2. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson1

This is for background, because Rusk and McNamara plan to take up with you shortly force cuts in Korea.2

They met yesterday and reportedly agreed that rather than cut both ROK and US forces we should cut neither now! McNamara does favor both a 70,000 man cut in the 580,000 man ROK army (phased over two years) and a 12,000 man cut in US forces by the end of 1964. This is a big step forward from the military’s previous adamant position.

Rusk was perfectly willing to buy the ROK cut; State feels that such a small reduction probably would have little adverse political implication. But Rusk is strongly opposed to a simultaneous US cut, announced now. He fears it would upset the Japs and Koreans, and even worry all our Asian allies that we’re disengaging from Asia.

So McNamara then said that if we didn’t cut US forces he didn’t want to cut ROK forces either; this would be hard to defend on the Hill because it ran counter to our MAP theory of buying cheap infantry (i.e. why cut local forces instead of bringing our boys home?).

It would be a pity to postpone entirely once again a long-needed shift which would also save some money. There is never a good time to cut, but the plain fact of the matter—no longer denied by anyone—is that we’re overinsured militarily in Korea at a time when we need strength much more elsewhere. The big danger area is in Southeast Asia not Northeast Asia, and has been ever since the Korean War.

Since the issue seems to be more one of timing than of substance, why can’t we take a decision in principle now, while allowing ourselves tactical flexibility in execution? We ought to be able to devise some way of fuzzing up our action enough to forestall the adverse reactions State fears. For example, we could:

Decide now to go ahead with the ROK cut, but play it in low key so as to avoid the problem bothering McNamara. Rusk could tell the ROK [Page 4] when in Seoul that we desire a gradual streamlining of their forces, but feel that they and we should handle it in such a way as to minimize any political splash. The ROKs have as much incentive as we to avoid publicity. And a cut of only 35,000 per year out of 560,000 could be presented here if necessary as revamping, not a main cut.
Decide now within the USG, at least tentatively, on a substantial cut in US forces by the end of 1965, if not 1964. Planning should begin, but no announcement of any kind would be made until State and DOD present a final plan to you for decision by 30 June 1964.
State and Defense should work out together the optimum timing for such a cut, with an eye to mitigating any adverse political impact in the area. Perhaps doing it in several bites over an 18-month period would help. We could also begin to lay the public relations groundwork by pointing out the erosion of Chicom military capabilities as a result of the Sino-Soviet split, and how we’re over-insured in Northeast Asia so may need some redeployment to increase the forces available for Southeast Asia.

While any force cuts will always entail some pain, and I don’t wish to play down State’s concerns, we cannot always let this be an excuse for no action at all. So I urge you keep the pressure on State and Defense via some such proposal as that described above.

Bob Komer
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea, Memos, Vol. I. Secret. An L on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. At the Daily White House Staff Meeting of February 5 McGeorge Bundy reported that Rusk and McNamara decided not to approach the President on the question at this time. At that meeting Bundy, Forrestal, and Komer discussed the problem and agreed that “some action on force levels in Korea” should be taken, that U.S. and Korean forces should not be reduced simultaneously, and that Korean forces should be reduced before U.S. forces were cut. (Memorandum for the record, February 5; National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Chairman’s Staff Group, Box 25)