89. Memorandum From John H. Holdridge of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

SUBJECT

  • ROK Troop Withdrawals from Vietnam

Attached is a cable from Seoul informing us that the ROKs plan to reduce their troop strength by one combat division beginning in October 1971, to be completed by the “first half of 1972.”2 In passing this information to us, Korean Foreign Minister Choi said his Government wishes to enter consultations with us and would appreciate our comments.

State and Defense will probably bring this up at today’s SRG meeting,3 and cite the cable as evidence of a need for guidance to be sent out to our TCC Missions prior to the April 23 TCC meeting in Washington. Since they both favor a phased ROK withdrawal from Vietnam beginning after the October elections and continuing through 1972, they may use this reported Korean plan as a lever to gain your endorsement.4

However, the ROK plan could be more of a trial balloon than a formal and fixed position. The ROKs may hope to smoke us out on our own willingness to continue supporting the ROK contingent in Vietnam. There is a distinct hint here that their withdrawal rate may be [Page 230]subject to our own reaction to their proposal. I believe that it might be possible to have them withhold action pending a further assessment of the military situation in South Vietnam for the remainder of 1971. In any event, we would probably not wish the ROKs to begin their withdrawals until a decent period of time after the GVN elections.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 542, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. IV, 1 Jan–31 Dec 1971. Secret. Sent for action.
  2. Telegram 1994 from Seoul, April 13; attached but not printed.
  3. The Senior Review Group met from 3:09 to 4 p.m. to discuss enemy capabilities concerning Vietnam in 1971 and 1972. Kissinger made the following remark about Korea: “We also need some projection of TCC participation independent of fiscal restraints. It isn’t self-evident why the ROK forces have to come out next year and why their removal wouldn’t put a strain on the South Vietnamese. I am not trying to pre-judge the conclusion. I just want to make sure that we look into these questions.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–053, SRG Meeting—Vietnam Assessment 4/13/71)
  4. Telegram 2175 from Seoul, April 20, reported that Foreign Minister Choi informed Porter that the ROK had notified the Vietnamese Government of its intentions to “withdraw some troops later this year” and that the “Vietnamese do not seem to understand.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 542, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. IV, 1 Jan 31–Dec 1971)