17. Draft Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson1


  • Study of Possible Redeployment of U.S. Division Now Stationed in Korea

Attached pursuant to your request in NSAM No. 298 is a coordinated State-AID-Defense study of a possible redeployment of one of the two U.S. divisions now stationed in Korea. Appended to the study is a time-phased plan for carrying out the redeployment if such a decision is made.2

Defense Department Views

Secretary McNamara has taken into consideration the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that a decision on the possible withdrawal, and on the manner of accomplishing it, not be made at this time, pending completion of studies on costs, prepositioning and relocation sites which are now under way.3 He has considered also the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the withdrawal entails specific risks, and is feasible only if combined with early use of nuclear weapons. Secretary McNamara’s conclusion is that the decision to redeploy should be made now and implemented over the next 18 months.4 He believes that freeing a division from its static commitment in Korea would appreciably improve the U.S. defense posture not only in the Pacific area but world-wide. It is desirable to retain the division as far forward as possible on U.S. territory in the Pacific, but final determination as to the relocation site should await completion of the above-mentioned studies. In Secretary McNamara’s judgment, the redeployment would not alter the U.S. strategic position in Korea or restrict the range of alternatives open to us in the event of renewed aggression there. He considers that the U.S. troops that would remain in Korea (over 40,000 at present manning levels), our ability rapidly to augment these [Page 36] forces, improvements in our tactical air capability, the improved flexibility of our over-all military posture in the Pacific and our other actions to counter communism in Asia would constitute convincing evidence of our purpose and will. Secretary McNamara estimates that a maximum annual savings of $22 million in balance of payments expenditures and $8 million in budgetary costs could be realized under the most favorable redeployment conditions. This maximum savings would be reduced to the extent that new facilities were constructed, the Forward Floating Depot augmented, or the Korean economy compensated for the U.S. withdrawal.

State Department Views

My own view is that the proposed redeployment would not be in U.S. interest at this time, as the risks are disproportionate to the relatively small balance of payments and military gains (if any). However, I do agree that the matter periodically be reviewed, possibly again this coming December.

My view may be summarized as follows:

Consequences for Our Over-all Far Eastern Position—Our position in Asia is under heavy strain this year. A move of the sort proposed would entail the considerable danger of injecting further unsettling effects. Particularly at a time when our position in Southeast Asia is so critical, I would wish to avoid any semblance whatsoever of an implied U.S. willingness to withdraw our power from the Far Eastern area. I believe that Peiping’s strategy is directed at having us tire of the frustrating problems in that area of the world, and I would not want to encourage them in the erroneous belief that they are succeeding. If it were possible to have the entire division deployed in a forward area in the Pacific such as Okinawa, Guam or the Philippines, this might have a positive political and psychological effect. However, such a deployment would entail major construction costs and other difficulties. The alternative of withdrawal to the U.S. of all or even a large portion of the forces would give exactly the wrong political signal. While I do not challenge the view of the Secretary of Defense that we may have the capacity5 of redeploying the forces in question to the Far East as required, the principal issue is not our capabilities but what both our allies and the Communists read as our intentions. Withdrawal of a U.S. division from the Far East, no matter what our technical capabilities may be, will be read as a U.S. intention to disengage.

Consequences in Korea—Moreover, the redeployment would undermine Korean confidence in U.S. military capabilities and intentions just as the reorganized civil Government addresses itself with apparent determination and new promise to a settlement with Japan, economic stabilization and, largely through these means, strengthening of its own position [Page 37] and achievement of a measure of political stability. Realization of all these goals, in which the U.S. has so large a stake, would be seriously jeopardized. The withdrawal would also inevitably and undesirably focus attention throughout the Far East on the already heavy nuclear emphasis in our Korean posture. In my recent discussions with Chiang Kai-shek he sharply rejected any possibility of the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. in Asia as being completely contrary to U.S. interests. Our other allies could be expected to take an even more vigorous stand in opposition. Since the Joint Chiefs of Staff do not endorse a reduction of U.S. forces in Korea unless a prior commitment to a nuclear strategy is accepted, the entire military rationale of the proposal gives me serious concern. In this connection, if the elements of the division which it is proposed be sent to Alaska are given responsibilities in terms of Alaskan defense, it is doubtful that they will be immediately available for rapid deployment to the Far East in case of need.

Financial Consequences—As for the effects of such a redeployment upon the U.S. balance of payments and budget, Secretary McNamara’s savings estimates specifically do not take into account construction of pre-stockage facilities on land and sea or the providing of necessary funds to compensate the Korean economy and stabilization program for the loss of income (estimated at $15 million) from the redeployed division. The studies of AID and State staffs indicate that the net annual balance of payments benefit after these factors are taken into account would be very small (probably negative if a brigade were deployed to the Philippines) and that there would be a definitely adverse effect on the U.S. budget—initial one-time budgetary costs ranging from $92 million to $370 million, and annual budgetary costs of from $7 million to $26 million.

Possible Solution

At the same time I fully share the view of the Secretary of Defense that our force posture in Korea results in inflexibilities in the use of our military resources. I have given considerable thought to this problem and am persuaded that we can find a way which is politically feasible, assuming it is also militarily feasible, to develop a more responsive force posture in the Far East. Basically, my proposal is that we transform one of the two divisions in Korea into a mobile reserve stationed in Korea but available for meeting crises elsewhere in the Far East. I do not feel that we must accept complete inflexibility in our Korean deployment, particularly when events are making clear the potential requirement for U.S. ground forces elsewhere in the Far East.

I recognize that there may be a reluctance on the part of the Koreans to see us transform one of our divisions into a mobile Far Eastern area reserve. However, I think we can make a strong case that the most effective way to deter Communist adventurism anywhere in the Far East, including Korea, is by demonstrating our ability to deal immediately [Page 38] and effectively with aggression wherever it occurs throughout the region.

It seems to me time to make this adjustment in the use of our military resources which are, after all, not unlimited. I am prepared to explore the feasibility of this proposal with Secretary McNamara and, if found militarily feasible, to work out a specific plan for your approval.

Dean Rusk 6
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, National Security Action Memoranda, NSAM 298. Secret. U. Alexis Johnson sent McGeorge Bundy a copy of the draft memorandum and the draft study written in reply to NSAM 298, noting that the drafts had not been approved by Rusk or McNamara. (Memorandum from Johnson to Bundy, June 12; ibid.)
  2. The study with appendix is attached but not printed.
  3. The views of the JCS are set forth in a May 22 memorandum to McNamara, JCSM-440–64. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330,OSD/OASD/ISA Files: FRC 68 A 4023, 370.5 Korea)
  4. According to the attached study, the redeployment involved one division consisting of 12,000 troops as well as 3,000 support personnel. McNamara received a copy of the draft report, but felt the matter should be postponed for a few months “because of the situation in Southeast Asia.” (Memorandum from Solbert to McNamara, and memorandum from Stroud to Solbert, both June 5; ibid.)
  5. The word “capacity” is double underlined.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.