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

218011. For Ambassador. Subject: ROK Emphasis on North Korean Threat.

We are increasingly concerned by ROKG public campaign and staements emphasizing the North Korean military threat and the weaknesses of ROK defenses. Most recent example is MND Yu Chae-hung’s November 30 statement that “increasingly belligerent” North Korea has adopted “swift 20-day war” strategy, and that there is “increasing [Page 296]danger of re-invasion by North Korea”. Statements of this sort are inevitably coupled with assertion that there is no fundamental difference between ROKG and USG perception of North Korean threat.
We note that you and General Michaelis have already called ROKG hand on so-called North Korean winter offensive, but that ROK efforts appear to be intensifying. Without denigrating unpredictability of Pyongyang’s leadership, we believe time has now come for you to point out to high ROKG officials that Department and Washington are mystified over ROK claims and intentions. If ROK has evidence we do not possess we would appreciate learning of same. We have no knowledge of any immediate plans or preparations by North Korea for any unusual military operations except exercises. Accordingly, if ROK persists in present efforts, we will have no choice other than to make clear publicly we do not share ROKG estimate. Obviously, we far prefer to avoid public quarrel with ROK over this issue, but ROK must understand that stakes involved are too high to be subordinated to internal political maneuvering.
In explaining our concern to ROK, you may say that we find ROK campaign out of step with efforts to relax tensions in Asia, and a possible invitation to Pyongyang for adventurism or miscalculation. These unrealistic intelligence assessments (e.g., Yu’s reference to ninety NK supersonic twin-jet bombers) are harmful to encouragement of business investment in Korea. If continued, we expect ROK estimates will soon draw congressional and editorial attention with resultant impact harmful to ROK military modernization support.ROK can appreciate we are having difficulties enough with Congress on economic and military assistance appropriation bill.
We are puzzled by ROKG maneuvering and beginning to wonder whether this is cover for some sinister move they may have in mind, e.g., move against National Assembly or curtailment of political parties or press. We wonder, for example, if ROK is casting a wistful eye toward recent events in Bangkok. If so, Koreans should understand, and you should be prepared to tell them that any such move would have gravest consequences. Would appreciate any further light you can throw on situation.2
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL KOR N–KOR S. Secret; Noforn; Exdis. Drafted by Ranard and Robert Dorr (EA/K) on December 1, cleared by Miller (S/S), and approved by Brown. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD and to COMUSK.
  2. Habib replied in telegram 7312 from Seoul, December 3, that “senior ROK officials know that we do not agree with their public position on North Korean threat” and that “If asked, we may have to state publicly that we do not agree. They are, we believe, prepared to accept this public difference.” “In their opinion they are the final authority on the state of their national security.” Habib added, on counterpoint, that “President Park’s projected statement and planned legislation may have what we might regard as sinister implications, but as now outlined, would not necessarily go beyond acceptable limits.” Finally, Habib warned that “I think it would be a mistake, however, to talk of ‘grave consequences’ (para 4 reftel) until we have decided specifically on what we would do. We should also have a clearer idea of what the ROK intends to do before making what they would consider a threat.” (Ibid.)