345. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson 1

Purpose of seeing Winthrop Brown, our new Ambassador to Korea, is so you can tell him personally why you want movement on our Korean policy, especially a Korean/Japanese settlement. Five minutes should suffice.2

We’ve poured into South Korea more than $6.6 billion in aid ($3.8 billion economic, $2.8 billion military) since World War II. Despite all our aid, this nation is still an unstable U.S. stepchild. Part of the problem is the absence of leadership after years of Japanese occupation, but part stems from bad planning and neglect by the U.S.

Brown is a top man (he did a great job as our man in Laos 1960–62); he’ll follow through on what you tell him. Suggested talking points are:

You are concerned over the long and frustrating record of U.S. involvement in Korea—with so little to show for it. We simply can’t keep paying with so few results (we’re planning $350–400 million in aid for FY 1965).
So you give top priority to the long-delayed Korea-Japan settlement. Let’s get Japan to start sharing the burden. Aside from $600 million in Jap aid which a settlement would bring, we want to redevelop the natural economic ties between Korea and Japan. Brown should tell Reischauer in Tokyo your views when he goes through en route.
You’ll put personal weight behind getting a settlement in any way necessary.
To start off, Rusk suggests attached oral message 3 for Brown to deliver to President Park. We have word that Park has told his new [Page 764] foreign minister to give priority to a settlement, so these words will come at a good time.
You are personally inclined to cut our 50,000 U.S. troops in Korea; our needs are more in Southeast Asia. Defense of Korea is vital; but can’t we do it with fewer men? Such big ROK armed forces (550,000) are also a terrible drag on the economy of such a poor country. You’ve held off on these cuts because they might give the wrong signal to the Chicoms just now, but Brown should keep a close eye on when it might be feasible.

R.W. Komer


Proposed Oral Message From the President

President Johnson asked me to give you his warm personal regards. He also asked me to speak to you for him about the negotiations for normal relations between Korea and Japan, which he discussed with you last November.5 He hopes that you will move forward shortly to establish normal relations and reach a settlement with Japan. It is not healthy for Korea to continue long to be so exclusively dependent upon a single outside friend as it is at present. Korea needs greater trade and a wider circle of strong supporters from abroad. A settlement would be of great benefit to Korea, both economically and politically, and would have good effects for Korea far beyond the direct arrangements established between Korea and Japan. It would also benefit the Free World position in the Far East.

The President hopes that delays will not continue, fearing that Korea’s diplomatic and economic prospects and the Free World position in Asia will deteriorate unless this normalization is soon achieved. The United States Government is prepared publicly to support such a settlement, and to make clear that it will not affect the basic United States policies of economic assistance to Korea. In fact, such a settlement would make United States assistance more fruitful, for it would be working in a stronger and more broadly based economy.

It is because the President holds these views strongly that he authorized me to stress United States support of a Korea-Japan rapprochement in my public statement on arrival.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea, Vol. II. Secret.
  2. The President, Komer, and Brown met at the White House on July 31 from 6:18 to 6:22 p.m. In reply to President Johnson’s inquiry about “prospects for political stability in Korea and for an early settlement with Japan,” Brown briefly informed the President of the current situation. The President told Brown “that he regarded an early settlement between Korea and Japan as a matter of top priority.” (Memorandum of conversation, August 10; ibid.)
  3. Transmitted by a July 28 memorandum to President Johnson from Rusk asking the President to approve the message and pointing out that it “would be a good means of pressing the Koreans to go ahead” and could be used by Brown in “conversations with Korean Opposition leaders and with Japanese Government officials.” (Ibid., Komer Files, Japan-Korea) The President approved the message, Brown discussed the issue with leaders of several Korean political parties between September 10 and 18. Memoranda of those conversations are attached to airgram A–170 from Seoul, September 22. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 12 KOR S)
  4. Confidential.
  5. A memorandum of this November 25, 1963, conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XXII, Document 318.