58. Letter From President Nixon to Korean President Park1

Dear President Park:

I have received and studied carefully your letter of April 202 commenting on my proposal, presented through Ambassador Porter, to withdraw 20,000 United States troops from Korea by the end of June 1971. Let me in this response put my proposal in perspective.

In our discussions during your visit to California last August,3 I explained my policy toward Asia, and I greatly appreciated then as I do now your agreement with its fundamental features. The maintenance of treaty obligations is basic to this policy. Specifically, so far as Korea is concerned, the United States is committed in the case of armed attack against your country to act in accordance with the Mutual Defense Treaty between our Governments. All the world, and specifically North Korea and Communist China, are aware of this. That commitment was reaffirmed in our meeting.

It is also my policy that as the strengths and capabilities of our Allies increase it is reasonable to expect them to assume more of the responsibility for their own defense and specifically to provide the bulk of the manpower required for that purpose.

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Over the past several years the Republic of Korea under your leadership has made great progress in developing its economic and military strength, progress completely overshadowing that of the North. The contribution made by your military forces in Vietnam attests to this remarkable development. Despite this increased economic and military strength, the number of American troops in the Republic has not declined from the level which prevailed when the Republic was far less able to assume the primary burden for its defense. In fact, the number today is somewhat larger than that prevailing at any time over the past ten years.

I am not proposing a total withdrawal of United States forces such as the one in 1949 to which you referred in your letter. On the contrary, the 20,000 men to be withdrawn constitute less than one-third of our current forces in the Republic of Korea. The forces remaining will provide not only substantial United States military capacity but also clear evidence of a United States commitment. So far as a deterrent is concerned, it will remain clear to North Korea and to Communist China that the United States has not retreated from Korea or the Pacific area.

I recognize that the level of military assistance for Korea provided by the Congress under the last military assistance appropriation has been less than we considered desirable. Part of the reason for the Congressional attitude towards military assistance has undoubtedly been a feeling by the Congress and the public that with the progress made by recipients of such assistance they should assume a greater share of the responsibility for their own defense.

Subject to Congressional approval, I propose to provide substantially higher military assistance over the period 1971–75 for Korean modernization. Moreover, provided your Government assumes a larger defense burden we are also prepared to consider some increased economic assistance. This assistance would be available during the very period which you see as crucial to Korea’s continuing economic progress and protection from the North.

I plan to brief the Congress on my proposal and seek to enlist their support so that the processes of modernization of the Korean armed forces can begin as soon as possible. An initiative from you showing that Korea is ready to assume more of the burden of its own defense will add to Korea’s image and to Congressional and public support for these greater appropriations.

You may be assured, Mr. President, that I would not have made this proposal except after the most careful study of all the factors involved and specifically of those mentioned in your letter. I would not have made it had I believed that it would adversely affect the Republic of Korea which we consider so important to the security of Asia and of the Free World, and in which we have such an immense national investment.

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Therefore, Mr. President, I hope that you will be able to agree that my proposal is in the interests of both our countries and that you will find it possible to take the lead in presenting it to your country and to the world as a natural and proud consequence of the remarkable progress achieved by your country.

With best wishes.

Sincerely yours,

Richard Nixon
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 757, Presidential Correspondence 1969–1974, Korea: President Chung Hee Park, 1970. Top Secret. On April 29, Rogers sent a draft of this letter to Nixon under a covering memorandum with the recommendation that he sign it. Rogers noted that the “Under Secretaries Committee has recommended that, following one or two more talks between Porter and Park, you should brief congressional leaders and ask for their backing. In view of the problems that could arise should Park remain adamant, we believe you should respond to Park first.” On May 25, Kissinger forwarded Rogers’s memorandum and draft letter to President Nixon under a covering memorandum with the recommendation that he sign the letter. The Department transmitted the text of Nixon’s letter in telegram 81354 to Seoul, May 27. (All ibid.)
  2. See Document 57.
  3. See Document 35.