29. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Military Contingency Planning for Korea


  • Henry A. Kissinger—Chairman
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Winthrop Brown
  • Defense
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • CIA
  • Cord Meyer
  • JCS
  • Vice Adm. Nels C. Johnson
  • NSC Staff
  • Col. Alexander M. Haig
  • John H. Holdridge
  • Col. Robert M. Behr

Summary of Decisions

A Working Group under Ambassador Brown, responsive to the WSAG, will produce three sets of contingency plans for Korea. These plans will be structured in the form of sequences of events and will cover low, intermediate and high levels of military involvement.
A similar Working Group will be formed for Middle East plans.
The WSAG meeting time will be standardized at 2:00 P.M. on Fridays.

The meeting began at 2:13 P.M. Secretary Johnson suggested to the Chairman that he be permitted to report to the Group the results of a “rump meeting” between the two Johnsons which took place on July 10th.2 Kissinger yielded to Secretary Johnson who then discussed the State–Defense meeting of the previous day. Its purpose was to review the work done by the Joint Staff in grouping the various military plans into categories of response (called for at the last WSAG meeting);3 and to map a course of action which would distill from the NSSM 34 Study4 and the DOD plans a paper having greater utility for decision makers. Because much of the work on the probable nature of NK provocation has been done in the NSSM 34 Study, the follow-on effort should concentrate on building scenarios for various levels of military response without too much regard for how the particular contingency would arise. This work could be done by a Working Group under Ambassador Brown, with representation appointed by the WSAG principals.

Kissinger remarked that what the “rump session” had concluded was coincident with his own thoughts. He would not, therefore, have to take the time of the Group by critiquing the NSSM 34 Study (which he regards as an excellent foundation document) in order to express the same conclusions with respect to an approach to the problem of providing the President with useful options in the event of another Korean emergency.

[Page 76]

Admiral Johnson clarified what he sees to be the working arrangement—a small ad hoc group responsible to the WSAG as opposed to a NSC/IG effort. All agreed.

Kissinger stated that the Working Group should not concern itself with recommendations about when and why a particular plan should be implemented. All that is called for is a set of options including at the one extreme “surgical strikes”, heavy military involvement at the other extreme, with in-between options such as attack against several airfields. Admiral Johnson noted that diplomatic maneuverings were, of course, related but a thing apart and not germane to the task at hand. Secretary Johnson remarked that the work on the scenarios would be eased by the nature of the problem itself. When a specific course of action is selected for development, that course then logically dictates what must be done to carry it out. He visualized the end-product as a sequence of events similar to that produced during the EC–121 incident.

Kissinger cautioned that a philosophical attachment to one class of response—be it minimum, intermediate, or maximum violence—often tends to cloud contingency plans. What we need are scenarios for the decision-makers. They will have to exercise their responsibility to choose the appropriate level of response from among a group of options.

Returning to the plan of action, Secretary Johnson suggested a “plan a week” approach—for example, the next WSAG meeting should look at the “surgical” strike category, with the other options following at weekly intervals. Kissinger agreed and standardized future meeting times—Fridays at 2:00 P.M. There were no dissents.

Kissinger conjectured that if the President had, today, to select a response to a provocation similar to those of recent history, he would probably pick an intermediate option—say, [8 lines not declassified]. Admiral Johnson thought the attacks should be regarded as punitive, and that they would not result in permanent damage.

Kissinger inquired how an attack against [4 lines not declassified]. Secretary Johnson inquired about other “nerve-center” targets. Kissinger asked Cord Meyer to identify a number of these targets and to report them to the WSAG by 15 July. Meyer agreed to do so. Nutter brought up a point relating to international law, citing a body of opinion which holds that the target must somehow be related to the “crime”. In other words, if you get hit from an airfield, you have to attack an airfield in response. At this point Secretary Johnson asked what one is really after in striking [9 lines not declassified].

Admiral Johnson raised the question of format, noting that the work his staff had done for him this past week was perhaps too detailed. The consensus of the Group was that the EC–121 sequence of events is a good model.

Admiral Johnson returned to Kissinger’s earlier evaluation of the NSSM 34 Study. He concurred in the evident merit of the work and [Page 77] hoped that the Korean Task Force would keep it up to date. All agreed that the NSSM 34 Study—and all other IG plans—should be periodically reviewed and made current.

Brown departed at this point after being informed that his WSAG Working Group would include Bill Nelson (CIA), Colonel Boylan (OSD), John Holdridge (NSC), with a Joint Staff member to be reported later.

[Omitted here is a discussion of the Middle East.]

There was no further discussion. The meeting adjourned at 2:50 P.M.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, Washington Special Actions Group, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1969–1970, [6 of 6]. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Situation Room of the White House. These minutes were forwarded through Haig to Kissinger as an attachment to a July 11 memorandum from Behr. On July 10, Behr submitted three working papers to WSAG members: a summary of U.S. objectives extracted from the NSSM 34 study; a summary of military responses contained in the NSSM 34 study; and an annotated index of Department of Defense military contingency options for Korea. All are ibid.
  2. No record of a meeting between U. Alexis Johnson and Vice Admiral Nels C. Johnson has been found.
  3. See Document 28.
  4. Document 26.