183. Telegram From the Commander of United States Forces, Korea (Bonesteel) to the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Sharp)1
Seoul, February 29, 1968, 1028Z.
KRA 745. Subject: ROK Concepts for Home Defense Militia.
- The rapid development over the past week or ten days of the emphasis being placed on the homeland reserve by President Park is both interesting and significant.2
- Beginnings of this emphasis appear to stem from events and discussions during Vance visit. Park’s and ROKG total emphasis then was on retaliation and on need for vastly increased MAP, costing over a billion dollars. At that time we repeatedly pointed out there was a third area which needed attention and this was ROK self-help and [Page 396]immediate improvement, using what they had now, of counter-infiltration resources (military and police) and internal security organization, augmented as feasible by incoming CIGCOREP and USOM aid. I pounded this theme also with ROK JCS, MND and PM. We pointed out that ROK with population of 30 million, very large armed forces and rapidly expanding national police was not exactly helpless in face of NK subversive threat. At same time ROKs got some clear warnings that US was not going to be dragged into war precipitated by unilateral ROK “retaliation.”
- For a long time ROKs have been greatly interested in Israel’s defense organization, reserve forces, kibbutz, etc.3 In last several weeks Israeli MA and several other Israelis have been seeing a lot of senior ROKs.
- Whatever is genesis of emphasis on using reserves or militia for internal security, President Park began to use the theme in speeches and press pronouncements beginning about ten days ago.4 Precise theme has varied in details but generally stresses need for ROKs to build more self-reliant defenses, need for moral or “spiritual” reorientation of all citizens to realize defense of ROK, particularly against subversive and terrorist operations, is responsibility of all citizens and that they cannot ask allies to take care for them of this most elemental aspect of national existence. He has used “need for a more independent national defense” in some speeches, but at least for now, we do not interpret this to mean disengagement from UNC OPCON or any less dependence on US for help in defense of Korea against overt, large scale Communist aggression.
- In terms of potential NK threats against ROK both from overt and from unconventional forces, I believe Park’s approach makes sense. He is not, we think, derogating from US/ROK alliance and clearly hopes for continued MAP support for modernization at about current levels to face overt threat, which he does not believe to be so imminent as subversive threat. At same time, however, he is now plugging to fight the subversive threat on maximum ROK self-help. He seems to [Page 397]be trying to tighten the internal defenses and give them a greater and more cohesive capability to handle the many thousands of trained raiders and guerrilla teams which NK has built up. He obviously does not want to risk NK possible effort to harass interior of ROK along lines North Vietnamese are trying in Vietnam.
- In view of magnitude of dual threat—overt and covert—being built up by North Koreans and in light of great economic progress in ROK, not to mention huge investments of US in ROK in war and peace, I think President Park’s new approach makes sense and is in US national interest as well as ROKs.5
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea, Cables, Vol. V. Confidential; Eyes Only. Repeated to Wheeler and to CINCUSARPAC, Hawaii. Passed by Wheeler to Rostow, Clifford, Rusk, and to each of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.↩
- On February 20 the Korean Cabinet passed a decree implementing a 1961 law permitting establishment of a local reserve corps. The homeland reserve force was to be supervised by the Minister of National Defense, who could delegate authority to local police officials for use against armed infiltrators at the local level. (Airgram A–406 from Seoul, February 26; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–3 KOR S)↩
- Pak’s first public statements addressing these themes came on February 7, when he announced plans to arm the nation’s veterans and older reservists to always carry a rifle. The Embassy viewed Pak’s comments skeptically, given the government’s weapons-control policy and fear of assassination. (Telegram 4085 from Seoul, February 8; ibid., POL 23–7 KOR S) A few days later the Defense Ministry announced an extension of the length of active service from 30 to 36 months in the army and marines and from 36 to 42 months for the Navy and Air Force to meet internal security needs. (Telegram 4227 from Seoul, February 14; ibid.)↩
- In a February 16 meeting between U.S. and Korean military authorities the Minister of National Defense expressed a similar interest in the Israeli approach of training and equipping its population to supplement regular armed forces and enhance its defenses. (Telegram 4311 from Seoul, February 17; ibid., POL 7 US/VANCE)↩
- The Embassy also urged policymakers in Washington to fund the program. Porter argued that Pak’s commitment to the homeland reserve force represented a significant shift in his approach to the North Korean threat from retaliation to self-defense. (Telegram 4634 from Seoul, March 3; ibid., DEF 19–8 US–KOR S)↩