MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION
- President Park Chung Hee
- Minister of Defense Suh Jyong-chul
- Ro Jae-hyun, ROK Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff
- Kim Chong-yam, Secretary General
- Choi Kwan-soo Senior Protocol Secretary
- Secretary of Defense James R Schlesinger
- Ambassador Richard L. Sneider
- General Richard G. Stilwell
- Admiral Noel A.M. Gayler, CINCPAC
- General George S. Brown, Chairman, JCS
- Major General John A. Wickham, Military Assistant to SecDef
TINE & PLACE: President Park’s Office, August 27, 1975
NORTH KOREAN THREAT
After an exchange of initial greetings, President Park made a lengthy presentation focusing on his current assessment of the North Korean threat and the ROKG Force Improvements Requirement Plane.
After the collapse of Vietnam, there was a high degree of tension in Korea with the South Korean people anxious and the North Koreans encouraged to launch an attack against the South. The situation in Korea, however, has now stabilized due to two major factors: (1) U.S. statements on reaffirming U.S. commitments and issuing public warnings to North Korea; and (2) the unity and determination demonstrated in the Republic of Korea. North Korea is now frustrated and no longer encouraged to launch an attack. It has changed its tactics and is pressing a “peace offensive.”
Secretary Schlesinger agreed that the North Korean moves were tactical and suggested that the counter-strategy is to keep North Korea engaged in a “peace offensive.”
President Park stressed that war on the Korean peninsula will be due to miscalculation on the part of Kim Il-sung. If Kim thinks that the ROK can not cope with an attack, then he will attack even though North Korea will not succeed militarily. There is always a danger that Kim might miscalculate and therefore the outbreak of war depends on Kim’s assessment of the situation in the South. To prevent miscalculation, President Park suggested that we must make our intent and determination to resist aggression known and back these words by deeds, specifically by building up ROK military capabilities. In this connection, Secretary Schlesinger’s visit is a very significant demonstration of U.S. resolve to meet its commitment and a clear warning to North Korea. The President said that he had been briefed on the Secretary’s talks with Minister Suh and was pleased by the unity and friendship demonstrated therein and the common resolve to defend against a North Korean attack.[Page 2]
ROK FORCE IMPROVEMENT
President Park went on to describe his plans for strengthening the ROK armed forces, thanking Secretary Schlesinger for his understanding attitude. He said that in the past the ROK had been too dependant on the United States and relied too much on the United States. It is now determined to defend itself and lessen the U.S. burden. It has, therefore, adapted a plan for self-reliant defense “YOLKUK.” This plan contemplates upgrading the combat capabilities of the ROK so that it can defend itself alone against a North Korean attack which does not have substantial help from the USSR or PRC. President Park hopes to accomplish this goal in five years. A large sum will be needed to fund the plan and as much as possible of these funds will come from ROK resources, specifically from the new defense tax levied over the next five years. Under the plan, naval and air force capabilities, now inferior to the North, will be upgraded and the mobility and fire power of the ground forces will likewise be improved. In addition, the homeland reserve will be armed with new equipment.
President Park said that the new plan needs American understanding, support, and cooperation. He also urged expediting completion of the modernization plan which is now behind schedule. Finally, he requested U.S. assistance in building up Korea’s defense industry.
President Park asked that the level of U.S. forces be maintained until the five year plan is accomplished. He had met and explained his plan to a number of members of the U.S. Congress. They asked whether after five years the United States would be able to withdraw. President Park said that we must keep in mind that, even though the South would be able to deal alone with the North, North Korea is allied to the USSR and the PRC which need only cross a river to support North Korea. The role of the United States is to prevent war and to maintain the delicate balance of power in Northeast Asia. Therefore, even after the five year plan is completed a substantial level of U.S. forces will be needed in South Korea. President Park said that most Congressmen agreed with his views.
COMMENTS BY SECRETARY SCHLESINGER
The Secretary said that he concurred with the basic structure of President Park’s planning, but had several comments. With respect to the level of U.S. forces, he foresees no basic changes over the next five years. The overall strength of the U.S. forces will not be affected, but there will be adjustments in detail to enhance the common defense structure of the United States in Korea. Furthermore, for the foreseeable future, we will have to maintain the overall complementarity of the U.S.-ROK forces. The principal deficiencies in the ROK forces are close air support, armor, and logistics, and these will have to be shored-up.
The Secretary said that he anticipated South Korea will make progress with regard to its capability for dealing with the North, but he does not believe it is necessary for the South to hold the ring against the USSR and [Page 3]the PRC should they be inclined to support North Korea. That role will be played by the U.S. Therefore, it is an illusion to view South Korea as entirely dependant and self-reliant. The U.S. must maintain forces in Northeast Asia and in the Western Pacific to deal with these super powers. In order to enhance the U.S. image in this respect, we plan in the immediate future to rotate into South Korea assets which will be most visible against the Chinese and Soviet threat, such as F-111’s.
Secretary Schlesinger urged even close joint defense planning for both military and political reasons. He explained that one problem in the U.S. is the view that South Korea is not doing enough in its own defense. The new Korean force improvement plan helps very much in this respect. Secretary Schlesinger then urged that the improvement in the ROK force structure not be implemented in such a way as to damage Korea’s international economic position, given its current balance of payments problem. He suggested that the ROK assure that off-shore acquisition of weapons be carefully considered on a cost effective basis so as to limit its impact on the balance of payments deficit. He also suggested that, given Korea’s need to maintain its credit worthiness with commercial banks, it avoid publicly making war appear likely, which could have a very bad effect on the banks. He urges that Korea build its economy and defense for the long-term and not take short-term actions impairing its economic future.
Secretary Schlesinger said that the U.S. would be willing to assist in the development of Korea’s defense industry and to review the most effective areas for assistance. He suggested logistics, armor, and artillery as the areas with the most serious deficiencies.
The Secretary then discussed Korea’s position in relation to international politics. In the wake of the Vietnam debacle, there had been understandable concerns. He wished, however, to stress that U.S. adversaries should gain no comfort from Vietnam. The American public had been bewildered by the Vietnam War. There will be no more Vietnams. This means that we will not permit ourselves to be engaged in another unsuccessful, long war. Instead, we will deal with conflict with adequate determination and force. A North Korea miscalculation would be tragic for the North.
Korea is an important element in the global balance of power. Soviet tactical ploys at the present time do not portend any change in the fundamental Soviet objective to expand its power and influence. The PRC is apprehensive. Detente is misunderstood. For detente to be successful, we need to maintain the balance of power without any expansion of Soviet influence. What happens in Korea affects the balance of power elsewhere and vice versa. Europe is affected by the expansion of Soviet power in Korea while flabbiness in Europe has its effect on Korea.
President Park expressed his strong appreciation for the Secretary’s remarks, particularly the comments on balance of payments problems, defense industry development, and the relationship of Korea to the security of the rest of the world. He recognized that, while Korea improves its defense capabilities, it must at the same time develop its economy.
- Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, Box 9, Korea (11). Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The conversation took place in President Park’s Office. Howard Graves, Military Assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, sent this memcon to Scowcroft on September 9.↩
- Park and Schlesinger discussed the North Korean threat, ROK force improvement, and the military situation on the Korean Peninsula.↩