55. Draft Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • The Secretary of State
  • The Under Secretary of State
  • The Deputy Secretary of Defense
  • Acting Chairman, Admiral Moorer
  • Director Helms
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • Ambassador Porter
  • OEP Director Lincoln
  • Assistant Secretary Green
  • Laurence Lynn
  • B/General Alexander M. Haig

The meeting was convened at 9:40 a.m. by the President. He called upon Director Helms for an update on the current intelligence situation.

Helms: During 1969 North Korea has retrenched in its unconventional warfare operations against South Korea. The North Koreans [Page 143] have considerable conventional naval and air power which was modernized by Soviet equipment between 1966 and 1968. North Korean ground forces are equipped with what is primarily obsolete Soviet equipment. They total 25 divisions of which 14 are forward along the DMZ. Reportedly this year they have reduced their strength by [to?] 350,000 as compared to South Korean forces of over half a million. The North Koreans are short on transportation but strong in modern air power. One of the most significant factors in the North Korean force posture has been the impact of maintaining this force upon North Korea’s economic development. Between 15 and 20 percent of North Korea’s gross national product is allocated to Defense and over 20 percent of North Korea’s males are in uniform contributing to a severe labor shortage.

Helms estimated that North Korea has no intention of initiating conventional operations against South Korea in the foreseeable future, adding that neither the Soviets nor the Chinese Communists are encouraging such operations. Kim Il Sung’s strategy in the unconventional warfare area commenced in 1964 when he initiated the intensifying UW campaign against the ROK. This campaign was probably initiated to discourage U.S. support for the ROK, especially as a result of U.S. domestic reaction. By 1969, however, Sung was unsuccessful in generating dissonance in South Korea and thus decided on a change in tactics if not strategy. 1969 reflected the lowest incident rate of UW harassments of any period since 1964. While Sung has not renounced violence, he appears to be shifting away from this tactic.

The ROK are now better prepared than in the past to counter North Korean UW initiatives. They have developed a sophisticated counter-infiltration system which includes a national coordinating committee and ancillary operational control centers. The coastal surveillance capabilities have been markedly improved and they have constituted 20 counter infiltration battalions backed up by efficient ROK militia. Perhaps the major factor in the ROK effectiveness has been the dislike of the South Koreans for the Sung regime and the establishment of strong anti subversion laws.

President: The President then asked Dr. Kissinger to review the options available for future U.S. military presence in South Korea.

Dr. Kissinger: Dr. Kissinger pointed out that there had been two concurrent studies on our defense posture in South Korea: one within the interdepartmental framework and the second a systems analysis type study conducted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.2 He emphasized that [Page 144] while the conclusions were not identical, they were nearly parallel. U.S. military strength in Korea totalled some 64,000. The present combined strength consists of 20-1/3 ROK divisions of which 2-1/3 are in South Vietnam. Thus, the total posture includes 18 ROK active divisions plus 2 U.S. divisions. The combined strength outnumbers the North Koreans almost two to one; although North Korea is much stronger than the ROK in both air and sea power. The ROK supports its combat soldiers at approximately twice the level of the North Koreans. Our studies considered two scenarios: one would provide an analysis of forces required to defend against only a North Korean attack. The second considered the first requirement to meet a combined North Korean/CPR attack. Against the North Korean attack alone the combined U.S.–ROK force levels could withstand such an attack and halt it north of Seoul. Against a combined North Korean/CPR attack the 18 ROK divisions, together with the two U.S. divisions, could sufficiently delay such an attack until additional forces could be deployed.

Dr. Kissinger emphasized that there was some disagreement on how many ROK divisions were actually needed to maintain a sustained defense against an attack emanating from North Korea alone. He pointed out that the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe 19 ROK divisions were necessary and that others felt a force level somewhat lower would be satisfactory.

Dr. Kissinger emphasized that we look at five force postures:

2 U.S. divisions plus 18 ROK divisions;
2 U.S. brigades plus 18 improved ROK divisions;
One U.S. division plus 18 improved ROK divisions;
One U.S. division plus 16 improved ROK divisions;
A residual U.S. force plus 18 improved ROK divisions.

He pointed out that the Joint Chiefs of Staff disagreed with postures 4 and 5 above. Dr. Kissinger also emphasized that the problem is not one of purely military strength but also has definite political overtones. It is likely that the U.S. military could be reduced to 1/3 division plus 19 improved ROK divisions. However, the problem involves the impact on deterrents and what level of U.S. presence is necessary to insure that the North Koreans remain deterred. A second factor is the problem of costs which were summarized on the Table at Tab A.3 Another factor impinging upon costs would be the status of the forces removed from Korea; for example, if we removed 20,000 troops we would realize savings of $20 million. If these troops were held on active duty, on the other hand, our savings would be $450 million if they were deactivated.

Dr. Kissinger also emphasized that for the time being we should attempt to keep ROK forces in Vietnam and that our actions in South [Page 145] Korea could influence their willingness to do so. An additional problem involves the positioning of our remaining U.S. forces. Presently there is one division on line and one back. The question now is should we pull back from the DMZ to reduce friction or should we draw forces from both the line and the rear. Dr. Kissinger pointed out that most disagreed that we should thin out our forces on the DMZ but keep some combat power south of Panmumjom. State favors a force of only one battalion, while the JCS favors a brigade-sized force. [2 lines not declassified] A final question would involve the magnitude of our counter insurgency programs. The big issue, however, is the degree of U.S. presence involving answers to the following specific questions:

The size of our force;
The degree of modernization of the ROK divisions; and
The timing of U.S. withdrawals.

All agree that we should consult with the South Koreans, especially in view of their presence in South Vietnam. Precise timing, however, involves a decision as to whether or not we should consult before their presidential elections or wait until after the elections.

Admiral Moorer: Admiral Moorer stated that the JCS considers that the minimum U.S. posture should be 1-1/3 U.S. divisions plus 18 improved ROK divisions, plus modernization of ROK air and naval forces and the retention of U.S. air and naval strength in the ROK. He emphasized that the ROK equipment is deteriorating and that North Korean air strength poses a considerable threat.

Secretary Rogers stated that State favors a drawdown of U.S. strength in two phases. The first phase would be an immediate drawdown and the second would be additional reductions after the ROK divisions return from Vietnam. He emphasized that State preferred to see U.S. troops withdrawn by numbers rather than by designated division or TONE unit. State also favors consultations immediately. The size of the reductions should depend on the assistance we can give to the modernization of the ROK and the level that our Congress would support. State believes that we should:

Decide in principle on the reduction;
Start consultations, then make the final decision; and
Initiate Congressional consultations.

Secretary Rogers emphasized that we must keep President Park on board throughout, since this is the first step of the Guam Doctrine4 and his support will be essential. Since his elections take place in May of 1971, our consultations should start immediately.

[Page 146]

Ambassador Porter affirmed that he could start consultations immediately.

The Vice President pointed out that he had spoken to the ROKs in Manila5 and that they emphasized emphatically that we should not reduce our presence in South Korea. Indeed, they expressed a willingness to send more ROK troops to South Vietnam if we would not draw down on our strength in the ROK. Finally, they offered free of charge whatever additional facilities the U.S. Government might need in view of phaseouts elsewhere.

Secretary Packard emphasized that the important problem is Congressional willingness to support 18 or 19 improved ROK divisions. He stated that if we draw down now we must have provided for the modernization of the ROK. The Joint Chiefs of Staff want to proceed cautiously. Mr. Packard’s fear is how we can get Congressional support for ROK modernization without withdrawing sizeable U.S. forces, in the order of magnitude of 20,000.

Secretary Rogers affirmed that State also favored 20,000, adding that Congress will move in the face of such a reduction and the savings that would result.

Admiral Moorer stated that the drawdown must be early in the fiscal year if we are to realize any savings.

Dr. Kissinger stated that some of the modernization could be realized from the equipment of U.S. forces being withdrawn from South Vietnam.

The President stated that the key factors are:

There must be some withdrawal. We cannot keep 64,000 U.S. troops in Korea forever.
We must work out the program carefully and relate it intimately to our April decision on the next withdrawal from Vietnam.
We must control the debate on the Hill with respect to our involvement.
We must avoid the impression that we are withdrawing from our responsibilities by emphasizing that our drawdown has to be accompanied by ROK modernization. In summary, the President stated that the preferable course is to think in terms of our April Vietnam tranche and the timing and requirement for consultations with President Park and the role of the Congress as well.

[Page 147]

The Vice President recalled Lee Kuan Yew’s remarks to the effect that U.S. credibility to execute its commitments is a crucial point. Rhetoric is not enough. We must be positively postured to follow through. He emphasized that the situation in Laos suggested that we should keep strong forces nearby in the Far East, pointing out that Asian leaders are very fearful of U.S. intentions. The President stated that the Vice President’s remarks were very pertinent, and we cannot give the impression that we are leaving the area. Thus we need careful thought on how to do it.

Secretary Rogers added that President Park applauded the Nixon Doctrine but added: “Don’t do it to me.”

Under Secretary of State Richardson stated that we should not think that our forces in Korea are available for deployment elsewhere. The President stated that the best way to accomplish our reduction is to get President Park to ask for it. He inquired of Ambassador Porter whether or not this could be done. Ambassador Porter responded affirmatively, adding that we could probably get Park to do so providing we can give him assurances on modernization.

The President stated we must not weaken our forces there precipitously. It is simply a question of U.S. support of U.S. divisions.

OEP Director Lincoln added that in late 1947 we reduced our strength and the North Koreans attacked. Under Secretary Packard stated that we must have a Congressional commitment.

Dr. Kissinger stated we must decide on the level of our reduction, then the Under Secretaries Committee can prepare a game plan on how to proceed to include instructions to Ambassador Porter and General Michaelis. Secretary Rogers added it should be a tentative decision since consultation may result in problems with President Park or the Congress.

The Vice President cautioned that what we draw down will never go back and the President agreed, adding that we should keep in mind that [less than 1 line not declassified]. The President stated we might consider increments of 10,000 now and 10,000 later, with the support needed under such a procedure. The President stated that this is the first five-year perceptive study. We have had 64,000 troops in Korea since 1953 and someone should have looked at it long before now. We must stop temporizing with these issues and must view the problem from the long range. In essence, what we are looking for is not a way to get out of Korea but a way to be able to stay in by means of a long-range, viable posture. We are faced with increasing emphasis on domestic spending here at home. Thus, we have to find a way to continue playing a role by drawing down our strength somewhat or else the Congress will refuse to support anything.

Secretary Rogers inquired about [3 lines not declassified].

The meeting was adjourned at 11:30 hours.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Minutes, Originals, 1970. Secret. Prepared by Haig; no approved or final minutes were found. There are a very few handwritten and typewritten corrections which have been incorporated unto the text printed here. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting lasted from 9:38 until 10:45 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  2. See Document 52.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Better known as the Nixon Doctrine; see footnote 3, Document 35.
  5. As part of a 3-week visit to Asia during December 1969 and January 1970, Agnew represented Nixon at the inauguration ceremonies for President Ferdinand Marcos and Vice President Fernando Lopez, held at Manila on December 30.