220. Minutes of Meeting1


  • Meeting on Korean Crisis Without the President

Secretary McNamara: The President does not now have the power to extend the tours of duty of military personnel without legislation. He does have the power to call up reserve units without Congressional action and without declaring a national emergency. It would be no problem to move promptly to Korea substantial forces consisting of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps planes (100 to 300). This would be easy and relatively riskless, and should be done. We have considerable flexibility in force movements, call-ups and application of force. We could also restrict commerce or mine selected ports.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: It is important to distinguish between symbolic movement of forces and actual use. The former does not commit you, the latter does.

Secretary McNamara: We must distinguish between (a) the call-up of forces; (b) the movement of forces; and (c) the actual use of our forces. There will be time between the call-up of forces and the movement of these forces for diplomatic activity.

Secretary McNamara: There are airfield limitations on the number of planes which can be handled, but we can put in about 300 maximum.

General Wheeler: The Enterprise can be kept where it is and by the 29th can be reinforced by the Kitty Hawk. There are 130 strike aircraft on the two carriers. We can also bring in additional destroyers and [Page 484] cruisers. Some would have to cross the Pacific, but we could end up with a substantial augmentation.

Secretary Rusk: Was the alleged confession of the Pueblo’s captain a voice broadcast?2

Director Helms: Yes, but the recording made in Okinawa was not good. The tape is en route here. The accent was American but the language was stilted and unlike that which an American would use.

Secretary Rusk: Diplomatic moves available to us in the next 48 hours include the use of the UN Security Council. There are difficulties but also much reason in the idea. The United Nations has had a special relationship to Korea, and there has been a long history of association with the problem. There is a preliminary obligation to refer the matter to the United Nations before taking military action. This is not exactly a Charter provision, but is in the atmosphere of the Charter. We did so in the Cuban missile crisis before heading for a military confrontation. It is one way of putting prestige factors in the refrigerator for a few days. Security Council debate affords a framework in which contact can be made with the other side without engaging major prestige. We should try diplomacy by going to the Council at once. We are not yet ready to move militarily to meet an enemy response to our initial military action. Council consideration could also afford an important breathing spell in public feeling.

Assistant Secretary Sisco: We have a paper outlining two possibilities.3

One, the Secretary General to undertake good offices to see what he can do through private talks. There is some indication that he would be willing to try. This would take a long time and any result is unlikely. Meanwhile, in the Security Council we might seek statements from friendly governments urging release of the ship and the crew. This might be one way of proceeding for the next two days in the Security Council, simply aiming for the series of statements with no other UN action.

The second possibility would aim for a resolution calling for the release of the ship and crew and might possibly inject the Secretary General into the issue. Many problems would be encountered in pursu ing [Page 485] the latter course. We have seven sure votes. To get a majority is problematical. We would face a Soviet veto. During a Council debate, we would be able to mobilize support.

Special Assistant Rostow: In the Cuban missile crisis we did not get into the United Nations until we had made our move. There is a danger that if we go into the Security Council, we would find ourselves blocked from taking military action. In the Cuban crisis we faced the danger that the UN would freeze the status quo. The UN resolution might state that actions were to be taken without use of force. This could prevent or hinder our freedom of action. We also have to be careful not to get the South Koreans up in arms by a lack of adequate response.

Secretary Rusk: This is somewhat different from the Cuban crisis. Then, the presence of the missiles was not generally known. We were able to announce the presence of the missiles at the time we announced our action. Here, the basic facts are already known concerning the Pueblo affair. We could work out with the UN that we would be bound not to act for only so long. We may even need a Soviet veto.

Mr. Sisco: The analogy is closer to the Tonkin Gulf incident. We convoked the Security Council, made statements, but asked for no formal action.

General Wheeler: Is it possible to go to the Security Council even if we ask for no formal action without getting the Secretary General into the act?

Mr. Sisco: Yes, but some would surely want to involve him.

Secretary Rusk: We would not tell Council members we did not want formal action. We might indeed want to press a resolution to a vote which might involve the veto.

Mr. Rostow: The question is how do we get out of it if it does not work?

Mr. Katzenbach: In the Cuban crisis, the OAS was insulation from the United Nations.

Secretary Rusk: Would we be strong in the United Nations on the issues in this case?

Legal Adviser Meeker: Yes. We could have used all force to prevent the capture, according to international law. No legal theory is wholly satisfactory, but here we have strong grounds—self defense—stronger if we first take it to the UN.4

[Page 486]

Secretary McNamara: I am concerned about the question of territorial waters, and our inability to support this without adequate evidence. We have January 10–22 to account for (in addition to indications that at the time of seizure, we were indeed outside territorial waters by a safe distance). The captain’s alleged statement indicated he had been in territorial waters. Should we be worried about the “hot pursuit” argument? (Mr. Katzenbach said “hot pursuit” was not involved.)

Secretary Rusk: We might consider demanding that the captain be produced at the Security Council. We could be in difficulty if captured documents included, for instance, statements from the crew saying that they went under the Soviet guns and took pictures anyway.

Secretary McNamara: I do not know whether we were in territorial waters at some point or not. Is there any concern that the log would show that the ship was in territorial waters?

Secretary Rusk: We can, of course, produce the orders (for whatever they may be worth).

Mr. Meeker: The North Koreans claim 12 miles, as does the Soviet Union. Warships may not be subject to seizure, anyway, even in territorial waters if they do not engage in hostile action.

Secretary Rusk: At the United Nations, at least there would be pressures to settle the matter. And no one could believe that the matter is likely to be settled unless we get our ship and men out.

General Wheeler: Can we put heat on the Soviets to help settle this matter?

Secretary Rusk: Yes, unless the Soviets want to open a second front in Korea.

Mr. Nitze: There would be nothing inconsistent in taking the first two actions recommended by Secretary McNamara, i.e., calling up forces and moving forces, and also taking our case to the United Nations.

Secretary Rusk: That is agreed. We must be braced for anything. The call-up of forces makes our diplomacy more creditable. For instance, the call-up of reserves had an immediate effect on the Russians in the Berlin crisis.

If we go to the United Nations, can we be entrapped by the other side taking no action while we end up being inhibited in taking the actions we want to?

Mr. Sisco: This danger should prove to be manageable in the UN. Probably the most we would encounter would be a resolution inhibiting in a general sense our action, but we could probably avoid even that.

Mr. Rostow: If we go to the UN, it is essential to include the attempt to assassinate President Park.

[Page 487]

Secretary Rusk: The first thing to do tonight is to get off a telegram to the Koreans asking them to agree to a letter to the Security Council on both subjects. Then we can talk with New York about when to convene the Security Council.

Mr. Clifford: We need a period to quiet down the feelings which have been engendered. Going to the Security Council would be the best avenue to do this. I do not know how strong our case would be. The North Koreans would probably continue to say that we had violated their territorial waters. It is possible that they might build a better case than we could. If we move precipitately with military force, it might turn out that we had a hard case to prove. Submission of our case to the Security Council has the value of doing something, of recognizing that world body, and of permitting the American people to quiet down in the next 4 or 5 days. This is possibly but the first in a series of incidents. This one is not as sharp as I would like to see it. We should get ready for the next one which may be clearer.

I am concerned about using this incident as the basis for major military actions. As in the case of the USS Liberty, this is not a clear case.5 If we can find a way out with face, we should do so. There will probably be a better case later on.

Secretary Rusk: If the North Koreans come in with conclusive proof that our ship was in territorial waters, we could say in the Security Council that we regretted that action and that now they should give back our men and our ship.

Mr. Berger: And about the attempt to assassinate Park?

Secretary Rusk: They should be called upon to stop such actions. If the UN debate slops over to debate on Vietnam, that is all right, too.

Mr. Katzenbach: The Pueblo was almost an unarmed ship. If we were doing something wrong they could have protested. We presented no immediate threat to them. In the previous case of the USS Liberty, it could have been an immediate threat.

Secretary McNamara: How long would we be in the UN?

Secretary Rusk: Two or three days or we could spin it out longer.

Mr. Sisco: This would depend partly on whether we limit efforts to debate only. If there were a resolution, it would draw things out.

Mr. Warnke: Does self-defense wear out?

Mr. Meeker: Self-defense after a time “wears out”. It begins to get stale.

[Page 488]

Secretary Rusk: We have a much cleaner case than Clark Clifford implied. But if we go to the United Nations, it is important that we not go defensively.

Secretary McNamara: I am reluctant to use military force unless we see what we gain and what we lose. I believe we have a good case. If our people do, too, and we do not react, there could be a serious effect on the Vietnam situation. It is not clear what would come after the UN.

Mr. Katzenbach: Time spent in the UN costs less than time spent any other way.

Secretary Rusk: The pressure on us is that our men and our ship are in Wonsan.

Secretary McNamara: If the talk in the UN goes on for two months, then we can’t use military force. The UN is okay if it is not dragged out.

Mr. Rostow: We have to move forces so as to act as a counter force to UN Talks. We should let the Soviet Union know that we base our actions on the doctrine of self defense. This doctrine will be part of our case in deciding what action must follow if we do not get satisfaction.

Secretary Rusk: A telegram from Ambassador Porter says that the two incidents (Pueblo and attack on Park) are clearly related.6 The North Koreans will keep up harassments. Then they will probably return the ship and personnel but under circumstances which will make it as humiliating as possible for the United States. This could result in undermining our support in South Vietnam. Porter expects increased penetration and subversive activities by North Korea.

Secretary Rusk: Berger and Sisco should draft a message to Seoul so that tomorrow we can go to the Security Council. We should also send a circular cable to the Korean troop club. If the situation leads to renewed fighting between North and South Korea, we want these people to be interested and to get nervous. We want them to say something to the Russians or to the North Koreans or to any others where they could help build pressure. We should give the 16 nations full details.

Mr. Berger: We often brief the 16 here.

Secretary Rusk: All right, plus the letters. We should talk with Sato. We should also probably make a new approach to the Soviet Union. We can wait for a fuller report from Prime Minister Wilson, but if that is not satisfactory, or if Wilson did not take the matter up with the Soviets, we should press hard again.

[Page 489]

Mr. Katzenbach: On Sato, the question is how it is to be done, since we will be using Japanese facilities if major military steps are taken. If we got General Max Taylor to talk with Sato, it would be more dramatic, if that is what you want.

Mr. Berger: We were thinking in terms of an interim approach to Sato, asking the Japanese to express concern to the Soviets.

Secretary Rusk: Now let us talk of other moves. What sort of ship is the Banner?

General Wheeler: The Banner is a COMINT collector. It is now on the west coast of Japan.

Mr. Nitze: It would take about four days for the Banner to get into position off Korea.

General Wheeler: We should not undertake this without ample naval escort and air cover. If there is action, the odds should be on our side. The Banner is now in port in Japan for changes of its codes.

Secretary Rusk: Replacing the Pueblo with the Banner is in range as a gesture.

Secretary McNamara: We might buy some time by saying that we are replacing the captured ship. Such action would add a risk but would convey a message that we are not deterred by the capture of the Pueblo.

Secretary Rusk: We might want the Banner to rendezvous with the Enterprise.

Mr. Katzenbach: If we put the Banner in the same place as the Pueblo was, it will demonstrate our right to do this and our power to do it. The disadvantage is the possible impact on United Nations members if it makes people nervous.

Mr. Nitze: Such action would help us in the Security Council.

Secretary Rusk: Let us consider B, C, and G as preparatory moves.7 As far as the end of the trail is concerned, the use of military force would make us feel better about it, but does not get our ship and our men back. We do not want to take on a second front if we can avoid it. We might consider passive interference with the port of Wonsan.

Secretary McNamara: It can be done with mines but it does invite escalation.

[Page 490]

Secretary Rusk: We have a better chance of getting our ship and men back before rather than after using military force.

Secretary McNamara: Using the Banner would reduce our loss of face and reduce the necessity to use force if we do not get back our ship and men. It will have a lesser effect if we delay.

Secretary Rusk: We don’t know yet the intentions of the North Koreans. An air cap over the Banner would be necessary. We can’t have disaster again. I understand that North Korea has substantial air power. Our cover has to be big. What should be the extent of our call-up of reserve planes?

Secretary McNamara: Our purpose should be demonstration. There should be quite a few. We should call up at least 250 planes. Four hundred were called up at the time of the Cuban crisis.

Mr. Rostow: I am not recommending it, but the most symmetrical suggestion I have seen is to have South Korea pick up a Soviet ship. There is one similar to the Pueblo in the region.

Secretary Rusk: We would, however, be acting just as outrageously as the North Koreans.

Mr. Rostow: Blocking the harbor is a warlike act, too. We do not want to appear weak to the American people by doing no more than beg in the United Nations.

Secretary McNamara: The point Walt makes is well taken. It is not only the reaction of our people which we must take into account but also that of the Asians. The North Koreans have attempted an assassination, taken our ship, humiliated our captain. The Soviets do have a vessel doing the same sort of thing and we do not do anything about it. We cannot continue too long without acting.

General Wheeler: (In response to a question from Secretary Rusk.) There is quite a bit of air patrolling in the Korean DMZ. There are also photo and ELINT missions from time to time.

Secretary Rusk: It is important that we make clear that what we do in Korea will not reduce what we are doing in Vietnam. We might pick up North Korean merchant vessels, but there are only a few such ships, according to these reports. We might, however, influence Japan in the direction of economic sanctions.

Secretary McNamara: This might have political effect, but it would have little economic effect because the Russians would step in.

Secretary Rusk: We should gin up our friends to make statements decrying the North Korean action. NATO should have an interest in this affair, too.

Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara recommended the following actions to buy time: Adding 250 planes to those already based in the area and the call-up of 250 reserve planes with crews.

[Page 491]

General Wheeler: The Banner should join the Enterprise. Aerial reconnaissance should include the use of drones plus Black Shield.

Director Helms: I recommend that we run three reconnaissance flights in one day and get it done. Seventeen minutes for Black Shield on one flight.

Secretary McNamara: We must indeed fill in the gaps on our intelligence if we contemplate military action. If we have a three-pass mission the first time, there would be a very low loss rate expected. I favor the three-pass mission.

Secretary Rusk: That is okay, but I have not been greatly impressed with drones.

General Wheeler: That is wrong. They take excellent pictures. Eight of the last ten have survived. One met with mechanical failure and one was shot down.

Secretary McNamara: Another benefit in using them is political.

Secretary Rusk: Do they take better photographs?

Director Helms: Slightly better.

Secretary Rusk: I see an advantage of taking a quick look at Wonsan. We ought to have the Task Force examine items B, E, and F in the index outline. We should be able to say that we have checked these out thoroughly. We are not prepared to recommend yet, but we should at least know where we are concerning these.

Mr. Katzenbach: We have the wraps on South Korea now but we do not know how long we can keep them on or indeed how long we will want to.

General Wheeler: General Bonesteel has been urging restraint on the South Koreans who have plans to make retaliatory raids. South Korean officers have been instructed not to let General Bonesteel see these plans. His question is whether we want to play the South Koreans cool or hot. At the present time, he is playing them cool.

Secretary McNamara: We should continue to try to keep the South Koreans cool, at least during the Security Council debate.

Mr. Rostow: We should consider the Park proposal to take out by air attacks the North Korean training bases.

Bromley Smith
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Bromley Smith, [Meeting on Pueblo Crisis, January 24, 1968, 6:00 p.m.]. Top Secret. Drafted by Bromley Smith. The meeting was held in Katzenbach’s office at the State Department and ended shortly before 7:30 p.m. (Ibid., Rusk Appointment Book)
  2. Bucher read a confession over Radio Pyongyang. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident)
  3. Not further identified. Sisco also prepared a paper containing three potential options for approaching the UN: 1) submitting a factual report to the Security Council; 2) requesting the good offices of the Secretary General; and 3) consulting with a few key members of the Security Council and with the South Koreans prior to convening the Security Council. (Memorandum from Sisco to Rusk and Katzenbach, January 24; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US)
  4. Meeker set forth his analysis of the legal aspects of the Pueblo incident in a memorandum to Rusk, January 24. A second analysis by Meeker, January 26, approached the issue using the hypothesis that the Pueblo entered North Korean territorial waters at some point. (Both Department of State,INR/IL Historical Files, NK Seizure of USS Pueblo, INR/OD, January 1968)
  5. See footnote 4, Document 219.
  6. Document 219.
  7. The options were set forth in an Index prepared for this meeting. In addition to Diplomatic Options—approaching the UN, Sato, and the Soviets—other possible actions were: a) sending in the Banner; b) deploying air and naval forces; c) making reconnaissance flights over North Korea; d) interfering with North Korean shipping; e) blockading selected North Korean harbors; f) making selected air strikes; and g) calling up military reserves and extending the term of military service. (Korean Crisis, Index, attached to list of preferred actions stemming from the meeting, January 24; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US)