129. Telegram From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State1

Text of Cable From Ambassador Porter (Seoul, 1392)


  • Internal Security: Views of President Park

On September 16, General Bonesteel in his capacity as Commander in Chief, United Nations Command, briefed President Park Chung Hee at the latter’s request on the Demilitarized Zone infiltration problems and North Korean subversive activities. The briefing lasted over one hour and was attended on the Korean side also by the Minister of [Page 279] National Defense and Yi Hu-Rak. Brig. General Huffman was also present.

General Bonesteel first briefed the President, following an outline in English and Korean which had been distributed. President Park listened attentively. The outline covered: (1) enemy threat, both conventional and subversive war aspect; (2) actions taken by friendly elements with regard to increased Demilitarized Zone incidents; (3) actions taken regarding North Korean agent and guerrilla activities in the interior; and, (4) future cooperative self-help, mutual support and development of further plans.

When the briefing was finished, the President himself spoke at length. He stated that he and the people of Korea fully respected and supported United Nations Command authority over the Republic of Korea Armed Forces and he had full confidence in the United Nations Command’s ability to carry out its mission for defending the Republic of Korea.

The President indicated he agreed with General Bonesteel’s detailed views on anti-infiltration operations and was well satisfied with actions taken or being taken. He would like to see comprehensive requirements plan now being completed worked out as soon as possible and hoped that it would stop enemy infiltration through the Demilitarized Zone and along the coast.

The President said that he had been a division commander along the Demilitarized Zone and fully understands the problem. A full effort would limit enemy activities but would not, he feared, stop them completely because of the great length of the coast line and the Demilitarized zone.

He said he would like to get at even more basic factors. The basic problem is that the North Koreans do not intend to abide by the armistice nor will they. Unless they give up their announced goal, we can expect further intensification of efforts to cause sabotage and subvert the Republic of Korea next spring and on indefinitely.

The difference between United Nations Command and North Korean operational concepts is as follows: Our concept is defensive—to defend the Republic of Korea against aggression; North Korean concept is offensive—to wage subversive aggression against the Republic of Korea, to reconnoiter and attack industrial and military installations and to create continuously what damage to the feeling of security of the South Korean people that they can. They will do this so long as they feel that it can be done at no risk to North Korea and from the sanctuary the United Nations Command provides by unilaterally abiding by the armistice.

The President said that during the past fourteen years, there have been about 5,000 significant North Korean violations of the armistice. [Page 280] As for our side, he said, he would have to admit to some few violations by Republic of Korea. These occurred because of the hatred engendered by North Korean attacks on our soldiers. However, the ratio of violations is several hundred to one on the enemy side.

Whenever the North Koreans violate the military demarcation line, the President said, all the United Nations Command has done so far is to table the complaint at Panmunjom, where the North Koreans categorically deny it. For the last 14 years, the United Nations Command has abided by the armistice while the North Korean side has ignored it.

The President believes that we must do our best to capture or kill every North Korean infiltrator into the Republic of Korea in order to make enemy abandon his plans. He foresees, nevertheless, that this alone will not stop the North Koreans and he expects more violations along the Demilitarized Zone and increased efforts to sabotage industrial and military installations. We should, he said, do more than table the problem at Panmunjom.

The President said he believes that counter-measures are most important to stop North Korean attacks, whenever the North Koreans violate the armistice they must be made to pay by retaliation.2

The President went on to make the following interesting statement. He said that he respects the fact that Republic of Korea forces are under the operational control of the United Nations Command and therefore retaliations will never be done without due coordination with the Command. However, unless the United Nations Command undertakes strong measures, the people of Korea will complain increasingly against the Korean Government. We have, he said, almost 600,000 men in the armed forces. If no counter-measures are taken, the people’s patience will wear very thin. The President then said he would be very grateful if General Bonesteel would tell him what countermeasures the United Nations will take if the enemy continues and intensifies his attacks.

General Bonesteel stated that he was sure the President understood his position. That he is a soldier and he follows orders and that his mission was very clear, that he was not only to defend the Republic of Korea against Communist aggression but also to enforce the armistice. He had to agree that there was a plausibility to the President’s [Page 281] evaluation of North Korean intentions but that the matter was a most complex one and that there were many factors of great policy import to Korea and to U.S. involved in this question.

General Bonesteel said that he thought that the name and the meaning of the “United Nations Command” is highly useful and important to the Republic of Korea, especially in these days of Communist activity over much of Asia. It should be remembered that the United Nations Unified Command in Korea was established by the Security Council of the United Nations in 1950. The United States Government had been designated as the executive agent for the Security Council to direct the operations of the Unified Command in Korea.

The composition of the United Nations has changed greatly since 1950. Undoubtedly, one of many reasons for the increased North Korean activity was a hope by the Communists that they could at some time in the proximate future get the U.N. General Assembly to repudiate the United Nations Command in Korea.

Since the matter was of such great importance and so complex, unilateral action by the Republic of Korea would be bad and it would be wisest course for the President to discuss the matter with the personal representative of President Johnson in Korea, that is, Ambassador Porter. General Bonesteel said he felt it important both for Korea and the U.S. that the integrity of the United Nations Command be preserved. It might not be impossible to find other adequate answers to President Park’s expressed concept but this should be done by explorations in greatest confidence with Ambassador Porter. President Park, he felt sure, appreciated that President Johnson himself had troubles with small but vocal elements of the U.S. public and that there were many critics of U.S. policy towards Vietnam who confused some of the American public. Certainly the wisest course would not be to totally abandon to the Communists the full initiative to do what they wished, but it was a fact that it would be hard to preserve and continue the United Nations Command in Korea if the Command were party to violating the armistice.

President Park stated he fully understood General Bonesteel’s position. He said he did not mean to imply that the United Nations Command should take the total retaliatory reaction against North Korean aggression. However, he felt if the North Korean actions continued to increase, authority should be given to the Commanding Chief of the United Nations Command to wage coordinated, carefully controlled, small-scale retaliatory action. He said he would talk to Ambassador Porter about this. The President went on in an apparently philosophical mood and said that it was his frank view that the United States Government applies too many restrictions and red tape on the authority of U.S. theater commanders. This, he said, applies also to Vietnam. His next sentence, as interpreted into English, went to the effect that the U.S. Government [Page 282] might lose something but so does the Republic of Korea through continued and vicious North Korean aggressions. The North Koreans, he said, are fully aware of the heavy U.S. commitments in Vietnam and believe the U.S. does not want the extension of another front in Korea. Hence, the North Koreans feel relatively safe against retaliation. He thought the North Koreans do not want open hostilities but felt secure against risk in the subversive actions they were now taking increasingly.

In closing the meeting, the President said that the matter requires most serious thought and a prudent approach. However, only positive and appropriate counter-measures will stop the North Koreans.3

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea, Vol. V. Top Secret; Exdis. Attached to a September 21 memorandum from Rostow to President Johnson that indicates the President saw it. The source text is the retyped copy given to the President. Telegram 1392 is in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–7 KOR S.
  2. On September 4 CINCUNC received information about ROK retaliatory raids into North Korea along the DMZ and reminded the Minister of National Defense of U.S. opposition to retaliatory acts. (Telegram 1136 from Seoul, September 5; ibid.) Porter also voiced concern about the forays to the Prime Minister, stressing that such actions undercut the ROK’s position at the UN, provided fodder for North Korean propaganda, undercut General Bonesteel’s authority, and jeopardized U.S. Congressional support for military assistance to Korea. (Telegram 1311 from Seoul, September 13; ibid.)
  3. Porter concluded from his comments that Pak intended to put the U.S. “on notice that northward actions by ROK personnel will continue at a greater pace and with greater vigor than in the past, with or without U.S. cooperation.” The United States could expect to be informed of South Korean incursions after they occurred, so that U.S. forces in Korea could be prepared for possible retaliation by North Korea. Porter recommended reminding Pak of U.S. disapproval of ROK incursions and requesting “ROK discuss with UNC means of making North Korean actions more costly for NK elements as they occur.” (Telegram 1483 from Seoul, September 22; ibid.) Bundy concurred with Porter’s recommendation and stated that the matter was being given “urgent attention” in Washington. (Telegram 45165 to Seoul, September 28; ibid.) On October 11 Porter discussed his approach with Pak, who was receptive to meeting North Korean actions as they occurred. (Telegram 1797 from Seoul, October 11; ibid.)