133. National Security Study Memorandum 1541


  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense
  • The Director of Central Intelligence


  • U.S. Policy Concerning the Korean Peninsula

The President has directed a review of our policies toward the Korean Peninsula. The study should identify U.S. interests and objectives (both near and long-term) toward the Peninsula, potential issues in our relations with South Korea and North Korea, and the options open to the United States in respect to those issues over the next three to five years.

The study should examine:

  • —The present and prospective military, economic, and political balance between North Korea and South Korea (taking into account the study completed in response to NSSM 69).2
  • —The interests, objectives, and roles of the PRC, USSR, and Japan, and those of other Asian states such as the ROC, in respect to the Peninsula.
  • —The impact of improved U.S.–PRC relations on South Korea and North Korea, and how improved U.S.–PRC relations may affect the interests and roles of other major powers in their relations with South Korea and North Korea.
  • —The ways and extent to which U.S.–Japan relations are or may be affected by the U.S. posture toward the Peninsula.

The study should include consideration of the following issues: [Page 331]

  • —Korean reunification and political accommodation between South Korea and North Korea (including consideration of the general forms that reunification and political accommodation might take, their effects on stability in the Peninsula, the possible timing of moves toward reunification and political accommodation, and the relationship between moves toward reunification and those toward political accommodation).3
  • —Continued U.N. presence in Korea.
  • —Korean participation in the United States.
  • —U.S. military presence in South Korea (taking into account the study completed in response to NSSM 69).
  • —U.S. assistance for South Korean forces (continuation of the U.S. assistance in the modernization of ROK forces as approved in NSDM 129 should be assumed).4
  • —The nature and extent of U.S. trade with and economic assistance to South Korea.
  • —The nature and extent of any U.S. contacts with North Korea.

The study should be prepared by the NSC Interdepartmental Group for East Asia and submitted not later than May 10, 1972 for consideration by the Senior Review Group.5

Henry A. Kissinger
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 365, Subject Files, National Security Study Memoranda, Nos. 104–206. Secret. Initialed by Haig.
  2. NSSM 69, July 14, 1969, originally called for a study of U.S. strategy and forces for Asia but evolved into an assessment of the strategic and tactical nuclear policy in Asia. A draft response entitled “U.S. Nuclear Policy in Asia,” May 14, 1970, was reviewed by the Senior Review Group on March 12, 1971. The study focused primarily on the Chinese nuclear and conventional threat. Documentation relating to NSSM 69 is ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–161, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 69, and ibid., Box H–053, SRG Meeting—Nuclear Policy for Asia (NSSM 69) 3/12/72. NSSM 69 and the record of the March 12 SRG meeting are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Documents 18 and 108.
  3. See Document 130. In an April 3 memorandum, Helms transmitted the report of Counselor of Embassy for Political Affairs Richard B. Peters that two ROK officials had on separate occasions mentioned to him recent “political contacts” between ROK and North Korean officials. (Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry (DCI), Job 80–B01086A, Box 12 of 16, Korea)
  4. Document 107. In an April 24 memorandum to Kissinger, Odeen reported that Laird recommended changes to NSDM 129. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 543, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. V, 1 Jan–31 Dec 1972, Part 2) No record of discussion of those changes to NSDM 129 has been found.
  5. See Documents 152 and 153. In a June 21 memorandum to Eliot, Haig noted his understanding that the NSCIG-East Asia “study is progressing well on the full range of issues concerning our relationships in Korea and should be completed within the near future for consideration by the NSC Senior Review Group.” He added that the “President has asked, however, that those portions of the study concerning the Korea question in the U.N. and the United Nations Command be completed and forwarded” because it was “a matter of urgency.” Haig specified a June 30 deadline for that part of the study. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 543, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. V, 1 Jan–31 Dec 1972, Part 2) See Document 148.