36. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Washington Special Actions Group Meeting, San Clemente, August 25, 1969


  • Dr. Kissinger
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Admiral Nels Johnson
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • John H. Holdridge
  • Thomas Karamessines

Korean Contingency Plans

Ambassador Johnson noted that the plans were virtually completed but that the appendices would need to be broadened to include such items as Task Force officers, the text of the USROK Mutual Defense Treaty, the text of the UN Security Council Resolution, and the “Declaration of the 16.”2 He pointed out that a particular issue that could not presently be resolved but would be a question later was the degree to which the UN mantle should be wrapped around our actions as opposed to the degree to which we would rely on the Mutual Defense Treaty. The UN mantle would be an advantage but there are those in the UN who would try to tear it off. In these drafts for the President, the UN toga was not wrapped around much, but we might wish to do so later depending on the circumstances.
Dr. Kissinger noted that the drafts had been seen by both the President and the Attorney General, and the President had asked him to tell the group of his intense interest in them. The President had also asked that the Attorney General sit in on the WSAG and be kept informed on crisis situations. The other members welcomed the addition of the Attorney General.
Dr. Kissinger raised the question of who would monitor the basic scenarios: State, the WSAG, or the President in the White House. He stated that there would be no minute-by-minute watch in the White House, but there would be a small policy group there, including the Attorney General, which would be superimposed. For the rest, flexibility had to be maintained, and he envisaged different groups spending varying amounts of time, with only the Task Force maintaining a 24-hour watch.
Dr. Kissinger offered a comment based on the sense of the President’s thinking: The President would be unlikely short of a full-scale North Korean attack to order major military countermeasures. He also would be unlikely [7 lines not declassified] and a list of all that needs to be done politically. The WSAG would have the responsibility for keeping these plans under constant review, taking into consideration such elements as US force reductions in Korea and elsewhere.
Dr. Kissinger raised the question of at what point the Mutual Defense Treaty would be invoked. Ambassador Johnson replied to the effect that US forces on the line would be involved from the beginning, and that the constitutional question would exist only in the United States. This issue also related to the UN, e.g. on the merits of a UN resolution versus reliance on the Mutual Defense Treaty to cloak our actions.
Dr. Kissinger declared that we had learned from the EC–121 incident that however difficult it might be now to estimate what might happen in a crisis situation, it would not be easier under the pressure of events to deal with such questions as the pros and cons of the UN approach versus the bilateral. He asked if matters of this nature could not be put into the annex to give some hint as to what would best serve US interests at the time. Other questions should also be put in for the President, such as the UN veto, the make up of the Security Council, etc. It would be helpful to say that if the President accepts the plans, these are the decisions he will have to make, and list the criteria; we would also wish to similarly list decisions which would be deferred. Amplification of the annex then would be called for.
Also on the basis of the EC–121 incident, Dr. Kissinger wondered whether on alerts it would not be possible to be more specific, i.e., if we were to go after the North Korean air order of battle, we would certainly then want to go on DEFCON. We should recommend what state of alert should be adopted. The President would want guidance which would help him. This could always be modified. Could we not say now that an increase in SAC readiness would be required? It was agreed that such guidance should be included.
The discussions turned to how much advance warning of US actions should be given to the Japanese Prime Minister, with Ambassador Johnson recommending two hours from the diplomatic standpoint, [Page 105] but agreeing that from the security standpoint, thirty minutes would be more satisfactory. It was left that the decision would be made on the basis of who would be in power in Japan at the time.
Dr. Kissinger raised the problem of calling for a North Korean ceasefire. This appeared to him to be acceptable if the North Koreans were to undo what they had done. However, we wanted to avoid a situation where we might trade a territorial fait accompli for a single US air strike, with further action precluded by a ceasefire. He recommended that an asterisk be added (page 16) to the effect that we would not stop our activities or call for a ceasefire until the North Koreans undid what they had done. It was generally agreed that the UN Security Council should be called in the event of a North Korean attack.
Dr. Kissinger observed that we [2 lines not declassified] as suggested in the annex. This response should at least be listed. We might wish to look at this aspect through a NSSM.
To finish up the comments on Korea, it was agreed that the comments already made applied equally well to the other Korean scenario, and that one more revision should wind up the Korean papers. The only remaining question, as Dr. Kissinger saw it, was the availability of strike forces, and he asked that steps be taken to make certain that the needed forces were on hand.

[Omitted here is discussion of China and the Middle East.]

John H. Holdridge
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–071, Washington Special Actions Group, WSAG Meeting 8/25/69 Korea Contingency Plans. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Drafted by Holdridge. The meeting was held at the Western White House. A summary of conclusions of the meeting is ibid.
  2. The Mutual Defense Treaty was signed October 1, 1953, and approved by the U.S. Senate on January 26, 1954. (5 UST (Pt. 2) 2368) UN Security Resolution 82, June 25, 1950, led to direct action by the United States and other UN members in response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea. (UN Doc. S/1501) The Declaration of the 16, signed at Washington on July 27, 1953, related to the armistice of the same day; for text, see Department of State Bulletin, August 24, 1953, p. 247. The Armistice Agreement and the Supplementary Agreement on Prisoners of War are ibid., August 3, 1953, pp. 132–140.