97. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Republic of Korea (ROK) Forces in South Vietnam

I am concerned about the potential ramifications of National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM) 113, dated June 23, 1971.2 The NSDM, as you may recall, calls for the United States to negotiate the continued presence through CY 1972 of the ROK divisions in South Vietnam. In my judgment, such actions represent a significant risk of decreasing the prospect for withstanding the internal and external [Page 249]threats to Republic of Vietnam (RVN) security in 1972. Based especially on General Abrams’judgments, I believe more effective military use can be made of the resources which would otherwise be diverted to the ROK units.

I, and the entire command chain within the Department of Defense, share your concerns about the RVN security outlook in the foreseeable future, i.e., through at least CY 1972. We are taking every possible step to insure that no major security problems develop. With declining US resources available for application in RVN, we must insure, I believe, that all resources are used to their best advantage. Optimum effectiveness of RVNAF and third nation forces is paramount.

General Abrams reported to me last January in blunt and emphatic terms that the ROKs “were not pulling their weight.” Ambassador Bunker concurred in that view. Both Abrams and Bunker have consistently repeated that view since last January—and, if anything, have reinforced their conviction. The benefits derived from the ROKs’ presence in RVN may be positive, but are almost assuredly small. On the dollar side, the ROK contingent of nearly 48,000 men is currently costing between $250–$300 million. That now represents a relative claim on resources of substantial proportions. The incremental contribution of the ROKs with those resources is almost certainly well below the incremental contribution which could be made with such resources if the funds—or any significant portion of the funds—were devoted to other forces, especially the RVNAF.

Occasionally, the options involving retaining or redeploying at least some of the ROK forces have been characterized in terms of “something being better than nothing.” That characterization is, I believe, misleading. The options are not something or nothing. The options in using our declining resources and search for optimum effectiveness are “a small something” versus “a bigger something.” The ROKs currently and prospectively represent a small something. The same resources diverted to the RVNAF would in Abrams’ judgment represent a bigger something. I support the MACV viewpoint.

We might, of course, try to negotiate improved ROK performance. We have been given clear signals by the ROKs that any increased ROK effectiveness will carry with it an even higher price tag than that now being paid. Such an option appears to me to have (a) little chance of success and (b) an impact in consuming MACV’s increasing valuable time.

On 23 June, the same date as the NSDM, we received informal word from Saigon, as you know, that the Koreans planned to start redeploying their troops in December 1971. They would ostensibly withdraw about 17,000 men by July 1972. Four points, inter alia, are noteworthy:

  • • The proposed ROK redeployment schedule is clearly not tied to that of the US from RVN, nor, in any apparent way, to that of the US from Korea.
  • • During the early part of 1972, when a major DRV push may be expected in RVN, the ROKs would still have the equivalent of 1½–2 divisions in RVN. Even by 1 July 1972, the remaining ROK force would be on the order of 30,000 men—more than sixty percent of its current force level.
  • • The proposed ROK redeployment should free some resources which could be diverted to the RVNAF.
  • • The negotiations for the ROK redeployment are presumably going to be carried out between the ROKs and the GVN, a situation which for apparent reasons, is preferable to that of having the US intervene as middle-man.

In my judgment, given the circumstances outlined above, it would be best now to take the following steps:

  • • Allow the ROKs and the GVN to continue negotiations for initiating ROK redeployments in December 1971.
  • • Indicate to the ROKs and the GVN our concurrence in the size and rate of the proposed initial ROK redeployment schedule.
  • • Inform both the ROKs and the GVN that we would wish to reassess further ROK redeployments after we see how the military situation develops in early-to-mid 1972.
  • • Solicit specific suggestions from MACV on how the resources freed as a result of the proposed ROK redeployment will be used to increase the overall security situation in RVN.

I recommend the steps outlined be initiated immediately.

Mel Laird
  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.
  2. Document 96.