34. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1

August 14, 1969 NSC Meeting on Korea



20% GNP to NK conv. forces; perhaps highest percentage in world.

WW II Soviet equipment for ground forces except AK–47 rifle. Ground forces in defensive positions, about 350,000 (ROK 535,000).

Higher proportion in combat units than ROK. Short of vehicles, ground support equipment, e.g. for sustained offensive.

380 jet fighters (more accurate than 500 figure previously in use)

  • Need outside log. support
  • 75 MIG–21s
  • Most are M–17s, 15s
  • 70–80 IL–28 jet light bombers
  • 35 SA–2 missile sites

[Page 90]

NK Navy is coastal defensive force

20% of 15–49 able bodied males in armed forces. GNP growth half that of ROK.

NK does not intend to invade ROK, nor are they trying to provoke attack. Need outside support.


to get support for Kim-Il Song
disrupt, strain South
exploit disenchantment in U.S., stimulate U.S. withdrawal.

RN [Richard Nixon]: What is relative role of China, USSR ideologically?

RH [Richard Helms]: Soviet strong.

RN: How do Sovs give arms—cash & carry?

RH: Grants.

RN: Sovs use NK as counterweight to China?

Ans. Yes.

RN: Sovs are restraining?

RH: Definitely.

Discussion on weakness of NK economy, cool-calculating nature of NK.3

Laird: ROK Army capable of defending against attack by NK with U.S. air, sea, logistic support.

Against unlikely CPR/NK attack, ROK could defend until U.S. reinforces. Imbalance of force capability (i.e. we have air), air control of log. support, [less than 1 line not declassified].

RN: I wonder if we are doing enough with naval forces in EA. I was surprised that NK boats are faster than ROK.

Are our forces adequate to deal with kind of war we may be engaged in—hit run type of thing? Re: hardware, we aren’t ready for this. We could kick hell out of them if they came frontally. But they may not do this.

We should be good in small boat business. What are we doing?

Laird: We have program in FY 70 budget. Not approved by Congress. Could develop in 6–12 months.

RN: Some of the Coast Guard stuff is 20 years old. This is unbelievable.

RN: We should be able to do this at relatively small cost.

[Page 91]

Are Russians better at this than we are?

Wheeler: They’ve put more emphasis on it. Up until recently, Sovs had a shallow water Navy. Our Navy is blue water Navy. Don’t think of defending U.S. coasts.

RN: Here we have great big muscular forces. Jerk water countries do it better. U.S. shouldn’t be in such a position.

RN: Likelihood is that having this capability would be very important. Cost needn’t be great. You’re looking into this? (to Wheeler)

Ans. Navy is.


  • 18 ROK Divs in country: 515,000
  • 150 Aircraft4
  • 230 Craft of all kinds.

RN: Are ROK pilots better trained?

Wheeler: NK are well trained. ROK not better. NK has better equipment.5

  • 2-1/3 Div in VN
  • 3 Reserve Divs. which we equipped.

In their wish list, they want us to equip an additional 7 Reserve Divisions. They want us to pay for expansion. Price is $3.2 billion.

RN: Bill, weren’t you impressed with SK morale.

Rogers: Yes, they’re strong—1. except in air, and 2. worried about infiltration by water. You couldn’t do anything about it. They recognize that. They ask for so much. They use scare stories to up their requests.6

Rogers: Opposition to Park third term among young, intellectuals.7 This is loyalty to constitution, opposition to military dictatorship.

Wheeler: ROK have extensive counterinfiltration capability [elaborates].8

[Page 92]

We have 63,000 men in Korea, 2 Divs, one on DMZ. 137 tac aircraft.

Wheeler: ROK Army well trained, moderately well equipped. Can stop a NK attack acting alone with our support. Air Force clearly inferior, vulnerable.

Only 0–5 min warning of NK surprise attack. We are constructing shelters. ROK Navy is coastal patrol force, at a tactical disadvantage. Need additional equipment to have reasonable assurance of interdicting infiltrators. Incidents way down.9 Reasons:

Improvement in ROK (major need is anti-sea infiltration capability. Also, Homeland Defense Reserve Force needs more weapons. Need communications, transportation).
Good initial defense against CPR/NK attack.

Laird: $163 mil MAP this year. Has averaged $160 mil per year. Emphasis has shifted from equipment to O&M (1969–$34 mil for equipment). This is self-defeating policy; older the equip, the more maintenance. We must shift emphasis.

They are interested in development of M–16 plant. Colt is giving us trouble on this.

RN: Can’t we use our leverage? The hell with them. If it’s in our interest, let’s move it. [tells Att’y Gen’l to be tough on them]10

Laird: Supplemental is heavily oriented toward equipment.

[Problem is Colt price is $17 lower than GM per gun.]11

Laird: Options are outlined in NSSM 27.12

We should move toward improving ROK capability, “Koreanizing.”

Must get ROK to resume MAP transfer program ASAP.

Whole emphasis of MAP should be changed.

RN: This is no time to make changes.

Over 1970–75, we will be required to examine whether presence of 50–60,000 troops in Korea is good. We shouldn’t sit back, though Congress would support it.13

Laird: Their plan costs $3.2 billion, assumes we stay there.

[Page 93]

RN: We have to develop a plan over a five year period to change situation. We can’t do it precipitately now. Not under pressure, but because it is in our interest.

Rogers: “Fourth alternative” Why can’t ROKs in SVN replace our forces in SK? It’s a natural transition.

RN: Also, you can think of keeping our air and naval forces on maximum basis.

Laird: ROK wants to send more forces in SVN. Pay is 10 times as high there.

RN: We always say “not now.” But we must face fact we aren’t going to have 50,000 troops there 5 years from now, while we must maintain substantial presence, particularly air and navy.

Laird: Support in Congress is based on eventual phase-down of U.S. presence.

RN: We have to look at European situation in terms of what we will face politically, e.g. Mansfield.14 We shouldn’t move now, but we must take hard look at troops in Europe too. If we want to reduce, want to make an asset of it, strengthen ourselves in other ways.

RN: With Park, listen now, not make any commitments.

Laird: We spend $1 billion on our forces. Budget is a problem.

Rogers: Park will say 50,000 is magic number. You could make him happy by saying no reductions at this time (before elections). Work on the fast boat thing.15

Laird: MAP cost is small relative to our costs [RN: I realize that]16

RN: What do we have in Taiwan?

Wheeler: No ground forces, just MAAG, air defense.

Laird: Taiwan MAAG too big.

RN: Taiwan threat is different but it’s there.

Rogers: Our Ambassador thinks there is fat in Korea.

Richardson: We are looking at that as part of Personnel Reductions.17

Wheeler: Doesn’t agree with existence of lots of fat.

[Page 94]

Richardson: 5 issues18

Infiltration issue
  • Three alternatives
Force structure—4 postures
[less than 1 line not declassified]
Regional Cooperation

Force structure

Increased readiness (summarizes) (RN: Forget posture 1)
Present program
  • some modernization
  • 2 U.S. divisions stay
ROK self defense
  • Complete modernization of 18 divisions
  • 2 U.S. divisions withdrawn
Less modernization, withdrawal of 1 division

Complete withdrawal raises issue of deterrence.

RN: Except that we have a hell of an air force. If I were NK, I wouldn’t want to cross that line. Morale of U.S. troops is outstanding story. We don’t want to screw it away quickly. Bill is right. We want a long term plan. They can’t do it without Sov support. If they do this, that is different kind of war. UN force, need for Sov support is deterrent.

Rogers: Porter thinks our forces on DMZ should be replaced with South Koreans.

Wheeler: I have no strong feelings.

Reason is 99% psychological.

RN: Do it over a period of time, also supplement your air. Should make Koreans happy, sell them some rifles.

Richardson: 4th Alt.

1 division has same value as 2.

Also, we tie our 2 divisions up in Korea. They can’t go anywhere else. [Wheeler affirms this]19

Real savings would come only if deactivated.

Even if not, we would gain flexibility.

Wheeler: You would still save significantly if units not deactivated.

Laird: We can save $225 million just bringing them home.

Richardson: Gives figures on total 5-year costs.

[Page 95]

Economic assistance issue: should we continue to scale down.

RN: My gut reaction is not to move in that direction. $135 bil per capita income in my briefing paper. Helping them to develop is really worth it. I have no prejudice. Evaluate the alternative. What do they need to take off?

Richardson: Textiles is major export. [1 line not declassified]

HAK: (to Lynn) [Where does that come from?]20

Richardson: Army Engineering study says it.

HAK: (to Lynn) [Shouldn’t let this get into papers without review]21

RN: Can we have a real 5 year study on Korea?

  • Economic side
  • Military side

After election, cold turkey it. Make it in context of after Vietnam. We should be thinking of it now, be ready with a plan. Otherwise, they will temporize.

Rogers: Should have Ambassador back for next discussion of 5 year plan.22

RN: Yes, good idea. Pull relevant guy back. Porter is impressive fellow.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Minutes, Originals, 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the following officials attended the meeting, which lasted from 9:39 a.m. until 12:25 p.m.: the President, Agnew, Rogers, Laird, Mitchell, Wheeler, Richardson, Helms, Lincoln, Haig, Lynn, Holdridge, Green, and Morton Halperin. (Ibid., White House Central Files) Haig prepared draft minutes of this NSC meeting, which are in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Memoranda to the President, Box CL 312, Meetings, National Security Council. Nixon’s notes on this meeting are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 25.
  2. According to Haig’s draft minutes, Helms began the meeting by speaking about North Korea’s armed forces and Kim Il Sung and his policies. In response, Kissinger stated, “In April we saw the North Koreans’ irrationality. We also saw it with the Pueblo incident. It seems to go up and then down.”
  3. According to Haig’s draft minutes, Helms stated that Kim Il Sung “is vain but not irrational.” Rogers added that “he is smart as hell.”
  4. According to Haig’s draft minutes, Wheeler put the number of North Korean aircraft at 250.
  5. According to Haig’s draft minutes, Wheeler called the North Korean pilots “top notch” and added that the “North has more modern types of aircraft.”
  6. According to Haig’s draft minutes, Mitchell noted at this point that more radar “would help stop infiltration,” to which Wheeler replied, “We have given them a great deal of radar, but they need more.”
  7. According to Haig’s draft minutes, Rogers stated that South Korea’s “army is good and their economy is good, but the political situation is fragile. The young are concerned about the issue of amending the constitution to allow a third presidential term.” He added, “When the election comes, and just before it, there will be more tension.”
  8. Brackets are in the original. According to Haig’s draft minutes, Wheeler asserted that “we helped them develop a better counter-infiltration capability. We worked on the DMZ forces, coastal radar, and coastal watch patrols. In the rear area, there is a 2.1 million-man home defense force. This is a good force, which works along with the police.”
  9. According to Haig’s draft minutes, Wheeler specified, “Infiltration has dropped off. 761 infiltrators in 1968, of whom 542 crossed the DMZ and 219 came in below it. There were only 103 in 1969, of whom 83 crossed the DMZ and 20 came in below.”
  10. Brackets are in the original.
  11. Brackets are in the original.
  12. Document 2.
  13. According to Haig’s draft minutes, Nixon ascribed the poor timing for making a change in the number of U.S. troops in South Korea to “Sino-Soviet tension” and “the south Vietnam problem.” He added, “With regard to our 60,000 troops in Korea, Congress would love to see a reduction.”
  14. Senator Mike Mansfield (D-Montana) had introduced an amendment to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Europe.
  15. According to Haig’s draft minutes, Rogers stated, “They don’t need more ground forces—only air. Park needs assurance. The fast boat assist would help. Their Foreign Minister wants destroyers and their President wants small boats.”
  16. Brackets are in the original.
  17. According to Haig’s draft minutes, Richardson noted, “We are looking at a 10% cut of the back-up apparatus.” Assistant Secretary Green added, “There are 260 bases there that can be cut.”
  18. In reference to NSSM 27. See Document 2.
  19. Brackets are in the original.
  20. Brackets are in the original.
  21. Brackets are in the original.
  22. According to Haig’s draft minutes, the following additional comments were made: Rogers stated, “We must not take any side on the election issue.” Nixon asked, “Will it affect Park’s visit?” Rogers replied, “No. Say nice things about Korea.”