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


  • NSC Consideration of Korean Force Levels

On January 31, 1957, the NSC is scheduled to consider the paper in which the Planning Board has set forth the psychological, political, military, and economic evaluation of four alternative force levels for the ROK military establishment. This Planning Board paper is attached (Tab A).2

I have studied the alternatives most carefully. Since my recent visit to Korea, I am even more firmly convinced than in my memorandum of November 20, 1956, to Mr. Hoover (Tab B)3 that it would be a serious mistake to sanction any weakening of the present ROK defensive strength so long as the Communist capabilities and intentions in the area remain unchanged. The situation in Korea is now one of armed truce with the Communist side continually augmenting, in violation of the Armistice Agreement, its military capabilities in north Korea through the introduction of a formidable jet air force, modern armor and artillery greater in quantity and fire power than existed in 1953. Were we to bring about a cut in ROK military strength now, or in the absence of any change in the Communist position in the future, we would in my opinion, be clearly repeating the mistakes of 1948–1950. At the very least, such a move would [Page 391] strengthen Communist determination to obstruct a Korean political settlement on other than Communist terms, i.e., the extension of Communist domination over all Korea.

FE is not satisfied generally with the discussion of the alternatives in the Planning Board paper. The [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] of November, 1956,4 on which much of the Planning Board paper is based, was objected to by State as inadequate. As a result it carries a footnote which reads “The present estimate does not consider possible repercussions of the assumed U.S. action outside south Korea nor does it consider longer run consequences of U.S. action within south Korea.” This largely invalidates the estimate.

The paper presented by the Planning Board demonstrates, in my opinion, the unacceptability of alternatives B, C, and D; each of which involve cuts in ROK force levels. In the face of a continued aggressive posture by the Communists a cut in forces would be considered a step toward heavier cuts, thus undermining the U.S. position and the resolve to restrain Communist aggression not only in Korea but the entire Far East. Alternatives B and D provide for the introduction of new [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. In the absence of a demonstrable case that the Communists have violated the Armistice in a like manner, the introduction of these weapons would excite protests from many of our Allies as well as neutrals on the grounds that the U.S. had violated the Armistice.

I am not contending that the size of the Korean armed forces, and the ratio among the individual ROK services should remain a fixed matter indefinitely. The Agreed Minute of Understanding of 1954 provides for a phased reduction of active forces as reserve divisions are created. Such a reduction, if and when made, must take full account of the security situation not only in Korea but also in the Far East generally. I believe many of our agencies are working on this problem under the misapprehension that the security situation in Korea has eased because of the withdrawal of some of the Chinese Communist forces, which after all can easily re-enter from Manchuria in massive strength with no warning. The security situation has, in fact, worsened as a result of increases in Communist aircraft and firepower.


That you support strongly Alternative A in the NSC discussion of alternative Korean Military Programs.5

  1. Source: Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5702 Series. Top Secret. Drafted by Nes and Norred and approved by Sebald.
  2. Not found attached. Reference is to Document 196.
  3. Not found attached. The memorandum is printed as Document 185.
  4. See Document 177.
  5. In a memorandum to the Secretary, also dated January 29, Assistant Secretary Bowie recommended that alternative C of the options outlined in NSC 5702 should be adopted as the goal of U.S. policy. Bowie argued that alternative C would save the United States approximately $165 million annually in aid to Korea, would ease the military burden on the Korean economy, and would facilitate Korean economic development. Bowie did not feel that the adoption of alternative C would significantly increase the risk of a breach of the armistice by the Republic of Korea. (Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5702 Series)