117. Telegram From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State 1

6635. For Secretary and Bundy from Ambassador. Subject: Tactics and Considerations on Any New Request for Further Troops for Vietnam.

Before leaving this post,2 I would like to give you my thoughts in the event we decide to ask for a further contribution of Korean forces to South Vietnam in the near future.
If we plan to make such a request, the manner in which the question is raised with President Pak will be of primary importance.
I would recommend that we do not confront him with a formal request for more forces as the first step. Rather, we should go to the President and tell him that we wish to consult with him about a common problem. We should explain to him in detail our estimate of the situation in South Vietnam, the strategy which we propose to follow in the long and short term, how we would propose to carry it out, what forces we [Page 253] think would be necessary to do so, what we are planning to do ourselves. Recalling that President Johnson and he both agreed that it would be in the interests of both of them to bring the affair to some sort of satisfactory conclusion at the earliest possible date, we should then ask him whether and to what extent Korea would be able to assist.
This would avoid confronting him with a formal request, to which he would have to answer yes or no. He is probably expecting a direct request. Having the matter presented to him in the form of consultation about a common problem with a view to planning common action would provide him greater room for maneuver in handling his domestic problems and would be greatly appreciated. It would enable him, if he felt that he could respond in some degree, to do so in the form of a voluntary, self initiated offer of cooperation. It would make clear our understanding of and consideration for the problems which he personally will face, and I think would be the approach best calculated to put him in a responsive frame of mind.3
President Pak’s personal attitude is, of course, the most crucial single factor in the whole situation.
Secondly, I have already made it clear that we will have to be prepared to pay a substantial price for a further contribution. I would recommend that we be generously forthcoming at the outset and not adopt a bargaining approach. This also will contribute to the proper frame of mind on the Korean side and will help President Pak in his problems with the Assembly and the public. Regrettably, many Koreans, including high officials, do not feel that we have yet adequately fulfilled our commitments for the last troop dispatch and consider our attitude as being far from generous or understanding. The price that we should be ready to offer should include something very dramatic, even though this might not be strictly appropriate or necessary for military or economic reasons. But something of this kind, calculated to appeal to Korean pride, to reflect a noticeable gain or advantage to the nation, and to provide a reassurance to Korean public opinion, would be a real and perhaps necessary element for an affirmative response.
Lastly, I must reiterate that securing a further ROK troop contribution will be difficult under the best of circumstances and that success is by no means a certainty. If we are seriously contemplating such a [Page 254] move we should now be preparing the ground against that time by doing the relatively small things that benefit the ROK, reflecting our generosity and understanding toward a steadfast friend and ally. Our current attitudes and positions on a number of items under discussion between ourselves and the ROKs, e.g.,ROK civilian participation in the Vietnam pacification program, troop strength levels, the Korean combat ration, and procurement in Korea, while quite justified if taken in isolation, are not helping to create a frame of mind that would make them respond instinctively in a cooperative and friendly manner.
In all this, we must bear in mind that, in response to opposition charges during current election campaign, President Pak has consistently maintained that his government has no intention of sending additional troops to Vietnam. If additional troops are to be sent, he would have a very real practical problem in obtaining the required authorizing legislation from the Assembly. The Assembly and the public would have to be persuaded that circumstances make it necessary for the President to do what he has publicly said he has no intention of doing and that this will be to the clear advantage of Korea. The President himself must be given solid grounds for believing that he can accede to our request without seriously damaging his own political position.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea, Vol. IV. Secret; Nodis. Attached to a memorandum from Rostow to President Johnson, June 7, in which Rostow noted that the telegram contained “a wise observation” on approaching the Koreans for more troops “with perhaps a bit more iron than he suggests.” The memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Brown left Seoul June 10; he was replaced by William J. Porter.
  3. Bundy instructed the Vice President to follow Brown’s suggested approach during his talks with Pak when attending the President’s inauguration in Seoul. (Telegram 217692, TOVIP 2, to Seoul, June 28; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–3 VIET S) Humphrey discussed the matter with Pak during a meeting on June 30 and broached the subject again during a farewell call on July 3. (Telegram 23 from Seoul, July 1; ibid.,POL 7 US/HUMPHREY; and telegram 72 from Seoul, July 5; ibid., POL 27–3 VIET S)