201. Paper Prepared by the Policy Planning Council of the Department of State1



Despite the substantial success of US policies in Korea, the need to change our approach is increasingly evident. The ROK’s economic progress is no longer dependent on our massive economic aid, and ROK political development is increasingly incompatible with the deep involvement we have had in Korean economic and, at times, political decisions. At the same time, the more belligerent behavior of North Korea has given us a new incentive to re-examine our security posture in Korea.

The US cannot simply congratulate itself on a job well done and walk away. A rapid disengagement—political, economic, and especially military—could pull the props from under much of what our blood and treasure have helped to build. Political and economic disarray, or worse, would probably be produced in the ROK. The signal conveyed to the Communists by a brusque military pull-back, especially if it were coupled with a bad outcome in Viet-Nam, could be disastrous.

The US must long retain a real though diminishing role in support of the ROK. It is not realistic to hope that the animosities which focus in Korea can soon be abated by some form of peaceful reunification, nor should we expect Japan to replace us in our Korean role. In fact, the modest [Page 434] contribution to ROK security which Japan may make is probably contingent on our continued lead in both political and military matters.

Our policy choices in Korea are thus really rather narrow and center largely on security considerations. We can: (a) continue our support for a gradual increase in ROK defensive capabilities or (b) seek through substantial additional resource inputs to give the ROK rather quickly the capability of handling an all-out North Korean attack with only US logistic support.

Considerations of cost aside, the second of these strategies is clearly preferable. We could in this way rapidly adjust our military, as well as our political and economic, policies to the growing self-reliance of the ROK. More important, this strategy would in a few years time all but eliminate the risk that US combat forces would have to be committed to help the ROK repel a new North Korean attack.

Even in terms of cost, the first of the above strategies would probably have no advantage. At projected military assistance levels, the growth in ROK defensive capabilities would be very slow. The reduction in US force levels in Korea would have to be correspondingly gradual, thereby prolonging the heavy burden of their maintenance as well as the risk of their involvement in a new war.

The return of the ROK forces from Viet-Nam will open the way to a strengthening and restructuring of the ROK military and to the phased withdrawal of the bulk of US forces from Korea. It will not be difficult to make ROK ground forces—and the ROK navy—more than a match for the North Korean army and navy. In fact, the North Koreans may already be overmatched on the ground and the sea, though there is not the margin of safety one might wish. A ROK ground force of about 20 divisions (equivalent to what they would now have if the two divisions in Viet-Nam returned to replace the two US divisions in Korea), modest equipment modernization, and improved logistic infrastructure are needed.

The balance is quite different in the air. The North Koreans acquired a large air force after (and in violation of) the Armistice, while the ROK has leaned heavily on US air support. Although the US could bring the ROK to “parity” in air strength, it is probably unnecessary and undesirable. Unnecessary, because much of the North Korean air force is obsolete and of dubious effectiveness in supporting an all-out assault on the ROK, and because US air strength would in all relevant contingencies be able to redress any unexpected reverses. Undesirable, since numerical parity would be extremely costly to provide and maintain and could simply lead to an accelerated arms race on the peninsula. We should therefore support only a modest expansion of the ROK air force from 11 to 13 tactical fighter squadrons and concentrate on modernization of existing units and improvement of base facilities.

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[2 lines of source text not declassified] Remaining US forces would ultimately consist of headquarters staff, military advisers, and personnel in selected logistic units.

Our economic strategy will depend in some degree on which approach we choose in the security field. If we do not make an intensive effort to build up ROK military strength, but keep our forces in Korea somewhat longer, there will be less pressure on the ROK economy, and our economic aid can taper down more rapidly. If, as this paper recommends, we make the intensive effort, there may be corresponding strains on the ROK and our aid phase-out should probably be somewhat deferred. Moreover, there are still major uncertainties in the ROK’s economic future and we should terminate Development Loans and Military Budget Support only after the critical presidential election of 1971.

We still have some influence on political decisions in Seoul, and we should retain the tools which give us that influence until the ROK is past the 1971 hurdle. We should recognize, however, that our position is already very different from that of some years ago and should not try to transform our old role as a flying instructor into that of a permanent copilot.

The major steps in carrying out the preferred strategy might look something like the following:

FY 1970. Return of one ROK division from Viet-Nam and phase-out of supporting assistance.

FY 1971. Return of remaining ROK troops from Viet-Nam, making possible the resumption of the MAP Transfer Program.

FY 1972. Development Loans and Military Budget Support phased out. Shift of MAP to soft-term credit sales begun. The US 2nd Division would be withdrawn from Korea. The UN Command might at this point relinquish operational control of ROK forces, except in emergencies.

FY 1973. PL 480 local currency sales ended and remaining PL 480 sales made on long-term dollar basis. The US 7th Division would be withdrawn from Korea.

FY 1974. PL 480 Title II program (rural development) ended.

FY 1975. Modernization of ROK military structure substantially completed. [1 line of source text not declassified]

All of these steps of course, depend to various degrees, on developments in the interim.

Several major questions may fairly be raised concerning the preferred strategy: Would the ROK accept it? Would it increase the risk of a ROK attempt to re-unify Korea by force? Could the required resources be found for the projected build-up of ROK defensive capabilities? And, finally, what about the Chinese threat?

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Concerning the first question, ROK leaders will be unhappy over the withdrawal of the two US divisions and the prospect that other forces would eventually follow, but in time they would realize that they had no rational alternative but to go along.

The danger of a “March North” seems minimal: there are few fanatics among ROK leaders, and we can probably continue to rely on ROK dependence on US logistic support to inhibit any rash adventures. We should, however, support a primarily defensive posture for ROK forces, and we should continue to make clear that our guarantee does not apply to hostilities arising from ROK attack.

The resources problem may be the most difficult of all, but its solution would be facilitated after the end of major hostilities in Viet-Nam by the withdrawal of the US divisions from Korea, which will result in very large savings and will more than offset the added expenditures required by the preferred strategy. Also, the ability of the ROK to pay for its own defense is increasing, modest amounts of non-lethal military assistance may be forthcoming from Japan, and any excess equipment after Viet-Nam would further reduce costs.

Fortunately, Chinese participation in a new attack seems unlikely, so long as the US maintains its present security commitment to the ROK, backed up by both a nuclear deterrent and the ability to deploy forces to Korea if the need arises. The strategy proposed here would increase the ROK’s ability to fight a delaying action against a combined Chinese-North Korean attack, but even a very large build-up of ROK capabilities at great expense to both the US and the ROK could not eliminate the need for US combat forces.

No strategy is without its problems including the one advanced here. This strategy nevertheless offers the best hope of reducing our vulnerability to direct involvement in any new Korean war without making such a war any more likely than it is today. We would preserve our major interests in Korea while moving to a new relationship in which the ROK is no longer a dependent client but a full-fledged, self-reliant ally.

[Here follows the five-part study comprising 70 pages. Part I is entitled “US Interests and Objectives in Korea,” Part II, “Major Problems in Korea Over the Next Decade,” Part III, “Assessment of Strategic Alternatives,” Part IV, “The Preferred Strategy,” and Part V, “Recommendations.” Also included were annexes A–F. Annex A is entitled “Present US Commitments,” annex B, “Current US-Korean Relations,” C, “Major Problems in the ROK,” D, “North Korea’s Prospects,” E, “Reunification,” and F, “Contingencies.”]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Senior Interdepartmental Group Files: Lot 70 D 263. Secret. According to the preface, the study originated from a recommendation made by Vance after his trip to Seoul in February. The Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Joint Staff, the CIA,AID, and the Bureau of the Budget contributed to the paper, although no agency was “in any way committed to the analysis and recommendations presented in the study.” SIG members were asked to review the study prior to a SIG meeting to discuss it. (Memorandum from Arthur A. Hartman to SIG members, June 26; ibid.) The paper was reviewed in the Department by the East Asian and Pacific Interdepartmental Regional Group (EAP/IRG), which discussed some of the problems inherent in the study on July 25, including the timing of several actions, funding of ROK forces, and potential withdrawal of U.S. forces from Korea. Minutes of the meeting, prepared on August 2, and a summary of IRG comments, prepared on August 6, are ibid. Jenkins sent Rostow the study and relevant documentation under cover of a September 16 memorandum prior to the September 19 SIG meeting. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, Senior Interdepartmental Group, Vol. 7, 43rd Meeting, September 19, 1968) The JCS reviewed the study and opposed its military components and recommendations in an August 21 memorandum to Clifford. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD/OASD/ISA Files: FRC 91–0017, Korea 092 [Sensitive])