235. Summary and Options From a Study Prepared by the Interdepartmental Group for East Asia and the Pacific, Washington, undated.1 2


After two decades of rigid military confrontation there is a possibility of a genuine detente on the Korean peninsula. Unification remains an issue for the distant future but the present trend — and at this stage it is a trend rather than a certain direction — is toward a growing accommodation between the two parts of Korea.

United States participation in the Korean War and subsequent support for the Republic of Korea have created a special United States-Republic of Korea relationship, but our basic interests in the Korean peninsula are strategic: we do not want the peninsula to become the cause of conflict among the United States, Japan, the Soviet Union, or the People’s Republic of China; and we do not want the peninsula controlled by a government hostile to the United States and Japan.

Given the state of U.S. relations with the USSR and PRC in the 1959s and 1960s, the North-South military confrontation was probably inevitable and could be accepted as long as it did not lead to open warfare. Today, even confrontation short of war can inhibit development of our relations with Peking and Moscow, while accommodation [Page 2] between the two parts of Korea, in the right circumstances, could protect U.S. interests. There may be dangers if the United States moves too quickly to encourage an accommodation, but not to move at all risks losing an opportunity to normalize great power interaction in the former area of conflict. In any event, the momentum generated by the two Koreas themselves has passed the point where it could be easily stopped.

There are minimum criteria for the kind of Korean settlement — whether full or partial — which would be acceptable to us;

  • — a stable relationship between North and South Korea at reduced levels of tension;
  • — a stable framework for peaceful competition among the major powers;
  • — political stability and opportunity for economic growth in the ROK;
  • — adequate military security for the ROK including U.S. military access;
  • — protection for U.S. financial and commercial interests in the ROK;
  • — a role for North Korea consistent with stability in the area.

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The Options

There are four general ways of orienting U.S. policy:

Let the ROK take the lead, with the U.S. taking only initiatives acceptable to and agreed by the ROK. This is a policy which assumes accommodation is primarily a North-South matter. It would make difficult any change in the U.S. approach to such matters as our orientation in the UN, military deployments, relations with the North. If events in Korea threatened to impede detente in the area, the U.S. would consider more active influence with the ROK and action with the major powers.
Retarding the pace, a policy which we would follow if we believed North Korea was not seriously interested in detente, or if the USSR or PRC were not prepared to continue to cooperate over the long term in normalizing relations in the area.
Encourage accommodation, with the U.S. playing an active role concerted with but separate from ROK actions. The degree of United States activity would vary with specific circumstances.
Major power negotiations, based on the assumption that an active great power role was essential to development of an accommodation between the two Korea. We would therefore be prepared to judge initiatives and responses in [Page 4] light of their effect on great power relationships as well as on the ROK.

Involved in each of these methods of approach are a series of specific policy choices. Decisions on these specific sub-options should be coordinated with our choice among the four broad avenues of approach.

Military Force Levels

Maintain current United States force levels OR gradually reduce United States forces as accommodation proceeds.

— Regardless of the Option chosen, we would not wish to reduce forces at this point in time. If we elect to let the ROK take the lead and want to reassure them, we would maintain current force levels for an indefinite period. If we wished to preserve fully the option of retarding the pace, we might maintain current force levels for the leverage they provide with the ROK, using the threat of reduction to induce concessions or movement. If we wished to encourage or accelerate accommodation, we could decide unilaterally on reduction if we thought this step would force the pace, or use the force levels as a bargaining chip.

Security Assistance to the ROK

Following completion of the modernization program, decide on further security assistance on the basis of [Page 5] progress toward accommodation and ROK capabilities to assume responsibility for its own defense OR decide on further security assistance on the basis of our assessment of the threat and ROK capabilities.

Arms Control Measures

There are a series of steps which can be taken individually or in various combinations if in the evolution of events it is determined that arms limitation proposals could promote North-South accommodation. These could include confidence-building measures initiated by the two Korean parties, which would decrease tension but not address the military balance; a range of bilateral arms control measures and agreement among the major powers on such issues as limitation on military assistance, a nuclear free zone or security guarantees.

United Nations Command

Continue the United Nations Command in its present form; OR dissolve it completely; OR make piecemeal changes in its authority and functioning.

— Though useful to us, the UNC is not an essential element in our military posture in the ROK. If we wished to force the pace of accommodation we could use it as a bargaining counter in discussion of great power guarantees, or we [Page 6] could attempt to persuade the ROK to use it in discussions with the North (which would be consistent with letting the ROK take the lead). We could also use it to retard the pace by refusing to allow its dissolution. Piecemeal changes in the UNC organization or responsibilities and functions might be adopted as part of a step by step strategy or as part of a determination that this would assist us in the UN.


Try to preserve UNCURK in its present form; OR modify its present mandate and composition; OR suspend its operations without formal termination; OR terminate it altogether.

UNCURK is a wasting asset. Even modification of its present mandate or composition is unlikely to be acceptable to a majority in the General Assembly. But the ROK fears that ending UNCURK might be the beginning of an unraveling process which would end with the loss of the ROK’s special UN position. Thus, if we let the ROK set the pace on this particular issue, we may well find ourselves facing a UN defeat. Therefore, we may wish ourselves to decide to remove UNCURK from Korea.

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UN Debate

Seek postponement OR if this is not feasible or desirable: debate the Korean Item, recognizing that changes in the long standing U.S. positions on North Korea attendance at the debate and UNCURK may be necessary to avoid defeat in the General Assembly.

— Postponement would be a largely neutral factor insofar as it left the UN role unchallenged and unchanged. Our decision to support postponement could be used with the ROKG to accelerate North-South talks, but insofar as it freezes the UN status quo it would be inconsistent with accelerated detente among all powers in the area.

— The invitation to North Korea to participate in a debate is a key issue. Support for the old unconditional resolution would be consistent only with a policy of retarding the pace and would probably fail. A modified or unconditional invitation would be consistent with the other options.

Relations with North Korea

We can continue the present policy of refusing all official contact with the North in support of the ROK position OR move on a step by step basis toward improvement of [Page 8] bilateral relations; OR offer favorable actions to the North in return for North Korean concessions on issues important to us.

— As a result of the steps in the accommodation process already taken, Pyongyang has acquired somewhat more international acceptance. This process almost inevitably will increase with further progress toward detente. Although favorable actions toward the North by the U.S. could be used to reward Pyongyang and thus encourage conduct we find acceptable, Seoul probably would prefer to reserve U.S.-North Korean contact as a bargaining counter for much later stages in the accommodation process. The optional choice is whether we would do so with or without ROK agreement.

Great Power Relations

The optional choice is how far we believe we should leave the accommodation process to the two Koreas as opposed to actively engaging the great powers. We may want to intervene actively only in exceptional cases (letting the ROK take the lead or retarding the pace); we may believe we must be actively involved with the ROK on a continuous basis (encouraging accommodation) or we may wish to act in concert with the other major powers to guide or compel accommodation (major power negotiations).

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–191, NSSM 155 (sic) [1 of 2]. Secret. NSSM 154 is scheduled to be published in see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XIX, Part I, Korea, 1969–1972. Richard Sneider, Acting Chairman of the Interdepartmental Group that prepared the NSSM 154 paper, sent it to Kissinger under a covering letter dated April 3. (Ibid.) On May 4, Davis forwarded the study to the Deputy Secretaries of the Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury, to the Acting Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, to the Director of Central Intelligence, and to the Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also received a copy. (Ibid.)
  2. The Interdepartmental Group for East Asia and the Pacific prepared a paper on U.S. policy toward the Korean Peninsula in response to NSSM 154.