242. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, Washington, July 25, 1973.1 2


July 25, 1973

SUBJECT: Korean Force Modernization

Three years ago, you approved a five-year, $1.5 billion modernization program for the South Korean armed forces. This program has made major progress, although Congressional reductions in our security Assistance funds have slowed the program. To date, we have provided $735 million compared to a plan of approximately $1 billion for the first three years of the program. Nonetheless, marked progress has been made in modernizing and improving the South Korean forces.

Earlier this year you directed a study of the modernization program to evaluate progress and ensure that the goals and priorities set three years ago were still valid. This study has now been completed and some shifts in the program have been recommended.

The study concludes that the ROK has a more than adequate ground force capability (ROK army is about 50 percent larger than the North Korean army). Most of the critical ground force equipment items, artillery, tanks, and communications, have been provided and training and leadership are good. The study found, however, that South Korean air defenses were seriously deficient, and it is recommended that this area receive greater emphasis. The most pressing need is for additional ground-based, air defenses (anti-aircraft guns, radars, and surface-to-air missiles) and F–5E aircraft to replace obsolete F-86s. It may also be necessary to provide additional fighter aircraft in the later 1970s. However, a final decision on this can be deferred for two or three years when we can better judge the nature and pace of North Korea’s air force modernization.

There is general agreement among all of the agencies involved, State, Defense, and CIA, that the above reorientation of the modernization program should be made. The only disagreements were on two fairly minor points. Defense would like to press the Koreans to demobilize [Page 2] three of their existing divisions to save money which would permit a rapid reduction in our assistance program. State would also like to reduce our assistance program by rapidly switching from grant aid to FMS credit. Both agencies would also like to set a terminal date for our security assistance beyond which the ROK would fully fund its defense effort.

Such precipitous cuts, however, pose a serious risk. With political events moving rapidly on the Korean peninsula, sharp reductions in our requests for Korean assistance could be interpreted by either or both the North and the South as calling into question our basic support for South Korea.

Pressures to cut back on the size of the ROK army would also cause strains in our relations and in any event would likely fail. However, if we give the “excess” divisions low priority for modernization funds, we can avoid misallocating our aid money without raising a problem with the Koreans.


If you approve, I shall issue the NSDM at Tab A approving the recommendations of the military study but directing only a gradual reduction in grant assistance and no direct pressure on the Koreans to reduce their forces.

Approve [RN initialed]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–241, NSDMs, NSDM 227, Folder 6. Secret. Sent for action. Nixon initialed the “approve” option.
  2. Kissinger recommended that Nixon approve the issuance of a NSDM on Korean Force modernization.