95. Paper Prepared in the Department of State1

Republic of Korea Forces in Viet-Nam (ROKFV)

Almost all observers agree that the ROKFV are not now being used to greatest advantage. Decisions on what to do about this situation, however, will involve a wider span of consequences than is immediately apparent. There is of course the series of effects these decisions will have on the situation in the Republic of Viet-Nam. But, there is also a direct connection between what we do about the ROKFV and what the President may want to do in the future about further withdrawals of US forces from the Republic of Korea, as well as about overall US strategy for Asia. Decisions to follow certain lines of action in our support of the ROKFV could foreclose, at least in part, future options elsewhere which are now available to us.

We know that President Thieu reacted initially to news in April of Korean troop withdrawal planning by saying that he wanted Korean troops to stay in South Viet-Nam through CY 1972. Since then, we have not discussed this subject with him. We know, on the other hand, that the Government of the Republic of Korea (ROKG) began troop withdrawal planning some months ago. However, since the Conference of the Troop-Contributing Countries (TCC) in Washington on April 23, the Koreans have been careful to make no further announcement of their plans beyond saying that the details on units and timing will result from GVN/ROKG consultations. Furthermore, they have told us they do not expect these consultations to begin in earnest until after the South Vietnamese elections in October.

In the context of South Viet-Nam, the ROKFV issue rests on five years of experience in observing ROKFV performance and providing US support for the Koreans in Viet-Nam. Initially very effective in combat, ROK forces have remained generally in the coastal areas to the point where, in some cases, RF and PF forces are now between them and the enemy. They have appeared reluctant to undertake offensive operations and have been useful for guarding only a small sector of the populated area. In fairness, it should be pointed out that this [Page 243]cautious approach may have resulted from a reported ROKG directive to the Korean field commander to minimize casualties.

There is another less direct but equally significant impact of the ROKFV on our interests in Viet-Nam. The Korean presence there has been characterized thus far by a continual and well-organized pattern of irregular practices. Investigations of these practices have revealed that substantial amounts of US funds and property have been diverted from their intended purposes by the ROKFV. Although dollar losses cannot be stated in precise amounts, the lower limits, as defined by investigations, are in themselves significant, according to Ambassador Bunker and General Abrams. The results of US attempts to curtail the irregular practices of the ROKFV to date have been marginal. With the continuing withdrawal of US forces, our capability to improve these results will deteriorate substantially.

Essentially, there are four alternatives open to us:

  • Alternative 1: Move the ROKFV out of Vietnam on a schedule roughly in parallel with our own troop redeployments. For example, this could begin with the Marine brigade after the October elections, to be followed by one division between January and June, 1972, and the remaining division between July, 1972 and January, 1973. Redeployment under this alternative would be sufficiently measured in pace that the void to be filled in MR–2 should not prove unmanageable in light of anticipated improvement in RVNAF capabilities. Ambassador Bunker and General Abrams report that continued South Vietnamese progress probably will allow the GVN to assume current ROKFV responsibilities by late CY 1972 without unacceptable detriment to other ongoing programs. US costs under this option ultimately should be significantly lower than the basic direct costs to the US ($243.9 million) now estimated for the ROKFV for FY 1972. MACV favors this alternative. On June 1, Secretary Laird reaffirmed his support for the MACV’s position.
  • Alternative 2: Keep the ROKFV in Vietnam through CY 1972 and gradually return them to Korea throughout CY 1973. Under this alternative, the ROKFV would continue to receive substantial foreign exchange earnings. The ROKFV would continue physically to occupy areas in MR–1 and MR–2 which would be denied to the enemy. The net effect on the RVNAF, however, would be essentially negative: not only is current ROKFV combat effectiveness low, but the ROKFV does not put Korean combat units under the operational control of the RVNAF; moreover, RF/PF development is stunted while Korean units remain behind the cutting edge of the pacification program as it moves inland.

Delaying ROKFV withdrawal behind our own could affect Vietnamization adversely. As US units depart, there will be a reduction in the support now provided the ROKFV under working arrangements between US and Korean field units. This is likely to result in diminished [Page 244] ROKFV effectiveness even within their present areas of operation. If we shifted US planning to allow for continuing to support the ROKFV without slowing US redeployments, this accommodation would be at the expense of other critically important spaces in a small US force. If we were able to make special arrangements to shift our support responsibilities all or in part to the RVNAF, it is questionable whether the Koreans would be willing to go along on that basis. It is equally questionable as to whether or not the RVNAF in the near term could assume the responsibility, especially in MR–2.

Notwithstanding all of the foregoing negative factors, it is important to stress that the ROKFV could represent a signficant residual force in CY 1972. Bearing in mind the US withdrawals which will have taken place and the continuing enemy threat in MR–2, the two Korean divisions might make a major contribution to the security of the area if faced with large scale NVA infiltration—a contingency we may have to face.

Basic direct costs to the US are estimated at $243.9 million for FY 1972. Ambassadors Bunker and Porter, as well as General Abrams, report that if we ask the Koreans to assume a more active combat role in South Vietnam, we can expect them to demand a high price. Mission Saigon estimates, for example, that the additional costs of moving one of the two divisions now in MR–2 up to join the Marine brigade in MR–1 would be from $80. to $100. million if we are to accede to all requests for additional equipment we believe the ROKG would make. There is considerable doubt that the military worth of the ROKFV justifies even the FY 1972 estimated costs, much less any additional outlays. Ambassador Porter predicts the ROKG asking price could also include requests for (a) suspending further MAP transfer after the first $20. million this year, (b) no further US troop withdrawals from Korea for the next few years, and (c) perhaps a US commitment regarding US financing of a “ROK contribution” to the post-hostilities rehabilitation effort in Vietnam. He and other US officials believe, however, that hard bargaining might result in substantial reduction of these demands because the ROKFV provide the ROKG with foreign exchange earnings they greatly desire. In any event, we must take into account the $2.5 billion limitation on US support of Free World forces in SVN as currently proposed by the Administration.

  • Alternative 3: Move back to Korea a force roughly the same in personnel strength as a division (the Marine brigade plus support troops), beginning after the October elections, and keep about two division equivalents in Vietnam through CY 1972, gradually withdrawing them throughout CY 1973. The arguments applicable to Alternative 2 are generally valid for Alternative 3. US logistic support would be simplified in one respect by the elimination of Marine-type requirements in MR–1.
  • Alternative 4: Establish a ROK Mobile Task Force, (8–12,000 men) redeploying the balance of the ROKFV beginning after elections in October 1971. While this alternative would provide for a Korean combat force in Vietnam probably through CY 1972, it has major disadvantages. The ROKFV have no demonstrated capability, either operationally or logistically, to conduct significant mobile task force operations. The Koreans’ refusal thus far to put their combat units under the operational control of any other national commanders—even those of the US—makes such a concept operationally questionable. Logistic support of a mobile task force is beyond the capability of the ROKFV without outside assistance. Unless the concepts and priorities of our Vietnamization program are significantly changed, this assistance would have to come from the US. A bare minimum of 5,300 US combat support and logistics personnel would have to be earmarked for ROKFV support if the TF concept were implemented. This force level requirement could be accommodated if a decision were made to have at least 100,000 US troops in SVN as of July, 1972. However, if the US presence were significantly smaller but with RVNAF priorities unchanged, maintaining ROKFV logistic support would require heavy civilian contract support at unknown costs. Other support requirements, also, would be difficult for us to meet. The helicopter support we now give the entire ROKFV, for example, would be roughly one-half of the estimated support (6 helicopter companies and about 1,600 US personnel) to implement a mobile task force concept. The US would either have to provide these aircraft and their backup or keep sufficient US aviation units in SVN to fly for the ROKFV. Finally, a mobile task force, even if it were envisioned as operating only to relieve ARVN units for combat (a technique more consistent with Vietnamization than direct employment in combat operations), would operate under more arduous conditions than the ROKFV do now. There would be increased personnel costs for the ROKG, with likely resultant demands for additional benefits and support from the US—all costs, and all accompanied by the ever present threat of immediate withdrawal from SVN.

When we consider the ROKFV issue in the context of Korea, the traces of a larger picture emerge.

  • —Based on the President’s approval of a modernization program for the ROK armed forces costing $1.5 billion over a five-year period, US and ROKG officials began discussions which resulted in formulation of a force structure and an equipment list. This joint USGROKG understanding served as a basis for a detailed Five-Year Modernization Program now under consideration in the Under Secretaries Committee. When this Program as now envisioned is completed, the ROK armed forces will be strong enough to cope with the North Korean threat with only US air, naval and logistic support. It is expected that, by mid-June, this Program will be forwarded to the President for [Page 246]approval. The ROKG, of course, is anxious for the USG to approve the detailed Program so their planning can proceed.
  • —The currently agreed ceiling on ROK forces supported by MAP is 600,000. General Michaelis has encouraged the ROKG to consider reductions in the overall size of the ROK armed forces as the Modernization Program progresses. We doubt that there will be any action taken by the ROKG on this matter until ROK forces in SVN return to Korea.
  • —In October, 1970, the President directed that there would be no further US withdrawals from Korea beyond the 20,000 spaces already approved. The 20,000-space reduction will be completed by June 30, 1971. Defense and State generally agree that US ground forces in Korea could be further reduced by the end of FY 1973. Ambassador Porter and General Michaelis have indicated that it would be desirable to notify the ROKG one year in advance of further US withdrawals from Korea. We have no reason to challenge that view. Accordingly, if such a reduction is to take place in early FY 1973, notification to the ROKG should be made not later than this summer.
  • —Defense and State planning on these and other issues of force requirements and forward deployments in Asia has been in the context of NSSM–69, “US Strategy and Forces in Asia,”2 now being completed and tentatively scheduled for DPRV action late in July.

Clearly, the disposition of the ROKFV has significant implications for US planning on future reductions in the level of US forces in Korea, and for our support of Korean armed forces within Korea—all within the larger context of US strategy and forces for Asia. If we press the Koreans strongly to remain in strength in Vietnam, they will be in a strong position to insist that we maintain current US force levels in Korea.

Therefore, we are convinced that forthcoming NSC discussions on the response to NSSM–69, “US Strategy and Forces for Asia,” while they need not precede decisions made on the ROK forces in Vietnam, must not be predetermined by those decisions, either. Similarly, US decisions in the Vietnam context must not imply a related commitment on our part to maintain unchanged the US presence in Korea.

The first of these decisions is a choice among the four alternatives just described:

Redeploy ROKFV roughly in parallel with US redeployments.
Keep ROKFV in SVN through CY 1972; gradually return them to Korea during CY 1973.
Redeploy ROK Marine Brigade and certain other troops after Oct 1971; keep about two division equivalents in SVN through CY 1972; gradually redeploy them during CY 1973.
Establish ROK Marine Task Force of 8–12,000 men, redeploying remainder of ROKFV to Korea after Oct 1971.

No matter which of the above alternatives is selected, we should take the position that the USG will negotiate with the ROKG and the GVN on the basis that there will be no increase in the costs of US support arrangements for the ROKFV beyond those estimated for FY 1972; further, that we insist that, whatever ROKFV forces remain in Vietnam for whatever period, we get enhanced military returns for our financial contribution; and, lastly, that we stipulate in these negotiations that funding arrangements now in effect will continue only to 1 January 1973, with the question of follow-on US support arrangements thereafter requiring examination at a later date.

Furthermore, at about the same time we negotiate the issues concerning the ROKFV, we should inform the Korean Government that we are planning to reduce our ground force space authorization in Korea further during FY 1973. A recommendation on the size and nature of these reductions will be submitted to the President at a later date.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–224, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 113. Top Secret; Sensitive. No drafting information appears on the paper. The paper and a June 17 covering memorandum from Rogers to the President were attached to a July 6 memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon.
  2. Dated July 14. (Ibid., Box H–159, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 69) Documentation on NSSM 69 and the response to it are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIV, National Security Policy, 1969–1972.