152. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1


The Policy Problem

We now face a situation on the Korean question before the General Assembly which has been somewhat altered from that which existed a month ago when State submitted the NSSM 154 response covering this aspect of our Korean policy.2 The change revolves around currently shifting positions among U.N. members as to what the role of the U.N. on the Korean question should be in light of the July 4 Joint Communiqué between South and North Korea,3 and the opposition’s shifting tactics designed to take advantage of this situation.

Most evident, so far, the opposition came forward July 18 to table an explanatory memorandum inserting a new item on the UNGA provisional agenda entitled “Creation of Favorable Conditions to Accelerate the Independent and Peaceful Reunification of Korea.” It included no resolution, which they will presumably submit later. In essence, the memorandum states that, since the July 4 Joint Communiqué has called for the reunification of Korea—an objective which it notes the UNGA has reaffirmed many times over—“by peaceful means and without foreign intervention,” the UNGA should therefore reconsider the “terms of reference and the activities” of the U.N. Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK) and the U.N. Command in Korea (UNC). Although the other side has not yet made it clear, this agenda item presumably would replace the two agenda items on Korea which they inscribed last year and which are still on the General Assembly’s provisional agenda.

The intent of the opposition in offering this memorandum would seem to be to play on the sentiment among a large portion of UNGA members [Page 380] that the U.N. role in Korea as defined in the early 1950’s, and as most evident in the present mandates of UNCURK and the UNC, is a Cold War relic that in light of the July 4 Joint Communiqué is now more than ever badly in need of overhaul. The July 18 memorandum significantly does not specify what role the opposition envisages for these two bodies. This purposeful omission may reflect PRC and DPRK sensitivity to U.N. members reluctance to make the drastic changes in the U.N. role that they intend.

Our own position. We now have inscribed on the UNGA provisional agenda, as a result of its being carried over from last year’s session, an item on Korea to the effect that:

  • —The UNGA should reaffirm that the U.N. objective regarding the Korean Peninsula is to bring about its peaceful reunification through free elections.
  • UNCURK should continue to pursue this objective and report regularly to the UNGA on its progress.

This is essentially the position that the UNGA has reaffirmed on UNCURK since that body was established in 1950. This aside, our current position is of course to support postponement of General Assembly debate on the question for this year.

[Early responses to our initial démarches made this past week in a wide range of capitals seeking support for postponement has revealed more support for our current position than was previously anticipated. The majority of these states have justified their intended support in terms of avoiding a great power confrontation and avoiding complicating the promising dialogue now underway between the two Koreas. We would, however, emphasize the early and partial nature of these returns.

At the same time, State estimates that we presently appear to have the edge in the General Assembly’s General Committee, which must pass on our postponement proposal and the resolutions before they go to the Plenary. State believes that on postponement, the General Committee at present comes down with 11 for, 6 opposed, 7 uncertain, and the Polish President of the Committee (who votes only in case of a tie). We have additional indications, however, that a General Committee decision to recommend postponement is likely to be challenged by Pyongyang’s supporters in the Plenary.]4

The State Memorandum

A. General

The State memorandum stresses the prospects for a continuing decline in support for our past position on the Korean question in the [Page 381] U.N., and argues that we should therefore move to realign the U.N. role on Korea while we still have sufficient influence to obtain changes acceptable to us. State ascribes this prospective decline to such factors as:

  • —The existence of direct negotiations between North and South Korea.
  • —North Korea’s show of flexibility on U.S. troop withdrawal and a peace settlement.
  • PRC entry into the U.N.
  • —The influx of new U.N. members having little direct interest in the Korean problem.
  • —A growing impatience among most U.N. members with what they regard as the U.N.’s “cold war” position on the Korean question and their desire to move the U.N. to a non-partisan position on such problems.

[There is some reason for skepticism over State’s belief that we are in a “now or never” situation as regards our influence on a realignment of the U.N. role next year. It is likely to decline somewhat, but not necessarily to a critical extent. The most important factor here will probably be the progress made by the two Koreas in their reunification talks, and our relationship to that effort.]

B. Policy Options

Given our strong adherence to postponement, the central problem is to analyze what our alternative strategy should be if postponement fails. More specifically, what alternative position should we put foward on the procedural and substantive questions in the debate in order to defeat the opposition resolution’s call for disbanding the UNC, for withdrawal of foreign troops after the conclusion of a peace treaty between the two Koreas, and for no military intervention by U.N. members in Korea? We presumably would move against the opposition resolution by countering with our own positions packaged in one comprehensive resolution.

In our analysis of the options laid out by the State paper, we omit consideration of the section on the pros and cons of postponement inasmuch as postponement is now our preferred approach. [For your reference, State suggests the possibility of shifting from support of postponement to support of debate in order to realign the U.N. presence in Korea while we still have sufficient influence in the UNGA to do so in an acceptable manner.]The State paper’s discussion of options on the procedural question of inviting the two Koreas to participate in the debate is still largely valid, however. Its discussion of options on the substantive questions in the debate (UNCURK, the UNC, and troop withdrawal) also appear still largely valid as regards the definition of the options, but the evaluation of the options is now somewhat outdated.

Before addressing the options, however, the following is a brief description of the procedural framework of the UNGA consideration of the Korean question, given its importance to the outcome.

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  • The resolutions will first be taken up shortly after the new Assembly convenes September 19 by the Assembly’s General Committee. This 25-member body, acting as a steering group, screens all items on the provisional agenda and prepares recommendations for the Plenary session regarding whether items should be retained, eliminated, or postponed, and whether the items should be assigned to one of the Plenary’s seven main committees for preliminary debate or should go to the Plenary directly. If the General Committee and the Plenary do not agree to postpone consideration of the Korean question again, they would normally agree to refer the question first to the First Committee, which deals with political questions.
  • The First Committee would not take the question up until about six weeks after the General Committee and Plenary’s action, since the opening statements by the foreign ministers and other business of the Plenary is transacted before the Main Committees meet. The First Committee would normally first take up the question of whether to invite both Koreas to its debate on the question as an observer, as is customary when the parties involved are not members of the U.N. In the past, the central issue in the invitation question has been whether both Koreas must first accept the competence of the U.N. to deal with the Korean question. The South has been willing to do so, given the support and advantaged position the U.N. action has conferred on Seoul. The North has refused to accept U.N. competence, reflecting its opposition to the diplomatic advantage given Seoul by the UNGA’s 1948 recognition of South Korea as the “only lawful government” on the Korean Peninsula, the U.N.’s 1950 condemnation of North Korean aggression, and the U.N.’s creation of the U.N. Command in Korea.
  • —A few weeks after disposing of the invitation question, the First Committee would debate and vote on the resolutions, and report its results to the Plenary Session. Since the Main Committees are committees of the whole, their findings are seldom overturned in the Plenary, and Plenary consideration of them is relatively brief.
  • As an alternative to First Committee consideration of the Korean question, the General Committee could recommend that it be referred directly to the Plenary. If accepted by the Plenary, this approach would have the effect of avoiding the nettlesome invitation question as non-member states by custom do not participate in Plenary debates of the GA. While precedent weighs against circumventing prior consideration by a Main Committee, this approach should not be ruled out of our tactical planning.

The Options

1. The Procedural Question: Invitation to the Two Koreas to Participate in the First Committee Debate

The question is not whether to invite both to the debate—both sides have agreed this is desirable—but whether both Koreas must first acknowledge unequivocally the competence of the U.N. to consider the Korean problem. The DPRK’s supporters have regularly fought the inclusion of this stipulation by tabling an unconditional invitation resolution. The U.S.-sponsored conditional resolution has thus far always succeeded, although support for the Soviet-sponsored unconditional resolution has increased gradually over the years. (As some indication [Page 383] of the relative strength of the invitation resolutions, in 1970, the last time a vote was taken, the U.S. resolution passed by 63–31–25, while the Soviet resolution failed by 40–54–25.)

Option 1: Conditional resolution. Invite representatives of both Koreas to take part, without vote, in the discussions in the First Committee, on the condition that the DPRK first unequivocally accept the competence and authority of the U.N. to take action on the Korean question. (Text at Annex C–2 in the State memorandum.)

Principal advantages. Would continue South Korea’s favored position in the U.N., and would be seen by Seoul as increasing somewhat their leverage in their dialogue with Pyongyang.

Principal disadvantages. Would not be acceptable to North Korea, and would probably result in the adoption of the unconditional resolution. (State bases its estimate on the unconditional resolution’s probable success on the following: the unconditional resolution lost by only 14 votes in 1970, the last time it was voted on. The PRC’s active support plus the votes of the eight U.N. members that have recognized the DPRK since then would probably secure its passage.)

Option 2: Cosmetic alteration of the conditional resolution to eliminate reference to the fact that the DPRK refuses to acknowledge U.N. competence on the Korean question. (Text as proposed by New Zealand last year is at Annex C–3 in the State memorandum.)

Principal advantages. Would be acceptable to Seoul, and would support its present position in the U.N. and in its dialogue with the North.

Principal disadvantages. Same as those under Option 1, but in addition would be perceived by some U.N. members as a tacit admission that we feared we would likely lose if we stuck to the traditional conditional resolution, and that we were unable to find a really effective response to the new situation.

Option 3: Modification of the conditional resolution as it applies to North Korea to invite it on the condition that it agree to be guided by the U.N. Charter in seeking a solution to the Korea problem (rather than explicitly affirm U.N. competence on the question). In addition, the modified resolution would explicitly invite North Korea, rather than merely express U.N. willingness to invite it once North Korea accepted U.N. competence.5 (Like the cosmetic alteration, the modified resolution would also omit mention of North Korea’s past refusal to accept U.N. competence.) (Proposed text at Annex C–4 of the State memorandum.)

Principal advantages. Would probably gain the acceptance of most of our previous co-sponsors, a majority of U.N. members, and even [Page 384] possibly the Soviet Union, the PRC, and the DPRK. [The last three would probably as a matter of principle be able to accept the substance of such a modified conditional invitation, if they believed it were politically advisable for them to do so. The DPRK has publicly subscribed to the principles of the U.N. Charter.] Might reluctantly be accepted by the ROK, if it became convinced that neither the conditional resolution nor cosmetic alteration of it would pass.

Principal disadvantages. Would reduce the ROK’s advantage enjoyed under the present U.N. position. Could result in a weakening of our position as a result of the DPRK’s participation in the debate.

[North Korea’s not having to accept U.N. competence would apparently not result in any derogation of formal U.N. authority over the Korean question should North Korea, after participating in the debate, refuse to abide by resolutions the General Assembly might pass: as a legal principle, General Assembly resolutions are not binding on the parties to a dispute.]

[Another consequence of Option 3, as with any option that resulted in Pyongyang’s participation in the debate, is that it would help the DPRK reduce its relative diplomatic isolation and its international image of militance.]

Option 4: The unconditional resolution (in 1970 sponsored by the Soviet Union and other Communist members along with about 15 Middle East and African states), which invites representatives of both Koreas, without conditions, to participate in the First Committee debate but without a vote.

Principal advantages. Would be welcomed by the PRC, Soviet Union, and the DPRK, and would avoid a contentious debate in the First Committee on this issue.

Principal disadvantages. Would be widely interpreted as a setback for the U.S., and would adversely affect our position on the substantive questions in the Korean debate. Would be taken by the ROK as a defeat, for which they would blame us; ROK might refuse to attend the First Committee debate.

Option 5: Try to avoid the invitational question either by seeking the PRC and Soviet Union’s agreement to forego the debate or proposing that the Korean question be debated in the Plenary rather than the First Committee. (Non-member nations traditionally have not been invited to participate in debate in the Plenary.)

Principal advantages. Would avoid the invitation question and the possibility of having the unconditional question succeed.

Principal disadvantages. The other side would probably interpret our move as indicating decided weakness in support for our position, and so might stimulate them to press harder for the unconditional resolution.

[Another consequence of this option would be that it would avoid having the DPRK participate in the debate, which would be an [Page 385] advantage in the ROK’s eyes and in our relations with Seoul, but a disadvantage in not exposing the DPRK to the realities of the international scene at the U.N.]

2. Substantive questions in the debate: UNCURK, the UNC and troop withdrawal, U.N. aggressor resolutions, and of both Koreas in the U.N.

A. UNCURK. The UNCURK question is particularly difficult to deal with at this point because of the ambiguity of the opposition’s position on it. Various versions of their draft resolution have used the terms “stop” or “cease” all UNCURK activities, while the DPRK government statement of July 31 seemed to go farther in calling only for the “suspension” of UNCURK activities.6 As noted previously, this would seem to be a moderation of past years’ resolutions calling for the dissolution of the body itself, noting that UNCURK was obstructing the reunification of the Peninsula. With the announcement of the July 4 Communiqué, the DPRK and the PRC have begun arguing that the Communiqué’s prohibition on outside interference in Korean reunification makes UNCURK an anachronism, although there are indications that Pyongyang wants to stop short of ruling out any U.N. role in the problem, apparently believing that the U.N. offers a hedge against a great power deal on the question.

UNCURK was set up by a UNGA resolution of October 7, 1950, as the third successive organization commissioned by the General Assembly to represent the U.N. “in bringing about the establishment of a unified, independent and democratic government of all Korea.” Since then UNCURK has functioned principally to observe elections in the South, and to report on other matters related to reunification, including North Korea’s 1968 infiltration efforts and attempted assassination of President Park. It has submitted annual reports to the UNGA, which have of course been one of the foci of the annual consideration of the Korean question. (A more detailed chronology of UNCURK’s history and the early development of the U.N. role in Korea is at Annex B of the State memorandum.)

In consequence, UNCURK has become a substantial component of the U.N. presence in Korea. Together with the more important component of this presence, the UNC, UNCURK is supportive of the United Nations aspect of the U.S. troop presence in Korea and of the ROK’s advantaged diplomatic position. UNCURK also probably constitutes, in a minor way, a deterrent to renewed North Korean militance on the Peninsula.

Option 1: Reaffirm the U.N. objectives on the reunification of Korea through free elections and renew UNCURK’s mandate. (Text of the resolution [Page 386] adopted in 1970 is at Annex C–7 of the State paper.) This has been the U.S. position since 1950, and the UNGA has approved this position every year that the question has been considered up through 1970. In 1970 the voting margin on this resolution in the First Committee was 69–30–23, and in the Plenary was 67–28–22. (The Soviet-sponsored resolution to dissolve UNCURK lost by 32–64–26.)

Principal advantages. Would maintain the existing U.S. and ROK position on the question of U.N. presence in Korea, and would not add to frictions in our relations with Seoul.

Principal disadvantages. Would be vulnerable to major diplomatic pressure from the PRC, Soviet Union, and DPRK, and would require a major effort on our part to support. [Given the opposition’s call for only “the cessation” or “suspension” of UNCURK’s activities and its packaging this with support for the South-North dialogue, and given the two Koreas’ commitment to negotiate reunification between themselves, it might be difficult for us to muster support again for UNCURK’s role of the past two decades. However, continuation of UNCURK might carry some appeal as a “don’t rock the boat” means of encouraging South-North contacts and talks.]

Option 2: Modify UNCURK’s role and composition. Propose that UNCURK’s mandate be modified to have it facilitate the South-North dialogue and whatever exchanges may develop, omitting reference to Peninsula-wide free elections. Make its composition more representative of the UNGA (its members now include Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey, the Netherlands and Pakistan, the latter having recently become an inactive member).

Principal advantages. Would preserve an UNCURK role that would be reasonably supportive of U.S. objectives and of the ROK diplomatic position [and also presumably of the basic U.N. involvement on the Korean question]. Could be portrayed as showing U.S. and ROK flexibility.

Principal disadvantages. Would be welcomed by neither the ROK nor the DPRK, and both would refuse to cooperate with it. [The ROK is in fact fearful that an UNCURK reconstituted in role and membership could be inimical to its interests, and at the working level has indicated strongly that it would sooner have no UNCURK than a reconstituted one. As regards the DPRK, we agree that it would oppose almost any modification of UNCURK that we could agree to and would obstruct its operations, leaving a reconstituted UNCURK probably not much more effective in supporting the South-North dialogue than it is at present.] Would be seen by many U.N. members as still unsatisfactory to North Korea and as a sign of weakness in the U.S. position, thus possibly resulting in reduced support for our position. [State has overdone this point.] Would be difficult to reconstitute UNCURK’s membership, since countries not already friendly to the ROK would probably be unwilling to serve in the face of North Korea’s opposition.

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Option 3: Suspend UNCURK’s operations. (Draft text at Annex C–8 in State memorandum.)

Principal advantages. Would in effect remove the outmoded UNCURK role and presence from South Korea. [State’s implication that any UNCURK role would be outmoded is indicative of State’s basic position. We would agree, however, that although an UNCURK role modified to support the South-North discussions would not be outmoded, it would probably be largely ineffective because of the almost certain North Korean obstruction and hence counter-productive to the South-North talks.] Would probably gain the support of a majority of UNGA members, and would be more nearly acceptable to the DPRK, the PRC, and Soviet Union. [In fact, the DPRK now seems to have incorporated this option into its position.]

Principal disadvantages. Would be difficult for the ROK to accept, and would reduce its present diplomatic advantage. [Might probably result in a DPRK demand next year that UNCURK be dissolved, arguing that South-North discussions had proceeded successfully in UNCURK’s absence.]

Option 4: Terminate UNCURK. The termination of UNCURK, like its suspension in Option 3, would be with approval for its past activities—in contrast to the old Soviet-sponsored resolution dissolving UNCURK which charges UNCURK with not only having failed to promote runification, but also having obstructed it. (A draft text is at Annex C–8 of the State memorandum.)

Principal advantages. In addition to the advantages of Option 3, would probably receive wide support in the UNGA, would be seen as a significant U.S. gesture to the PRC and Soviet Union, and would be more acceptable to the ROK than Options 2 or 3. [If the opposition’s position is merely to cease or suspend UNCURK’s activities, we obviously would not want to go even farther and terminate its existence.]

Principal disadvantages. The ROK would strongly oppose, UNCURK’s termination would undercut the UNC’s rationale by implying the U.N. has no function in Korea, and would reduce the ROK’s present diplomatic advantage. Might stimulate criticism of the U.S. as having abandoned a long-held position as a result of pressure from Peking and Moscow.

Option 5: Dissolve UNCURK. We would acquiesce in the Soviet-sponsored resolution as a gesture toward Peking and Moscow, although we would be strongly criticized at home and abroad for bowing to pressures from the other side and for abandoning an ally. [This option has been rendered untenable by the opposition’s draft resolution.]

B. The UNC and troop withdrawal. The UNC has been of importance to us not only as the most effective component of the U.N. presence in [Page 388] South Korea and for the international support it lends our troop presence in South Korea—although it is not of course vital to our force presence there. It also provides a mechanism acceptable to the ROK for U.S. operational control of South Korea’s armed forces, has been the guarantor for the U.N. side of the Armistice Agreement terminating the Korean conflict, and through the Military Armistice Commission has provided the only channel of communication between ourselves and Pyongyang. Alteration of the UNC could also undercut the U.S. Status of Forces Agreement with Japan, which provides part of the legal support for our use of Japanese bases to fulfill our defense commitment to South Korea.

State’s two options deal with alternative methods of defeating the old Soviet-sponsored resolution, which called for the withdrawal from South Korea of foreign forces there under the U.N. flag within six months of the adoption of the resolution.

Option 1: Oppose disbanding the UNC and the call for troop withdrawal, arguing that (a) our traditional position, as expressed in the UNCURK resolution, states that we have already withdrawn the greater part of our forces from South Korea and will withdraw the remainder “whenever such action is requested by the ROK or whenever the conditions for a lasting settlement formulated by the UNGA have been fulfilled”; (b) the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea is a bilateral question between the U.S. and the ROK [this would seem to undercut rather than support our argument]; and (c) the status of the UNC should be left to the U.N. Security Council, which created it. [Because the opposition’s draft resolution adds the third element of calling on U.N. members not to intervene militarily in Korea, we should reply that this would bar the possibility of any future peacekeeping activity, a fundamental responsibility of the U.N.]

Principal advantages. Would support our objectives of maintaining the U.N. presence as supportive of our troop presence and would reassure the ROK.

Principal disadvantages. Would probably be more difficult to garner the support of many non-Communist members, since the other side’s resolution has moved much closer to ours and since their proposal is now packaged with their proposals on UNCURK and South-North dialogue.

Option 2: Oppose disbanding the UNC and the call for troop withdrawal, but agree to restudy the question of UNC arrangements with the Security Council and others concerned.

Principal advantages. Being a demonstration of U.S. flexibility, should increase support for our opposition to the other side’s proposal. Would not seriously damage our defense commitment to the ROK.

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Principal disadvantages. Would stimulate the ROK’s anxieties, and would raise the difficult questions involved in altering military command relationships between our own and ROK forces.

(A third option not discussed in the State paper would be to include the language of our traditional UNCURK resolution on the question of troop withdrawal in our own resolution on the Korean question, possibly supplemented by a unilateral U.S. statement on troop withdrawal from Korea similar to the Shanghai Communiqué formulation.7 We would argue that this formulation is more appropriate than that of the opposition, since troop withdrawal should be linked to a genuine reduction in basic tensions, not just the conclusion of a formal treaty—although we would admit that such a treaty would presumably contribute to a reduction of tension.

The advantage would be that we should through this tactic be able to steal some of the opposition’s thunder by giving new prominence to and making more explicit our commitment to ultimate force withdrawal. At the same time, this should not unsettle the ROK, since we essentially would not be going beyond a position we have already affirmed.)

C. U.N. Aggressor Resolutions. The PRC might, although it is less than likely that it will, propose that the UNGA resolutions of 1951 be rescinded.

State defines two options: (1) That we acquiesce in the repeal of these resolutions. This would avoid a confrontation with the PRC, but would sacrifice principle, set a bad precedent in the U.N., stimulate criticism that the U.N. was re-writing history, and cause frictions with the ROK. (2) That we oppose the repeal of these resolutions, arguing that the 1953 Korean Armistice leaves the resolutions without practical effect, and that the strategic embargo embodied in the second of the two resolutions no longer exists and is no longer applied under the authority of this resolution. The advantage of this option would be that it avoids bad precedents, while allowing a face-saving way out for both the PRC and ourselves. On the other hand, it would provoke a confrontation with Peking.

D. U.N. Membership for Both Koreas. State takes the position in its paper, and we agree, that this is not a practical problem this year, since neither Korea wants, at least at this point, to confer this degree of formality on the de facto two Koreas that U.N. membership would clearly imply.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–064, SRG Meeting Korea/UN 8/9/72. Secret. Holdridge included the paper as part of a package of talking points submitted under cover of an August 7 memorandum for Kissinger’s use at the August 9 SRG meeting. (Ibid.)
  2. In his August 7 covering memorandum, Holdridge explained that “the State paper was submitted on July 3, and was written with the assumption that postponement would be our primary strategy. Since that date the analysis has, in no small degree, been overtaken by events, primarily the effort of a group of ‘unaligned’ states led by Algeria and Yugoslavia—but directly encouraged by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—to build support for an active debate of the Korean issue in this fall’s General Assembly.” NSSM 154 is Document 133.
  3. See Document 151.
  4. All brackets are in the original.
  5. The phrases “explicitly invite” and “willingness to invite” are underscored twice in the original.
  6. See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1972, pp. 150–152.
  7. See footnote 2, Document 127.