54. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Dr. Kissinger
  • Ambassador William Porter
  • John H. Holdridge, NSC Senior Staff Member
[Page 139]

SUBJECT

  • Ambassador Porter’s Comments on US Troop Withdrawals from Korea

Ambassador Porter reported that there had been a session that day at State on the position State would take at the March 4 NSC meeting on Korea, in which the group had recommended that withdrawals be expressed in terms of figures rather than units. This would be more meaningful, as a division under certain circumstances could amount to as few as 12,000 men. The Secretary had not commented on this, but took up the proposal that the first slice should be 20,000 men, with 20,000 more to be withdrawn after the two ROK divisions came back from Vietnam. The thought was to let the generals strip off the figures, but keep as much muscle in Korea as possible. Two-thirds of the division on the line would be taken and sent home, which would give 8 to 10,000 of the 20,000 figure; 10,000 more would be stripped from the rear areas and service troops. The ROKs would be left to handle the increased defense responsibility. State’s position on this, according to Ambassador Porter, was to support 16 modernized ROK divisions, not 18.

Dr. Kissinger observed that the reasoning of the Joint Chiefs eluded him—their position was that 18 ROK divisions could hold a North Korean and Chinese attack, but that 16 divisions plus US forces couldn’t do a thing. To a remark from Ambassador Porter that modernization of the ROK divisions would increase their effective strength a great deal, Dr. Kissinger noted that the Joint Chiefs argue two US and 18 unmodernized ROK divisions or one US and 18 modernized divisions are needed, but that one US division and 16 modernized ROK divisions can’t do the job. This could not be true. Their figures ought to be internally consistent. He had looked through their figures, but could not determine what thought processes had been used to reach their conclusion.

Ambassador Porter recalled that in the last withdrawals which we had made in 1954 and 1955, we had taken out a total of six divisions, two corps headquarters, and non-divisional units. At that time there had been 40,000 men in a division. Now we were talking about a 12,000-man division withdrawal. This was a bare bones cut.

Dr. Kissinger mentioned that when General Bonesteel had spoken to the President—there had been two sessions—the President had been inclined to be helpful, but had been turned off by Bonesteel’s presentation. Ambassador Porter said that Bonesteel’s line with him in Korea was to preserve, and not to tear down; he had replied that he had simply wanted to get the fat out of our commitment.

Dr. Kissinger stated that he understood there was a disagreement between Ambassador Porter and the military on the size of the force which we should retain on the line. Ambassador Porter responded to [Page 140]the effect that the military wanted sufficient forces to support any one point such as Panmunjom at any one time. The military wanted a brigade. He thought, however, that a battalion at Panmunjom would be sufficient to fulfill our responsibility of guarding the MAC meeting place. This could come from the 7th Division, which with the addition of one brigade from the division being sent home could rotate battalions to the DMZ and have enough strength at any one time to back this battalion up. As for the rest of the line, we could let the ROKs take over. They already have seven-eighths of it.

Dr. Kissinger asked Ambassador Porter when the scenario should be started. Ambassador Porter replied that the discussions with the ROKs should be begun right away before the Presidential election campaign opens, which would be in the Fall after the nominating conventions. He wanted the essentials made known to the ROKs and tied down so that the issue would not bob up in the election campaign. If the process starts after the campaign begins, there would be an effort to hold us off until the elections, which are now scheduled for May 1971, were over. He would like to go back to Seoul on Friday2 with approved instructions.

Dr. Kissinger said he doubted the instructions would be approved so soon and noted that the President usually waits to make a decision until after the NSC meeting is over. Ambassador Porter remarked that the sooner we begin, the better. He would like to see General Michaelis begin listing the matériel we would leave behind for the ROKs, and then move into discussions of further phases of modernization, so as to provide time for Washington to consider the extra steps which would be needed. The first modernization step would be from equipment already there, and the second might be from what the ROK troops in Vietnam brought back with them. If President Park were to ask us what we intended to do, we could say that so much was ready, and continue to negotiate from there.

Dr. Kissinger said that the decisions might be made in perhaps two weeks. Ambassador Porter declared that this was acceptable. He was not thin-skinned, and it wouldn’t bother him if the Koreans jumped around a bit. Park was rather expecting an early decision, but could be put off. Dr. Kissinger hoped that the decision might even be made on March 4. Ambassador Porter said that in any case he felt it was better to move, and get Park’s comments so we could see what we could do.

Following a brief exchange on who would be attending the March 4 NSC meeting, Ambassador Porter asked Dr. Kissinger what kind of [Page 141]information he might send in from Korea which would be helpful. Dr. Kissinger remarked that he had been very interested in the materials which Ambassador Porter had been sending back. He didn’t usually comment, but read it all. He cited an account of a Vladivostok radio broadcast on My Lai which Ambassador Porter had forwarded; this had come in very useful in a recent meeting with Dobrynin, who had been amazed that we had picked up Vladivostok radio. Ambassador Porter said that he often saw things which were outside his own bailiwick but which he thought might be interesting, and would send them back in bits and pieces. Dr. Kissinger urged Ambassador Porter to send in anything he considered significant. He trusted Porter’s judgment, and would make an effort to read his reports if the Ambassador was willing to write them down.

Dr. Kissinger asked for Ambassador Porter’s views on Vietnam. Ambassador Porter expressed the opinion that the Communists were preparing for another effort. They would let us pull down our forces, and then have a go. They would have to do this—the leaders up North were finding it hard to envisage peace, and “their lives were at stake”, i.e. they had imposed too many casualties on the North to be able to stop now. There would probably be another effort by the Communists to catch a government unit in an isolated position. The VC characteristically work on some ARVN unit out in front, watching its officers’ movements, picking out its weak points, and working full time to lay out their plans. They badly need a win because of the trouble they are now in, and would try to achieve a psychological victory by catching a battalion and decimating it. They would carefully select units to attack which are in areas from which the US has withdrawn. We would simply have to face this situation.

Continuing, Ambassador Porter commented that Senator Fulbright had wanted him to talk about Vietnam and the Middle East, but that he had refused on the grounds that these questions were outside his area of responsibility. On Korea, Fulbright had inquired into nuclear weapons, and had gone on and on about them. He had told the Senator that he had no instructions to talk about nuclear weapons, to which Fulbright had accused him of “taking the Fifth”. He had responded by expressing the hope that the Senator would not draw this comparison too far. He had thought that the Senator would never let go.

Dr. Kissinger asked if Ambassador Porter would need to be reconfirmed if he were appointed to another post, to which the Ambassador said that he thought this would be no problem. The Senator’s area of concern had really been the ROK, and he, Porter, felt that the hearings had gone quite well. Surprisingly, Senator Symington had wanted to let the ROKs loose against the North.

[Page 142]

Turning back to the troop withdrawal issue, Ambassador Porter expressed the belief that we could swing the option which we wanted. The ROKs would go into their usual banging tactics, but could be held. They would want us to modernize their forces first and then withdraw, but we should do both concurrently. He urged that the commanding general in Korea be given the authority to arrange these matters. This would strengthen his hand with respect to CINCPAC, who wanted to run everything himself, and who customarily took the JCS view. However, he had every confidence that Michaelis would be able to strip off the forces properly, and would also go further than the JCS would in this effort.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 541, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. II, 10/69–5/70. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Holdridge who sent it to Kissinger under a memorandum in which Holdridge recommended “in-house distribution.” Kissinger initialed his approval on March 10. (Ibid.)
  2. March 6.