security Council request that our Korean policy be reviewed in the light of the Joint Chiefs of Staff report on force levels and the Prochnow Committee report on aid programs, my staff has completed a comprehensive study of the problem based on a number of recent intelligence estimates and research studies on Korea together with the views and recommendations of the Ambassador at Seoul and the Economic Coordinator. I should be glad to make these papers available to you should you so desire.

The conclusion reached as a result of this comprehensive study is that the objectives and courses of action of NSC 5514 (Tab A)2 remain valid and the paper, therefore, does not require revision with the possible exception of paragraph 8, which deals with the courses of action to be pursued by the United States in the event of south Korean aggression against north Korea. My views on this section of the current NSC paper will be forwarded to you separately.

The over-all objectives and dimensions of the military and economic aid programs likewise do not, in my opinion, lend themselves to any major modification at this time and I believe, therefore, they must be continued at present levels (Prochnow Committee alternative 1). (Prochnow Committee Report—Tab B)3

FE is convinced that substantial reductions in military or economic aid (alternatives 3 and 4 of the Prochnow Committee’s Report on Korea) would weaken our military and political posture in Korea, to the serious detriment of United States interests there and elsewhere in the world.

Since the Cairo Declaration,4 United States policy has been directed toward the establishment and maintenance of a free, independent [Page 352] and unified Korea. We fought a major war to prevent Communist compromise of this objective by military aggression and in the fighting suffered thousands of casualties. Although a cease-fire was effected in 1953, the armies remain deployed in the field under an armistice and the threat of renewed aggression is a very real one. The American public and the Congress, in my opinion, fully appreciate this special situation and as a consequence, little difficulty has been experienced when requests are made for aid to Korea. It is widely appreciated that the United States was at fault prior to the opening of the Korean hostilities in having withdrawn its tactical forces, in having failed to create adequately trained and equipped forces in south Korea, and in having failed to make clear that it would not countenance Communist aggression. Since the signing of the Armistice, we have entered into a Mutual Defense Treaty with Korea, supplementing the Joint Policy Declaration of the Sixteen, and we have assisted in the development of a larger and more effective Korean military establishment. Nonetheless, our position is not altogether secure; the most recent North Korean [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]5 gives the north Koreans a marked superiority in the air and a capability of launching a limited attack without warning. It also points out that Communist forces in Korea could be reinforced from Manchuria within eight days by at least six Chinese Communist armies.

I believe our military objectives in Korea are well stated in paragraph 2 of NSC 5514: to create Republic of Korea (ROK) armed forces capable of maintaining internal security and of defending ROK territory short of attack by a major power. On the basis of our experiences in 1950-1953, and subsequent analysis of world-wide Communist bloc policy, we know that it is unlikely that north Korea alone will attack the ROK provided appreciable military preparedness is maintained. An attack from north Korea, if it came, would be backed by Communist China and possibly the USSR. We know from experience that we could not rely on any forewarning of the reinforcement of the north Korean forces by Chinese Communist forces. Although we cannot create ROK military forces capable of a sustained defense against Communist China and the USSR, we should maintain there ROK forces capable of making the foreign involvement [Page 353] apparent and of affording time for the United States and its Allies to intervene effectively.

The force levels of the ROK armed forces also have an important bearing on United States military and political posture in Korea and in the Far East. There is every reason to believe that any reductions would have widespread and adverse repercussions in Korea and throughout the non-Communist world. A report prepared by the R area of the Department (IR-7367, November 1, 1956)6 states that the south Korean populace might become more susceptible over a period of time to the Communist line for rapprochement between north and south Korea were military strength reduced. It has been fortunate for us that the south Koreans have been so universally and firmly anti-Communist. A weakening of their opposition to Communism, in their exposed position, would be a serious matter. The R paper, in considering the effects of a reduction of ROK forces on the non-Communist countries of the Far East, estimates that unless reassurances were made through collateral actions these countries would doubt the long-range intentions of the United States in the Far East, and the mainland Southeast Asian states probably would move closer to the Communist bloc, thereby weakening the SEATO structure. A reduction of ROK forces would be regarded by interested countries as a move in the direction of exclusive reliance on a strategy of massive retaliation, thus forcing them to reassess their security ties with the United States.

The Prochnow Committee Report presented as the last of its four alternatives a cut in economic aid. Less study has been given to this alternative than to reducing military aid, partly because the level of economic aid is set in large part by the magnitude of ROK military forces. Moreover, reductions in economic aid would stimulate inflation, to the detriment of stability in Korea, would lessen the present rate of investment, thus prolonging the need for outside assistance, and would in many respects work to the immediate detriment of United States interests in Korea. Mr. Warne has analyzed the effects of a cut very thoroughly in a recent telegram supporting his recommendations for a fiscal year 1958 Korean Defense Support and Technical Assistance Program totaling $335 million (Toica 1052, CINCREP Seoul, November 6, 1956—Tab C).7

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That there be no weakening of our military position in Korea, either the number of United States troops or the size of ROK forces, since this would seriously endanger not only United States objectives in Korea but United States interests throughout the Far East and, in fact, elsewhere in the non-Communist world.
That economic assistance be continued at least at present levels in order to support the ROK military establishment, to control inflation, and to provide the investment resources essential to economic development.8
  1. Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 62 D 1, Korea, U.S. Objectives and Courses of Action (NSC 5514). Top Secret. Drafted by Nes and Norred and cleared with Jones and Sebald. Hoover was serving as Acting Secretary during Secretary Dulles’ convalescence from surgery. Dulles remained in Walter Reed Hospital until November 18, after which he convalesced in Key West, Florida, until December 2.
  2. Not found attached. NSC 5514 is printed as Document 24.
  3. Not found attached. Regarding the Prochnow Committee report, see Document 155.
  4. The Cairo Declaration was the joint communiqué issued on December 1, 1943, at the conclusion of the conference in Cairo of President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. The communiqué pledged joint military operations against Japan and liberation of all territories conquered by Japan. The statement focused on China, but also noted that the leaders were “mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea,” and “determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.” For text, see Department of State Bulletin, December 4, 1943, p. 393.
  5. See Document 159.
  6. A copy of this report, entitled “Probable Local and International Repercussions of Various Possible Courses of US Policy in Korea,” is in Department of State, INR Files.
  7. Not printed.
  8. There is no indication on the source text of Hoover’s response to the recommendations. According to a marginal notation on a memorandum from Bowie to Hoover on the same subject, also dated November 20, Hoover was absent at the time and Bowie’s memorandum went to Deputy Under Secretary Murphy. Bowie argued in his memorandum that, in order to prepare a report for the President reviewing U.S. programs of military and economic support for the Republic of Korea, it was essential to examine a wide range of alternatives, despite FE’s conclusion that no change be made in the military and economic programs for Korea or in the size of the Korean force levels. The marginal notation on the S/P memorandum indicated that Murphy approved the course of action outlined by Bowie. (Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 66 D 487, Korea)