12. Memorandum From the President’s Military Adviser (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Shoot-Down Incident

I know you don’t need more advice on this subject; however, since today’s deliberations may prove critical, I thought I would gratuitously provide some additional thoughts for your consideration and perhaps that of the President.

There is one major difference between this incident and the Pueblo incident of last year which you can weigh carefully, as it has both positive and negative overtones on the domestic scene. In the Pueblo case, the President had some basis for caution in considering any measures in retaliation for the seizure. That basis, of course, was the welfare of the crewmen. In this incident, similar inhibitions are not available in explaining a “no-action” stance. While in the immediate time frame, this may not constitute an excessively troublesome difference, I strongly suspect that when all of the facts are in, and they certainly must be either through the press and our own revelations or perhaps as a result of a Congressional investigation of the incident, then a “do nothing” stance could well build a substantial head of steam.

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In the final analysis, however, the decision of the President to respond militarily must be based on his ability and willingness to cope with the worst case response situation. To me, the indicators are simple:

All factors considered, a military retaliatory strike of some type is called for.
Fundamental to the calculus of retaliation is our ability to contain the worst case retaliation by the enemy. This means that an essential part of today’s program would be a careful analysis of our posture should the North Koreans initiate ground and/or air attacks across the DMZ as a result of our strike. To me, this element is far more significant than is the configuration of the size of our strike force. Consequently, I would recommend that we view this with considerable care at the 3:00 p.m. meeting this afternoon.2 Wishful thinking or risk-taking will not suffice. We must have the capability to contain attacks with some reasonable assurance of success. More importantly, the enemy must know that we have this capability and the intent to use it. This can only be assured by some level of reinforcement and increased readiness in the theater as well as a demonstrated willingness to provide whatever may be necessary from domestic and worldwide resources. While some consider actions of this type escalatory and threatening, they are rather measures designed to prevent that very thing. I know you have some serious doubts about this, but I could not over-emphasize the difficulties such failures entailed throughout our inching escalation in Vietnam.
If the President is unwilling to trigger all of the signalling devices at his command to convey his/U.S. intent to go the limit if required, I would recommend that we not undertake an action such as an overt attack against the North Korean airfield. In this event, I would then recommend that we consider the submarine ambush tactic which I suggested to you yesterday. Such a tactic might take several days or weeks to execute. It would certainly constitute a measure of punitive action which would pose some surprises to the enemy and a great deal of domestic lard for scorched tempers. Next, I fear our only course of action would be a repeat mission with fighter escort.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 434, Korea: EC–121 Shootdown, North Korean Reconnaissance Shootdown 4/9/69–4/16/69, Vol. I Haig. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 9.