114. Telegram From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State 1

6717. Subj: ROK Forces in Viet-Nam. Ref: State 198964.2

Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs (Yun Sok-Hon) spoke to me of ROK plans regarding ROK forces in Viet-Nam. He said official announcement [Page 291]of withdrawal of Korean Marine brigade and supporting elements totaling 10,000 men would be made on November 6. This action was known publicly but now being officially confirmed. Schedule called for 7,000 of this number to be withdrawn between December 1 and April 30, 1972 and remaining 3,000 by end of June, 1972.
Yun said announcement would contain the statement that “further withdrawals will be carried out upon consultation with GVN and other Allies.” Yun said such consultations would begin with GVN immediately following November 6. They would be conducted principally through military channels in Saigon. He said I was undoubtedly aware that GVN had requested two division forces to remain in Viet-Nam through 1972. However, ROK plans are to withdraw from Viet-Nam remainder of ROK forces by end of 1972.
I replied I was aware of GVN request3 and understood the matter had also been discussed in Washington between ROK Embassy and Department. We know GVN considers it very important for two divisions to remain through 1972. We believe there is strong military justification for their retention. As ROK had been informed, US was prepared to maintain present financial support arrangements and hoped ROKG would agree to GVN request. I spoke to him of significance of divisions in the area in which they operated and of importance of maintaining military strength and support of GVN at this time.
I asked him if what he decribed as government plan with respect to these two divisions was already a firm decision. He said it was not but this was direction in which their thinking had gone. I told him it was much too soon to make such a drastic decision. At this time we believed that two divisions should remain until end of 1972 in continued support of our past efforts to defend South Vietnamese until they are able to defend themselves. We also suggest waiting until end of ’71–’72 dry season at which time we could review the position with regard to ROK forces to be present beyond calendar year 1972.
Yun said there were two factors that were influencing ROK thinking. First, as far as international situation was concerned, with entrance of Red China and consequent situation at UN continued Korean [Page 292]combat responsibilities in South Viet-Nam will do ROK great harm. They were concerned about their position in UN on matters directly affecting their future. By next summer there would be no combat troops in Viet-Nam except Korean. Keeping two combat divisions there would be hard to defend in international circles.
Secondly, they are concerned about the security situation on Korean Peninsula. North Korean buildup in preparation for war goes on together with a general trend of US disengagement from Asia. This worried them greatly as they will not be in any position to defend themselves alone for some years. I replied it certainly was much too soon for us to estimate total effect on Korea of Peking’s entry into UN. We should consult between our two governments before coming to any immediate conclusions with regard to the consequences. Presence of ROK forces in Viet-Nam would not necessarily work contrary to our mutual interest in UN. Moreover I cautioned him not to anticipate US future plans in Viet-Nam. We would continue to do what was necessary to support South Vietnamese self-determination and we hoped ROK would also. Together we had done much in South Viet-Nam and this was not the time to allow past sacrifices to be lost when perseverance would bring what we sought. GVN was most anxious to retain ROK contribution and we hoped ROKG would be responsive to this end.
As far as ROK future security was concerned, I remainded him of continuing US support both on ground and through modernization ROK forces. He had spoken of US disengagement from Asia and fears this had generated among Koreans. I pointed out to him that Nixon Doctrine was not disengagement from Asia but rather continued US support for free Asian nations and that it called for each of these nations to do what they could in common defense. Nixon Doctrine was not disengagement but rather an expression of strong continued US participation in Pacific and Asian affairs consistent with current circumstances both in US and Asia.
Yun said Senate action on aid bill coming on heels of situation in UN had aroused great concern in Korea and this was related to their current planning. He said that they were concerned that aid program would end and Korea would be without necessary support. I replied that administration was working urgently on this and Senate action was not final. I did not believe Korea would be cut off nor did I think he should.
I closed by repeating the belief that retention of ROK forces in South Viet-Nam through ‘72 was necessary. I requested ROKG not move too suddenly with decisions or announcements of further withdrawals. He said that they had no intention of making known their plans at this time. I reminded him I had already seen articles in newspapers, sourced to officials, that his government was planning withdrawals in ‘72 and mentioning GVN request for their retention. It struck [Page 293]me this kind of loose talk was not helpful. He agreed but did not leave me with any assurance it would cease.4
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 542, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. IV, 1 Jan–31 Dec 1971. Top Secret;Nodis.
  2. In telegram 198964 to Seoul, November 1, Irwin informed the Embassy that the Department of State agreed with the recommendation to avoid raising the issue of Korean forces in Vietnam. (Ibid.)
  3. In telegram 6580 from Seoul, October 28, the new American Ambassador, Philip C. Habib, reported that Defense Minister Yu had “made opening skirmish on what I think ROKG plans as tough bargaining session to get further concessions from U.S. in return for leaving two divisions in Vietnam until the end of CY 72.” Habib reported that Yu said the withdrawal schedule of ROKVN forces was currently under discussion with the GVN. Habib responded that the Vietnamese Ambassador “had told us ROK had agreed to keep two divisions until end of 72. Oh no, said Yu, this decision has not rpt not been reached. ROKG has received such request from GVN and it is under study.” (Ibid.)
  4. In telegram 6917 from Seoul, November 13, Habib reported a conversation with Foreign Minister Kim concerning the Korean Government’s reconsideration of plans to withdraw two divisions from Vietnam. Habib stated that he expected the Koreans to seek additional consultations. He concluded, “it occurs to us that we may get a decision to postpone their decision. That is they will wish to review the subject again in mid-1972, with no final agreement on withdrawal dates at this time.” (Ibid.)