181. Memorandum From Cyrus R. Vance to President Johnson 1

The Objectives of My Mission

Under the broad delegation of authority given me, I formulated the specific objectives of my Mission in the following terms:

“The objective of my Mission is to persuade President Park, and through him the Korean Government, that we intend to stand firmly with them in the current crisis and that our policy for handling the developing situation is soundly based. It is necessary to establish a sufficient level of Korean confidence in the United States to permit the ROKG to provide the Mission with adequate assurances that (1) the ROKG will take no independent military actions against North Korea; (2) the ROKG will dampen down public agitation for retaliatory actions; and (3) the ROKG will consent to our private bilateral discussions with the North Koreans of the Pueblo issue in order that the crew and ship will be promptly released.

I believe that these objectives were essentially realized. I have no illusions, however, of the necessity of wise and painstaking follow-up action by our able representatives in Seoul, working in closest coordination with Washington. We must not permit the Communists to separate us from President Park and his Government—that is the publicly stated objective of Pyongyang. The situation in Korea remains acutely dangerous to our national interest and to peace in that area.

The Situation in Seoul

When I arrived in Seoul on 11 February, I found a fragile and serious political situation, pockmarked with tension, suspicion, and distrust.

President Park was in a highly emotional state. He was incensed over the North Korean raid on 21 January against the Presidential [Page 385] Mansion (the Blue House) and the seizure of the USS Pueblo on 23 January. He held the United States partially to blame for the Blue House raid since the North Korean strike team had infiltrated across the DMZ in an area defended by U.S. forces. He considered the seizure of the Pueblo as an affront to the ROK since, to him, it demonstrated the impotence of the U.S. and South Korea to thwart such actions.

Park doubted both the resolve of the United States and her commitment in Korea, partially because of U.S. involvement in SEA and partially because of alleged delays in providing military equipment to ROK military forces and in modernizing those forces. He objected to the bilateral discussions at Panmunjom between U.S. and North Korean representatives since he considered them demeaning to the U.S. and therefore to the ROKG. He also felt that the discussions infringed on ROK sovereignty.

Park is a distinctive leader who has wrought much good for his people. However, the raid on the Blue House had unfortunate psychologic effects on him. He felt that both he and his country had lost face and his fears for his own safety and that of his family were markedly increased. Compounding this problem has been his heavy drinking. This is not a new development but it may be having cumulative effects. Highly emotional, volatile, frustrated and introspective, Park wanted to obtain from me a pledge for the United States to join his Government in instant, punitive, and retaliatory actions against North Korea in the event of another Blue House raid or comparable attack on some other important South Korean economic, governmental, or military facility. He wanted my assurance of an “automatic” U.S. response in the event of another serious raid against the ROK. I refused to give any such assurances. Park’s views were mirrored by almost every member of his Cabinet, who, while now civilians, are mostly retired colonels and generals.

Meetings with Koreans

In my meetings with the Koreans, I included Ambassador Porter and General Bonesteel as members of my Mission not only in recognition of their high competence but also in hope of emphasizing the importance of their positions and their stature as your representatives.

In subsequent days, I had two meetings with President Park (which took about seven hours); two meetings with the Prime Minister and other key members of the Government (Foreign Minister, Minister of National Defense, Minister of Public Information, Director of the ROK CIA, Chairman of the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff, and their principal staff assistants); and two meetings with the Foreign Minister and members of his staff, including a ten-hour meeting over the wording and contents [Page 386] of the final Joint Communique, a copy of which is attached.2 In all of our meetings with the Koreans, we listened attentively to everything they had to say and endeavored to draw out of them the totality of their views, opinions, and concerns.

With one significant exception, we placed the onus on them to raise topics for discussion. The exception concerned South Korean forays across the DMZ into the North. This information was news to most members of the Cabinet since the South Korean infiltration units are under the personal control of Minister of National Defense Kim and their activities are closely held secrets within the ROKG. We emphasized the provocative nature of these attacks, which, over the past several months, have averaged two per month. We suggested that some of the more serious North Korean incursions into the South may have been launched in retaliation for South Korean raids, in particular the November 1967 raid against a North Korean Peoples Army Divisional Headquarters. The Headquarters was apparently blown up and the twelve-man South Korean strike team exfiltrated without sustaining any casualties. We pointed out that there was no evidence that the South Korean forays had had a chastening effect on Kim Il-Sung.

Just prior to my departure President Park, the Prime Minister, and the Foreign Minister were most pleasant and friendly. The Foreign Minister, his principal staff assistants, the Secretary General of the Office of the President, and the Chief of Protocol also came to bid me goodbye at Kimpo in a complete reversal of the cool reception which greeted me on my arrival.

Observations and Results

I believe that the limited objectives of my mission were realized. President Park will not retaliate for the Blue House raid. The bilateral discussions between the U.S. and North Korea at Panmunjom will not be impeded by the ROKG, providing they do not drag on for months. Korean press agitation against the U.S. will be dampened. No request was made for removing ROK forces in Korea from under the operational control of General Bonesteel as Commander in Chief of the United Nations Command. The ROKG has been assured that we intend to help South Korea in modernizing its counter-insurgency and counter-infiltration forces and facilities.

I believe that a necessary measure of confidence and trust has been re-established. The immediate threat of a serious dispute between the United States and the Republic of Korea has been eased. The prospects of the South Koreans initiating in the near future unilateral retaliatory [Page 387] actions against North Korea in response to infiltration of suicide or strike teams by boat and across the DMZ into South Korea have diminished. Yet, in the longer term, the prospects of the ROKG initiating a unilateral attack against North Korea are troublesome, ominous, and dangerous.

While President Park assured me that he would first consult with the United States before taking any action if North Korea again mounts an attack on the Presidential Mansion, or against some equally important South Korean facility, he would not guarantee to heed our counsel if we recommended against retaliation. If counter-actions by the Republic of Korea resulted in the outbreak of war with North Korea, the lives of some 12,000 American civilians (most of whom are located in the vicinity of Seoul) would be immediately endangered. Similarly, since U.S. aircraft are parked wing to wing on the six ROK airfields and American military forces are deployed along a key portion of the DMZ—to the West and North of Seoul and across two of the most likely attack routes into South Korea—the prospects of American troops becoming immediately involved in combat with North Korean forces are extremely high.

The outbreak of war in Korea could thus be ignited either by a serious North Korean incursion into the South or by a South Korean foray into the North.

ROKG officials are preoccupied with the North Korean threat as they see it. Some of them believe that the situation today is very similar to that which existed in June 1950. While the ROK has emphasized economic development over the last few years, the North Koreans have emphasized military preparedness. The North Koreans have taken a number of steps to improve their offensive and defensive military capabilities. Underground facilities have been built for munitions storage and ammunition production. North Korean airfields have been expanded and revetments constructed for the protection of aircraft. Civil defense exercises are regularly held and a well-trained Red Guard has been formed. Food stocks have been augmented. With the help of the Soviets, military equipment has been modernized and new armored vehicles, aircraft, SAMs and artillery weapons introduced into the operational inventory.

But perhaps more important to understanding the current attitudes of ROKG officials, North Korean Premier Kim Il-Sung has intensified his propaganda campaign against the ROK and has publicly declared that by 1970 he will reunite Korea by force.

As a companion effort to his anti-ROK propaganda campaign, Kim Il-Sung has established an infiltration force of some 20,000 men, including 2400 specially trained soldiers who operate in small reconnaissance/stroke teams of seven to thirty-one men each. Last year a [Page 388] number of these teams were landed along the East and West coasts of the ROK by high speed (35 to 40 knots) infiltration boats which can carry up to 40 equipped men each. North Korea presently has 25 to 40 of these boats.

The ROKG, in turn, is organizing and training its own infiltration force, and, as noted earlier, has made a number of forays across the DMZ into North Korea. In this connection we were impressed with the thought that ethnic Koreans comprise the populations of both Koreas and that there are few “doves” or “hawks” among them; most appear to be “tigers”. It also appears true that a substantial percentage of Koreans, north and south, share a latent and compulsive desire to reunite their country.

The ROKG is controlled by one man—Park. With the possible exception of Secretary General Yi Hu Rak, no governmental official seems willing to challenge Park or offer him tempered advice. Minister of National Defense Kim is impulsive and has little capacity to think through the possible political and military consequences of his policies and actions.

Throughout our meetings with the Koreans we often heard them comment on their inability to contain North Korean infiltration teams. The South Koreans are fearful that a North Korean strike/reconnaissance team will destroy some major economic facility, e.g., a refinery or a dam. It seemed to us that the Koreans lack confidence in their own political, economic and military achievements. Whatever the cause, be it their short history as a nation or their relative inexperience with economic development, the Koreans time and time again demonstrated their insecurity and lack of self-confidence.

We should consider what steps we could take to bolster their confidence in themselves. For example, we should strive to maintain the private investment momentum generated by the Ball Mission. We should push ahead with the task of strengthening their anti-infiltration system by expediting the flow of equipment, making available to General Bonesteel our most competent military personnel and techniques in the anti-infiltration field, continue modernization of the ROK armed forces, and call an early meeting of the Defense Ministries as provided for in the Joint Communique.

The appetite of the ROKG for additional U.S. military assistance is very large as evidenced by my attached letter to Foreign Minister Choi which notes the requirements for MAP as Park and his ministers see them. My specific recommendations in respect to these Korean requests are also attached.3

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A major possible restraining force in the ROK today is the military whose chiefs understand the dangers inherent in the ROKG initiating unilateral action against North Korea. Yet, these same chiefs, while willing to keep General Bonesteel apprised of the orders received from Park, would probably comply with President Park’s orders.

By agreeing to the issuance of a Joint Communique, after initial resistance, President Park is now committed to consult with us whenever he considers his country has been threatened. His freedom of action has therefore been somewhat reduced. However, his position on retaliation remains unsatisfactory. While he has been clearly warned of the grave consequences of taking retaliatory action, he has not accepted the full significance of this warning, nor does he, in my judgment, attach adequate importance to the Mutual Defense Treaties which North Korea has with Communist China and the Soviet Union.

I must also add that Park and his ministers made a number of demands which I rejected. I refused to commit the United States to an “agreed retaliation policy” involving “instant, punitive, retaliatory action” against future North Korean violations of the Armistice Agreement. I also refused to extend or modify the terms of the US/ROK Mutual Defense Treaty, and I refused to agree to a suggested secret minute that would have committed the U.S. to an “automatic retaliatory response,” as the Koreans repeatedly asserted Secretary Dulles had promised the Philippines in 1958.

Further, I refused to endorse the ROK request that U.S. military assistance program to Korea should be greatly expanded. I insisted on reserving the responsibility of determining what recommendations I would submit to you. I made it clear that I attached a far higher priority to improving the counter-infiltration capabilities of the ROK military forces than purchasing six squadrons of F–4s or other high performance aircraft. Furthermore, I warned the President, the Cabinet and the Chairman of the JCS of the severe financial consequences and the disruptive effect on balanced force structures of the introduction of this magnitude of advanced aircraft into their inventory.

While I did not raise the issue of dispatching additional ROK forces to Vietnam, I made it clear that we expected the ROK forces to remain in the RNV. President Park personally assured me that he would not withdraw any ROK forces. I in turn reassured the Koreans that the obligation of the United States under the Mutual Security Treaty would be met.

In my discussions with Ambassador Porter and General Bonesteel concerning the Pueblo negotiations, I was told of the great problems involved in passing messages between the Embassy, General Bone- steel’s headquarters and the U.S. element at Panmunjom. Instructions to our Panmunjom delegation received at the Embassy must be immedi ately [Page 390] translated into Korean so that Admiral Smith’s interpreter can read them into the official record. When weather permits the use of a helicopter from Seoul to Panmunjom, the total time from receipt of the message at the Embassy to delivery to Admiral Smith averages 2–1/2 hours. Again, with good flying weather, it normally takes about 3 hours from the end of a negotiation session until a message can be dispatched to Washington. When bad weather prevents helicopter flight, another two or three hours must be added to the processing of both incoming and outgoing messages.

In addition, I found a highly unsatisfactory communication system in Seoul and between Seoul and Washington. With the approval of Secretary McNamara and Under Secretary Katzenbach, we have now installed full teleconferencing and secure telephone facilities between the two capitals and within Seoul.

Before closing this report, I have certain recommendations I would like to make.

First, I believe that a small State/Defense/CIA/White House study group should be established to undertake an independent assessment of our current policy toward the ROK and to identify what our political, economic and military objectives in Korea should be over the next several years. This study effort should also assess the current and future policies of North Korea vis-e-vis the ROK. I consider it extremely important that this study group should be formed at a level in Government where its recommendations can be reviewed first-hand by our most senior policy-makers.

Second, I believe that serious consideration should be given to apprising the Soviets of the dangerous political situation that exists in Korea on both sides of the DMZ and the pitfalls it offers for our two countries should North or South Korea sponsor a major raid which could result in war.

Third, I believe that consideration should be given to exposing at the UN and through bilateral exchanges the full dimensions of Kim Il-Sung’s actions against South Korea and their implications for area and world peace. I must point out, however, that this course of action is not without danger because of the ROK guerrilla raids on North Korea which could well be surfaced.

Fourth, I believe that beginning in FY-1969 the basic military assistance program to Korea should be increased from $160 to $200 or $210 million per year. Approximately 85 per cent of the Korean MAP program is expended for the maintenance of existing Korean forces and these costs are rising. The amount of MAP funding available for investment or force modernization is therefore but a fraction of the total program. A sizeable portion of these additional funds, as well as of the $100 million supplemental assistance you have requested of the [Page 391] Congress for FY-1968, should be used for improving the counter-insurgency and counter-infiltration capabilities of ROK military forces.

Fifth, I believe that consideration should be given to the problem of providing additional protection for our [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] weapons sites.

Sixth, I believe that consistent with the Joint Communique, Ministerial meetings between the ROK Ministry of National Defense and the Department of Defense should be promptly arranged. Similarly, Ambassador Porter should be given standby authority to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Chung to visit the United States later this year if, in his judgment, such a visit would be useful.

Seventh, I believe that consideration should be given to improving the Korean DMZ barrier.

Eighth, I strongly recommend that arrangements should be instituted which would permit General Bonesteel to apprise Ambassador Porter monthly of all approved U.S. reconnaissance activities scheduled for the vicinity of Korea. Ambassador Porter did not know of the Pueblo mission.

My final comments concern Ambassador Porter, General Bone- steel, and the members of my mission, Mr. John P. Walsh, Colonel Abbott C. Greenleaf and Mr. Daniel O’Donohue.

Both Ambassador Porter and General Bonesteel are outstanding public servants. They are highly competent and are working very hard and courageously in a very difficult political situation which could turn sour overnight. They are entitled to commendation and our full support.

As for the members of my Mission, I cannot praise too highly the truly outstanding performance of Mr. John Walsh and Colonel Abbott Greenleaf under very difficult conditions. Their ever wise counsel and tireless efforts were indispensable. I also wish to commend the performance of Mr. Daniel O’Donohue and Miss Maria Gardosik.


Cyrus Vance
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident, Vance Mission to Korea (B), February 9 to 15, 1968. Top Secret. Forwarded to the President under a February 21 covering memorandum from Rostow that indicates that the President saw the report. Vance prepared a second version of this report, virtually identical to the first, except it was written in the third person and included numerous supporting documents, for dissemination to Rusk, McNamara, Clifford, Katzenbach, Nitze, Wheeler, and a select group of staff members working on Korea. A copy of that report with attachments was requested by and given to President Johnson. (Ibid., Vance Mission to Korea (A), February 9 to 15, 1968) a precis of the report was prepared for Senator J. William Fulbright, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in response to his request for information about the Vance mission. (Letter from William B. Macomber, Jr., to Fulbright, March 4, 1968; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 US/VANCE)
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. Vance’s letter and recommendations are attached but not printed.