148. Memorandum From the Acting Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Miller) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Korean Question at the 27th UN General Assembly

Your memorandum of June 21 requested that those portions of the study being prepared in response to NSSM 154 respecting the Korean question in the UN be submitted by June 30.2 A memorandum is attached examining the questions to be debated in the UN and setting forth options available to the United States Government.3

The possibility of a debate on Korea in the United Nations this fall comes at a time when the United States has begun to make major adjustments in the terms of its relations with the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union. In choosing among the options available decisions should take into account the following issues:

  • —How valuable is the United Nations presence in Korea to the U.S.?
  • —How valuable is the United Nations presence to the Republic of Korea?
  • —Is now the appropriate time to consider changes in the United States position?

Value of the United Nations Presence to the United States.

In the past the umbrella of the United Nations presence has been of assistance to the United States in carrying out its policies in Korea with the approval of the international community. Specifically: The United Nations Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK) has provided an agreed U.S.–ROK approach to the question of Korean unification which has the endorsement of the UN. However, it has long since completed its contribution to the rehabilitation of Korea and has never been able to carry out its mandate on [Page 367] unification since it has never been accepted by the other side. Its presence is symbolic and as North-South bilateral contacts grow even this value diminishes.

The United Nations Command has provided a means acceptable to the ROK for U.S. operational control of the ROK armed forces; has been the guarantor for the UN side of the Armistice Agreement terminating the Korean conflict; and has provided the only useable channel of communication between the U.S. and North Korea. The question of its present usefulness is more complex but the presence and treaty basis of U.S. forces in Korea is independent of the Command. However, the ability to use Japanese bases in defense of Korea is related to UNC arrangements. Dismantling the Command would require a review of the value of these arrangements, revision of the present bases of U.S. operational control of ROK forces and adjustments to preserve the validity of the Armistice Agreement.

Basically, the UN apparatus in Korea is an increasing anachronism and a problem for the United States, particularly in the United Nations. Time can only erode support for the present arrangements devised during the cold war confrontation; increasingly the various states are indifferent to the issue or convinced the UN apparatus is inappropriate to the current international situation. It will thus require increasing U.S. expenditure of time and effort to maintain these arrangements with less and less probability of success.

Value of the United Nations Presence to the ROK.

The UN presence gives the ROK a special status with respect to North Korea and supports its claim to international protection. The UN presence is part of the history of UN involvement in Korea since its liberation from Japanese colonial rule, and supports in ROK eyes the legitimacy of its government which was established under UN aegis. Actually, the legitimacy of the ROKG does not depend in any way on a preferred situation in the UN which, in any event can be maintained only by increasing effort on our part.

UNCURK is seen as a symbol of international interest in unification of Korea on terms favorable to the ROK. The United Nations Command is intimately linked by the ROKG with continued U.S. military support and a token, however fragile, of UN concern for its security.

Removal of the UN presence would be considered a psychological defeat and internally could cause dissension and unrest if it called into question U.S. support or impaired the international status of the ROK.

Is It Time to Dismantle the UN Apparatus?

The Secretary of State has told the ROK Foreign Minister that we are prepared to work with the ROKG for postponement of the Korean debate this year, and the President has assured President Park that we [Page 368] would cooperate with the ROKG in dealing with the UN question. To undertake major changes in the UN presence this year, except in the face of pressure not evident at this time, would dismay the Korean government. It has entered into what for it is a danger-fraught dialogue with North Korea. Not only are the development and outcome of this dialogue impossible to forecast, but the ROKG is fearful that confrontation in the peninsula will precipitate a massive recession of U.S. support and international interest, leaving it ultimately in an inferior position with respect to North Korea. The ROKG believes it has a right to our support, particularly this year when, at the President’s request, it has reluctantly and at some cost agreed to retain the two ROK infantry divisions in Viet-Nam for the remainder of this year. The ROK total ground force in Viet-Nam will be slightly larger than our own by September 1, and the combat portion of that force will be considerably larger.


For the reasons cited we believe this year the U.S. should continue to work with the ROKG for postponement of the Korean debate.
In doing so, we should seek ROK agreement to examine with us all aspects of the UN presence prior to the 28th General Assembly in 1973.
If postponement proves not feasible we will face the traditional debate. It is not necessary to make a final decision on the various elements of the debate at this point but we think our planning and discussion with the ROKG should be along the following lines:
Invitation Question. The traditional conditional invitation is unlikely to be successful and we should be prepared to make the changes necessary to obtain UN endorsement accepting the possibility that this may mean North Korean participation in the debate.
UNCURK. The ROKG may insist that we hold the present line on UNCURK and it is possible that we could do so for this year. We should however recognize the vulnerability of UNCURK and develop contingency plans for seeking the suspension of UNCURK activity on the most favorable terms possible.
Question of Foreign Troops. We should meet this issue head on and make no concession that might affect the UNC which is the creation of the Security Council rather than the General Assembly. This is an issue we will have to face subsequently.
Korean War Aggressor Resolutions. We should also meet this issue head on on the grounds that the UN is not in the business of rewriting history.
Two Koreas in the United Nations. Neither side appears particularly interested in this approach. Obviously we cannot accept entry of North Korea until both Koreas are prepared to apply for membership.
R.T. Curran4
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 543, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Korea Overflow, Vol. V–A, Jan–Dec 1972. Secret. In an undated memorandum to Haig, Richard Kennedy forwarded this memorandum with the note: “This was the special study that HAK asked for. We are staffing it and preparing for a potential meeting but thought that HAK might want to have it in the meantime.” (Ibid.)
  2. See footnote 5, Document 133.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Curran signed for Miller over his typed signature.