1. Special National Intelligence Estimate1
Washington, January 30, 1969.
CONFRONTATION IN KOREA
- We have reviewed the evidence on North Korea’s intentions and capabilities vis-à-vis South Korea. We conclude that, under present circumstances, Pyongyang does not intend to invade South Korea; nor do we believe that Pyongyang is deliberately trying to provoke the Republic of Korea (ROK) (and/or the US) into a resumption of major hostilities. We do believe, however, that North Korean Premier Kim Il-song is committed to a strategy of developing a “revolutionary struggle” in the South and this his campaign will continue to include harassment of ROK and US forces in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and armed infiltration of rear areas.
- In our view, North Korea’s prospects for establishing guerrilla bases in South Korea or developing significant political support among the populace are quite poor, at least over the next two years or so. Communist violence will, however, continue to be a costly distraction for the ROK Government and a potential cause of public dissatisfaction with the Pak administration.
- In pursuing its campaign of violence, Pyongyang seems willing to live with a situation that presents a continuing danger of retaliatory attack by ROK forces. Kim Il-song is apparently confident that he can [Page 2] control the situation, stopping short of actions certain to provoke a major reaction. If ROK reactions to North Korean provocations continue to be almost entirely defensive, Pyongyang might be tempted at some point to go well beyond incidents along the DMZ and occasional rear-area operations. We cannot rule out such efforts, but whether they take place would depend on how the North Koreans judged the probable reactions of the ROK and the US.
- Thus, the danger over the next year or two is not that war will arise from a deliberate decision of one side or the other, but that it might result from miscalculation—for example, in the process of probing for weaknesses and testing ROK and US resolve, North Korea may overplay its hand and lead the South Koreans to retaliate heavily.
- We believe that, even in these circumstances, North Korea would wish to avoid full-scale war. In a crisis, decisions in Pyongyang—as in Seoul—would be affected, perhaps decisively, by the attitudes of major allies. In our view, given no major change in Soviet or Chinese attitudes, both Moscow and Peking would probably urge North Korea to avoid a full-scale war. Yet despite these considerations, Kim Il-song’s manner of thought and action is such that the North Korean response would be difficult to predict with confidence. A critical element in both North and South Korean thinking during any crisis would be the US posture, or what they believe it to be. But we believe that North Korea would feel that the initiation of major hostilities against the South would bring about US military response, particularly while US ground forces are stationed in South Korea.
- We cannot say exactly how a Vietnamese settlement would affect Kim’s current course. It would depend primarily on how he interpreted the outcome in terms of US willingness to take a firm stand against further North Korean provocations. Thus, he could become somewhat more aggressive or more cautious. Given his strong public commitment to the promotion of revolution in the South, however, it is unlikely that he will abandon his objectives, even though he may modify his tactics.
[Omitted here is the “Discussion” section of the estimate.]
- Source: Department of State, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 110. Secret. Submitted by Rufus Taylor, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. In an attached January 27 memorandum to Thomas L. Hughes, Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, John H. Holdridge stated that the SNIE was on the agenda of the January 30 USIB meeting, that its forerunner was dated May 1968, and that the “estimate reaffirms the conclusions of earlier SNIE’s that Pyongyang does not want a war.” The forerunner is SNIE 14.2–68; see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXIX, part 1, Korea, Document 200.↩