1. Telegram from the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State 1

953. 1. I do not know exactly where US policy now stands on reduction of ROK armed forces level and withdrawing part of US forces, but have impression both are under active consideration with possibility of decision at any time.2 If this so, and since this item will be on agenda of Secretary’s meeting with President Pak,3 I offer my latest thinking on this subject.

2. We are forcing or trying persuade ROK Govt to make number of difficult decisions during first half this year: A tough economic stabilization program alongside reduced US aid; a ROK-Japan settlement; and devaluation. Within Korea price inflation of past year has produced under threat of strikes, demands for higher wages for civil servants and employees of govt enterprises and restlessness among junior military officers and NCOs with families. Govt will have to raise salaries and pay soon, but increases will fall short of price rise. To add to these difficulties price of rice is now beginning move upward (from 2,750 to 3,100 won per bag within last week) which is both earlier and higher than normal seasonal pattern, and we expect further rises before barley crop is harvested in June. Spring months are always lean food months and time of greatest economic difficulty and restiveness in country.

3. New govt is just getting under way. There is no doubt that it is preparing to take some of tough decisions required of it, i.e. economic stabilization, ROK-Japan settlement, and devaluation. Opposition tactics are to maintain continuous barrage of irresponsible criticism in order capitalize on govt’s difficulties and public restlessness in effort bring govt down. Our effort it seems to me should be to encourage govt to act courageously and constructively in these next few months and, insofar as possible, to help it by US statements and actions.

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4. In these circumstances, I think it would be prudent in next few months to avoid any announcement of reduction in US forces and to avoid loading on govt requirement to reduce ROK forces. This does not mean we should not take decisions, but timing of any announcements and consultation with ROKG on force reductions should be decided in light of complex of factors described above. I would hope that our actions on these two matters could be deferred until the second half of CY 1964.

5. Simultaneous announcement that both ROK and US forces will be reduced would come as severe jolt, with psychological and political repercussions that could jeopardize stability of ROKG. Accordingly, if both are to be reduced, the sequence should be for ROK forces to be reduced first and after public has adjusted to this shock, to deal with any US force reduction.

6. Ideally reduction in ROK and US forces should be accompanied by sound plan for restructuring and repositioning of two forces in order maintain or improve defense capability. In my 2 1/2 years here I have heard repeatedly from our military that too large a proportion of both US and ROK forces and reserves are in forward areas and that main lateral line of supply through Inchon and main supply depot at Ascom are dangerously vulnerable in event of attack. Furthermore US installations are far too numerous and too dispersed for military effectiveness or for economical administration. I am told what is needed and what has long been advocated is a repositioning of the forces, a consolidation of installations, and a speeding up of program now under way to develop our supply depots in south. The argument is invariably advanced that repositioning installations would be costly, but this ignores fact that our troops are presently installed in antiquated structures, some dating back to 1953. Many of these are falling apart and annual maintenance and replacement cost already running in millions annually and will go higher as obsolescence rate increases. I do not see economic, let alone military, wisdom of putting millions of dollars every year into existing installations which have inherent weaknesses described above. Therefore would hope that any ROK and US forces reduction will not be done by axe method of simply chopping off numbers and reshuffling rest into existing installations but would be part of a considered reorganization for improved defense of Korea.

7. Am aware that achieving reductions through a coordinated plan involving restructuring and repositioning might take time to work out in face of pressures to effect economies quickly. Nonetheless, urge that Washington take time to work out both US and ROK reductions in coordinated way that will meet all requirements: military, economic and political.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 15 KOR S-US. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. An undated State-Defense-AID study of U.S. and ROK force reductions had been completed and an undated draft memorandum for the President had been prepared. U. Alexis Johnson submitted a copy of the latter to Rusk under cover of a January 14 memorandum in advance of a meeting on the question scheduled between Rusk and McNamara for 5 p.m. that day at the Pentagon. (Ibid.) Rusk’s Appointment Book contains no reference to the meeting, and no further record of that meeting has been found.
  3. Rusk was in Tokyo January 24–28 to attend the meeting of the Joint U.S.-Japan Committee on Trade and Economic Affairs. Before returning to Washington, Rusk stopped in Korea and met with Pak on January 29.