90. Report by John H. Holdridge of the National Security Council Staff1

Report on Visit to Korea and Japan, March 2–5, 1971

Following are the highlights of my visit to Korea and Japan during the period March 2–5, 1971:

Further Withdrawals of U.S. Forces from Korea

Both Ambassador Porter and General Michaelis (represented by USAF Lt. Gen. Smith at the briefings provided) spoke out strongly against further U.S. troop withdrawals from Korea for the next two years. According to Ambassador Porter, it might be possible to start discussing further withdrawals in FY 73 and to carry them out in FY 74; General Smith argued for discussions in FY 74 and withdrawals in FY 75. The basis for objections against withdrawals now was the adverse political repercussions on the ROKs. In addition, General Smith felt that the modernization program had to begin to show results before our next moves if the ROKs were to accept those moves at all. Both the Ambassador and General Smith believed that we have something of a moral obligation not to carry out any further force reductions for a period of time sufficient to let things settle down politically in Korea, and to allow the ROKs to adjust to the concept that ground forces in Korea would for the most part be theirs. Interestingly, the Ambassador and the military joined in suggesting that we might ultimately be able to support our commitment in Korea through air and naval forces, with only enough U.S. ground forces on hand to [1 line not declassified].

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ROK Attitudes on U.S. Withdrawals

General Yoon, a senior Blue House adviser, made a special point of emphasizing the adverse political repercussions which would occur in Korea if we did not allow our force levels to stabilize for a reasonable period of time. President Park’s political position now would be very seriously affected if there were any further drawdowns, and there might also be some increase in the North Korean threat. General Yoon said that the ROKs were perfectly willing to assume the burden of their own defense, but that modernization of the ROK forces was a prerequisite and that U.S. reductions in advance of the ROK modernization would tempt the North Koreans to attack at a time when the military balance would appear most favorable. Interestingly, General Yoon appeared to think that a two-year period of maintaining U.S. present force levels would be acceptable to the ROKs. General Yoon also referred to the standard ROK line on U.S. withdrawals: a premature withdrawal would shake the confidence of the Korean people and adversely affect the rapid ROK rate of economic growth.

Withdrawal of ROK Forces from Vietnam

In my conversations with Embassy officers and our military representatives in Seoul, I was able to get the word across that there was no compelling interest in the White House in getting the ROK troops out of Vietnam. According to the Ambassador, President Park felt that for political reasons he had to follow the example of the other TCCs in carrying out withdrawals from Vietnam, but would probably stop with the removal of the ROK marine brigade and leave the remaining two divisions indefinitely in Vietnam. To carry out further withdrawals would mean that the provisions of the Brown Letter on U.S. payment of MAP transfer costs2 would no longer apply, and that the ROK would be obliged to take over all of these costs forthwith. (They are evidently willing to take over the transfer costs gradually, however; see below.) General Smith indicated that there is no pressure from our military in Korea for the return of the ROK troops in Vietnam. They are assuming that this is entirely a ROK matter and not one of ours. As to the ROK troops in Vietnam, Lt. Gen. Knowles said to me during the flight to Seoul that he would recommend getting the two ROK divisions out of the coastal areas of Vietnam and putting them into areas where they would be more useful. I assume from this that the JCS is not pushing for a ROK withdrawal. However, I understand that Secretary Laird wants to cut back on the funds now being provided to support the ROK troops.

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The MAP Transfer Costs

General Smith stated that an agreement had been reached with the ROK military for the Koreans to take over the MAP transfer costs as follows: $20 million in FY 72, $40 million in FY 73, and $50 million in FYs 74, 75, and 76, or a total of $210 million. In return, PL 480 to the value of about $120 million would be provided. Ambassador Porter was unaware of any agreement covering a five-year period, but had heard of the ROK willingness to spend $20 million in FY 72. This matter needs more elaboration. (Note: an agreement on the first year has been concluded.)

The ROK Modernization Package

Our military in Seoul had just finished preparing a suggested ROK modernization package, which was being forwarded to Washington via CINCPAC. The representative from State who accompanied me (Leslie Brown of the Bureau of Political Military Affairs) had evidently received an advance copy of this package and raised questions concerning each of the recommendations for the ROK services. On the Army package, Brown questioned the provision of self-propelled artillery on the grounds that the ROKs would have difficulty maintaining this equipment and because the large O & M costs which would be required. The KMAG Chief, General Pezdirtz, explained that the U.S. Army does not now operate artillery which is non-self-propelled, and thus the ROKs would be receiving what our forces would be leaving behind. In addition, he argued strongly for building up a more mobile ROK posture by developing lateral roads south of the DMZ, leaving only a constabulary-type screening force along the line, and drawing back the main ROK forces to central positions farther back from the line from which mobile forces could move quickly to areas of North Korean attack. In this way it would be possible to reduce the ROK forces by at least 100,000 men, thereby offsetting the O & M costs.

On the Air Force package, General Smith defended strongly the number of F–5E aircraft suggested for the ROK. His argument was that with 77 F–5E’s (a type of aircraft capable of reaching Pyongyang from South Korea), plus 18 ROK F–4s already on hand, plus 54 US F–4s which will now be stationed permanently in South Korea, there will be 149 high-performance aircraft in the South; this would roughly balance off against 108 MIG 21s and 70 IL 28s in the North—the only aircraft in the North Korean inventory capable of striking deep into South Korea. In addition, 245 hardened shelters now exist in the South for both U.S. and ROK aircraft. The equation is that the North Koreans, to strike successfully (with a 75% chance of success) against the South, would need three and a half aircraft per hardened shelter in order to guarantee enough destruction of the US/ROK inventory to preclude retaliation, but the North Koreans simply do not possess this number of aircraft. (All hardened shelters would have to be attacked since the [Page 233]North Koreans would not know which ones were occupied.) Clearly, enough U.S. and ROK aircraft would survive an attack to be able to retaliate against Pyongyang. In these terms, the air strength available in the South would constitute an effective deterrent. General Smith’s presentation impressed me as making a great deal of sense.

On the Navy side, the plan is to provide the ROKs with a substantial number of fast patrol boats to cover the coastlines in the east, west and south. These patrol craft would work together with three destroyers to be provided which would be stationed off each of the three coasts as radar picket vessels, and which could remain at sea for long periods of time. The destroyers would be armed with Sea Sparrow missiles in addition to guns, so that they could defend themselves against air or sea attack if necessary. There was a difference of opinion within 8th Army headquarters over the destroyers—General Smith thought that the Sea Sparrow missile was a bad idea, since the ROK could shoot it at anything they saw on their radar screens, and might raise problems for us in this respect. There is also a question about the cost of the destroyers: $26 million each seemed rather high, and would represent a substantial percentage of the total MAP package. Alternatives might well be considered.

Defensibility of South Korea

At one stage in the briefings given by 8th Army, a briefer said flatly that the ROK armed forces as they presently stand could “defeat” a North Korean attack. This rather surprised General Knowles, who put forward the JCS view that the ROK forces would only be capable of “holding” a North Korean attack for a period long enough for the U.S. to come to the rescue. The 8th Army people were firm on the ability of the ROKs to inflict a defeat.

Operation “Freedom Vault”

The para drop, which was the central point of my visit to South Korea, took place on March 4, a day late. Bad weather forced a postponement. The drop itself, however, came off very well, with 11 C–141s dropping about 700 members of the 82nd Airborne Division—a “brigade minus” as the briefers on the site euphemistically put it. There were also some 300 ROK paratroopers dropped. Quite an array of dignitaries from Seoul came down for the affair, including President Park, members of the ROK National Assembly, and quite a galaxy of generals—there were 21 of ours on hand.

Despite the good show which the paratroopers and U.S. and ROK Air Force put on, the one thousand or so troopers seemed rather lost in the vast expanse of territory before us. I don’t believe that this point was lost on the witnesses, the Koreans in particular. The press coverage of the operation was very good in general, but there was a constant note running through it to the effect that this show was all very well, but [Page 234]could also mean that the U.S. might be planning on further troop withdrawals in favor of flying in airborne or other units from the continental U.S. in case of dire need. The corollary was: would these U.S. troops be sufficient? Throughout, the ROKs appeared to have almost a phobia about U.S. troop withdrawals and being left alone to face the music.

President Park’s Situation and Electoral Prospects

At the reception at the Osan Air Force Base Officer’s Mess following the para drop, Ambassador Porter commented to me that President Park looked very bad. He seemed pale and drained and not in good condition physically. He made no effort to move over to speak to Ambassador Porter, although one of his aides made a point of taking me over to introduce me to the President as an “observer from the White House.” There clearly seemed to be something of a strain in Park’s relation with the Ambassador, although I do not believe this was a serious one.

What was probably uppermost in Park’s mind was the upcoming election campaign. Although it had not formally begun, Kim Tai Chung, the opposition candidate, was already very active and grabbing headlines on issues which were putting Park on the spot. For example, Kim was promising more attention to the economic development of the two Cholla provinces (economically backward part of the ROK) than Park had been giving; Kim had also been speaking in terms of trying to open up some contacts with North Korea, thus preempting this issue from under Park’s nose. It appeared that Kim was a more charismatic type before the Korean people than Park, who was finding himself at a disadvantage in competing. The betting was that Park would still come out on top, but by a much closer margin than had been anticipated. Park had hoped for a bigger margin than last time, when he won by only one million votes, but it seemed unlikely that he was going to get anywhere near that much. This in itself would be a loss of face for Park.

In an attempt to put the heat on Kim, Park’s people were already beginning to resort to various forms of skullduggery. Kim’s nephew had been harassed by the Seoul police on very dubious charges, and there was some effort to go after Kim as well on charges of having violated the electoral law by opening the campaigning ahead of time. Ploys like this didn’t seem likely to gain much public sympathy.

Popular Attitudes on Reunification

According to our military in Seoul, the younger generation of Koreans coming along had been thoroughly brainwashed about the iniquities of North Korea, and wanted no part of reunification (except, of course, on Park Chong Hoa’s terms). This is simply not so, according to a member of Park’s personal staff, Dr. Hahn, who is a graduate of Harvard and Yale law schools. Dr. Hahn said that the theme of reunification is an extremely popular one among the student generation, and [Page 235]that Park is in fact missing the point by not devoting more attention to this issue. According to Dr. Hahn, the younger generation is quite romantic about the theme of “one Korea,” does not recall to any great extent the circumstances of the Korean war, and is willing to have re-unification even under North Korean control if this will bring about a new national unity. The line seems to be that, “yes, we may suffer hardships as a result, but this will only last for three generations or so.” Dr. Hahn said that he was doing what he could to get President Park to say something about reunification. However, as noted, Kim Tae Chung had already taken up a position on this issue which had outflanked Park, who was finding it impossible as a result to adopt a stand until after the elections.

The Role of Japan

There seemed to be the continuing deep-seated expansion of Japan in the mind of the ROKs. Japanese capital was being welcomed up to a point, but the Koreans were reluctant to let the Japanese get in too deeply for fear the Korean economy might end up under Japanese majority control. This was another reason why the continued U.S. presence in Korea was desired—so long as we are there in force, we tend to offset the growth of Japanese influence to a level which becomes unacceptable.

Chirep and Universality

The ROKs were well briefed on the issues which are confronting the GRC and ourselves in connection with Chirep. General Yoon, mentioned above, laid it on very heavy in telling me that universality would cause the ROKs real trouble. Ever since the Korean War, they have clung to the UN umbrella for their actions in the Korean War, and would find it extremely hard to accept the legitimization of North Korea—declared an aggressor by the UN—in the UN General Assembly. In addition, the Park Administration would see in universality an added problem in dealing with North Korea on the question of reunification. I was told in so many words that any U.S. support for the unification principle in advance of the Korean elections would be extremely hard for President Park to take. Not everyone agreed with this hard-and-fast line (Dr. Hahn did not), but the majority opinion, especially that within the military, followed it.

Ambassador Park and the U.S. Embassy in Seoul

Everything that I saw about Ambassador Porter convinced me that he is an extremely good representative. He knew all of the Korean leaders intimately, including their foibles and strong points, and was able to sort out the Korean political scene in a way which made a great deal of sense. He runs a taut ship in his Embassy, and is on the best of terms with the military. He is also an ambassador who keeps firmly in mind [Page 236]his mission of representing the President of the U.S. to the president and people of the country to which he is assigned, rather than the reverse. I have no doubt that this has caused some strain with his relations with Park, but there are times when firmness is called for. As the Ambassador said, “You gotta be able to listen to ‘em cry.” I am sure that the Koreans regard him basically as being sympathetic, and that they respect him for doing his job.

[Omitted here is the report of Holdridge’s visit to Japan.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 542, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. IV, 1 Jan–31 Dec 1971. Secret; Sensitive. Holdridge sent the report to Kissinger under cover of an April 21 memorandum. Kissinger initialed the covering memorandum.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 67.