31. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 42/14.2–65


The Problem

To estimate the outlook for the Republic of Korea (ROK), including the nature of the challenge from North Korea.


Certain hopeful signs appeared in South Korean political life over the past few months: President Pak has shown greater awareness of the value of persuasion and compromise in dealing with opposition; the parties are beginning to submerge factional differences, and some opposition elements have cooperated with the administration on certain less controversial issues. The economic situation has improved in certain respects, and the military has firmly supported the government. (Paras. 4–5, 15)
Nonetheless, there remain a number of underlying sources of instability and obstacles to achievement of a real sense of national unity and direction. The government has failed to convince many Koreans that it represents much more than a continuation of the unpopular and of the corrupt military junta which it replaced. It has shed its authoritarianism sufficiently so that active, often irresponsible, opposition elements have been able to block its initiatives and work sometimes openly for its downfall. Political conflict is often more a contest for personal power than a controversy over issues, and the regime remains ultimately dependent on the support of the ROK military. (Paras. 1–3, 11)
The ROK is not likely to enjoy genuine political stability in the foreseeable future, but there is at least an even chance that the next two or three years will prove reasonably tranquil if the regime can handle certain issues. Among the most critical of these are a settlement [Page 59]with Japan—economically desirable but politically unpopular; [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]; factionalism within the ruling Democratic Republican Party; and a variety of chronic popular grievances, particularly among students and intellectuals. Serious trouble could arise over any of these issues, and while the military is likely to support the regime in most circumstances, its support cannot be guaranteed in all cases. (Paras. 6–14)
Lasting stability is not likely unless further progress is made in improving a weak and imbalanced economy, heavily dependent on large-scale US assistance and burdened with serious problems of unemployment and a population growing at nearly three percent per year. Grounds for optimism are very limited, though a settlement with Japan—for which chances are about even during the next year—would help. In the best circumstances, however, the ROK will remain a petitioner for large and continuing US assistance for years to come. (Paras. 15–28)
We believe that, during the next few years, the unification issue is likely to represent a more insistent problem for the ROK leaders than in the past. The North will probably continue to keep the initiative on unification, and sentiment within the ROK will make it more difficult for Seoul to stand pat. Pyongyang may fare better in the UN than in the past, particularly if Communist China is admitted or otherwise significantly improves its international status. We do not believe, however, that the trend is likely either to bring about the fall of the ROK Government or move it to contemplate unification on Pyongyang's terms unless the ROK suffers a series of unprecedented domestic disasters or becomes convinced that US support is weakening. (Paras. 29–41)

[1 paragraph (5 lines of source text) not declassified]

[Here follow the Discussion section of the estimate, [text not declassified] and a map of Korea.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/P Files: Lot 72 D 139, Country Files. Secret; Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the cover sheet, the Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, Defense, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Security Agency participated in the preparation of this estimate. All members of the USIB concurred with this estimate on January 22 except the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who abstained because the subject was outside its jurisdiction.