35. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1
- After-Action Report on the Korean Shootdown Incident2
Now that the Korean shootdown incident has come and gone, I thought you might be interested in a brief appraisal of the manner in which it was handled within the bureaucracy, with the view toward drawing upon these experiences in the event of future contingencies.
In general, I believe the bureaucracy functioned well, especially during the initial stages of the crisis. The following steps were taken:
- Establishment of a small working group from each of the Departments/Agencies directly concerned (State, Defense, JCS, CIA, White House).
- This method made it possible to bring about a rapid and intimate exchange of views and maximum security in the development of highly sensitive options for your consideration. It is significant that there has been no leak of the range of options you considered.
- The result was the preparation of a master game plan which meshed the political, diplomatic and military actions under each option and which could have been executed with minimum confusion.
The exercise revealed the following shortcomings:
- Military planning proved generally unresponsive, pedantic and slow. It took more than 72 hours for the JCS to develop a plan for an attack on a single airfield. Part of the problem was interservice rivalry: the Airforce and the Navy could never agree on whether to attack with B–52s or A–6s.
- We disbanded the Committee too early. As a result, the windup of the operation produced some uncertainty expressed in the slow restarting of reconnaissance operations and some confusion over what force should be left behind in the Korean area. This was remedied by reassembling the Committee.
- The incident showed the degree to which Vietnam reduces our military options. We would have had difficulty conducting major operations without drawing on our Vietnam deployment. In fairness, it must be pointed out that Vietnam enabled us to envisage a massive concentration of power that would have been unavailable otherwise.
I have asked each agency represented to prepare a critique. Their comments are attached (Tab A).3
- The emergency machinery should be institutionalized. Every participant agreed that it worked well. It should have been started earlier and kept in being longer.
- Military contingency planning should be tightened up. This would be accomplished by a series of Presidential directives which can be prepared for you if you agree with the basic concept.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–070, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, May 1969–1971. Secret. Sent for action.↩
- A U.S. Navy EC–121 reconnaissance aircraft was shot down on April 14 by North Korean MiG aircraft. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIX, Japan and Korea.↩
- Attached are a paper by U. Alexis Johnson, which is printed below, and three memoranda to Kissinger, which are not printed, from Nels C. Johnson, Director of the Joint Staff; Thomas Karamessines, CIA’s Deputy Director for Plans; and Warren Nutter, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.↩
- The President initialed the approval option. Written below in an unidentified hand is the following: “Set up as Permanent Comm./HAK.” In a May 8 telephone conversation with John Getz, Johnson’s Special Assistant, Haig stated: “Just wanted to get message to Amb. Johnson concerning the ‘Korean Group’ that functioned during the crisis. The President has looked at all the after-action reports on this, including Amb. Johnson’s & the ones from Defense, JCS, and CIA, and he told Kissinger he wants to institutionalize this outfit, for better or for worse, but in so doing he wants also to maintain at the State operational level a group dealing with the coordination of the problem at hand— in other words, this ad hoc group would be ‘permanentized’ for crises to deal with broader issues, and State would orchestrate the implementation—cables, dispatches, etc., which is, he thought, consistent with what Amb Johnson had in mind.” (Notes of Telephone Conversation; National Archives, RG 59, U. Alexis Johnson Files: Lot 96 D 695, Telcons, Personal)↩
- Johnson also discussed the administration’s response to the shootdown and the resulting formation of WSAG in his memoir, The Right Hand of Power, pp. 524–525.↩