187. Memorandum of a Conversation, Washington, November 28, 19561


  • Defense proposal to authorize the introduction of “Honest John” and the 280 millimeter gun in Korea


  • State
  • Mr. Herman Phleger, the Legal Adviser
  • Mr. John M. Raymond, Acting Deputy Legal Adviser
  • Mr. Nes, NA
  • Mr. Runyon, L/UNA
  • Defense
  • Mr. Mansfield D. Sprague, General Counsel
  • Admiral Chester Ward, Judge Advocate General, Navy
  • Mr. Monroe Leigh, Assistant General Counsel
  • Captain Mott, Navy
  • Captain Robbins, ISA

Mr. Sprague opened the meeting by quoting the piece-for-piece of same type and effectiveness provision of paragraph 13(d) of the Korean Armistice Agreement and stating that in Admiral Radford’s view and the view of the Defense Department, it would be impossible in the long run to construe these words strictly. Modernization of combat materiel would inevitably produce more effective weapons and weapons of dual capability. The case of aircraft is a good example in that they have developed and changed since the agreement was made and they clearly possess atomic capability. Similarly, “Honest John” and the 280 mm. gun have both conventional and [Page 357] atomic capability. While the President would have to decide whether atomic warheads might be introduced into Korea, the Army in the meantime should have the latest types possible and should be permitted to have weapons of dual capability. At Mr. Phleger’s request, Mr. Runyon briefly outlined the legal position taken by the State Department, as set out in Defense telegram 983878, June 24, 1955,2 and concurred in previously by Defense.

Mr. Phleger asked why Defense had not gone ahead with the introduction of modern equipment consistently with the earlier agreed position. He stated that the time element is an important matter and suggested that the passage of time might eventually make necessary the introduction of equipment not covered by the original agreement. He stated his view as a lawyer that the introduction of “Honest John” and the 280 mm. gun would be a violation of paragraph 13(d) and could not be justified as a matter of liberal interpretation, pointing out that the introduction of these weapons would create an imbalance contrary to the overall purpose of paragraph 13 of the agreement, especially inasmuch as we could not establish that there have been similar introductions on the Communist side. He thought this would also be the view of the United Nations. In the last analysis the decision whether to introduce “Honest John” and the 280 mm. gun must therefore involve a weighing of the political factors including the political consequences of a violation on our side which could be considered by the Communist side to permit them to treat the Armistice Agreement as abrogated. Mr. Phleger made it clear that he would not maintain that we should forever be bound by an armistice agreement when its terms became outmoded and impossible to live with, but we must be prepared to take the consequences of violating it. He also pointed out that the Communists had breached the agreement, and we were therefore entitled to terminate or suspend it, but if we did so, the Communists would not be bound by the agreement.

A general discussion ensued in which the representatives of Defense emphasized the position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the introduction of the two weapons referred to is essential from a military viewpoint, that it might be argued that Communist violations of paragraph 13(d), especially with respect to aircraft, free us to disregard its restrictions, and that in any event, the weapons should not be regarded as atomic since, when unaccompanied by atomic warheads, such use would be potential and not actual. Mr. Nes stated that, legal considerations aside, the psychological factor is an important one. The “Honest John” and the 280 mm. gun are publicly known as atomic weapons, and an Intelligence survey3 recently completed [Page 358] in the State Department shows that their introduction into Korea would have serious repercussions among our allies; the reaction in Japan and Australia, for example, would be strongly adverse, and a similarly adverse reaction could be anticipated among the so-called neutral nations and among the members of SEATO. Admiral Ward stated that in his view SEATO members would respond favorably to steps by us emphasizing our strength and our determination. Mr. Leigh made the point that we might justify the introduction as a suspension of paragraph 13(d). Col. Raymond had earlier referred to the statement which the United Nations Command made in the Military Armistice Commission,4 and reiterated in its report to the United Nations,5 in which it recited all past Communist violations and affirmed its intention to limit remedial action to the suspension of those provisions of the armistice relating to the operations of the NNSC south of the demilitarized zone.

Summing up, Mr. Phleger stated our view as lawyers that introduction of the two weapons could not be successfully supported as a matter of liberal interpretation, would upset the balance established under the agreement, and would generally be regarded as a violation of the agreement under existing circumstances. He reaffirmed that the agreement should not, however, stand in the way of any action which it might be considered necessary and wise to take, now or in the future, in view of the military and political situation, and with full awareness of all the consequences. Such a decision, he indicated, would of course have to be taken at a high political level. He again invited the attention of Defense to the desirability of moving ahead with respect to all the other weapons upon which agreement had already been reached. He suggested to the Defense representatives that the matter be discussed with Mr. Murphy.

  1. Source: Department of State, NA Files: Lot 59 D 407, Problems of Para. 13d of Armistice Agreement 1956. Secret. Drafted by Runyon. A memorandum for the files of this conversation was also prepared on November 28 by Monroe Leigh. According to Leigh’s memorandum, “Mr. Phleger stated that he had no legal objection to including the 240 mm [sic] cannon and the Honest John in the list of modern weapons to be introduced into Korea. He thought the question was purely one of policy determination.” (Washington National Records Center, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 60 A 1339, 388.3 Korea)
  2. See footnote 5, Document 110.
  3. See footnote 6, Document 185.
  4. See Document 164.
  5. See footnote 4, Document 150.