280. Memorandum From Thomas J. Barnes of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft), Washington, May 28, 1976.1 2


May 28, 1976

SUBJECT: North Koreans Charge ROK Provocations and Threaten Possible Retaliation

North Korea accused South Korea May 25 of firing a .57 millimeter recoilless rifle at a North Korean guard post in the Demilitarized Zone. The North Koreans called the alleged act “a grave military provocation.” The official Korean Central News Agency accused South Korea of trying to increase tension in Korea and start another war. The North Korean statement warned that if the U.S. and South Korea “persisted in such provocations the sentries of the Korean people’s army will take a strong retaliatory measure and make the provocateurs pay properly for this.”

Another incident almost occurred on May 27 when two North Korean motor gunboats came within three nautical miles of one of the UN Controlled Northwest Islands. During this apparently rare approach, the ROK commander on the island requested permission to fire a warning shot. The UNC naval forces commander, a U.S. Navy flag officer, denied the request.


Pyongyang’s charge against South Korea follows strong North Korean protests about a U.S. military reconnaissance flight over a North Korean merchant ship on May 6. Pyongyang charged that the U.S. had engaged in a reckless maneuver “to invent a pretext for provoking a new war in Korea” and that the incident constituted a “dangerous military adventure which may lead to an unforeseeable consequence.”

We checked with the North Korean watcher in INR at State. He agreed that current North Korean language regarding such incidents appeared to be a few degrees more threatening than normal. Specifically, the [Page 2] warning that the North Korean Army would take “a strong retaliatory measure” in the event of future provocations seemed to be a new formulation. We asked the analyst to prepare a brief paper on North Korean treatment of these latest incidents.

If North Korea wished to excite tension in the Korean Peninsula by striking out in some limited action against U.S.-ROK forces — such as shooting down a U.S. patrol plane reconnoitering a North Korean merchantman — it would presumably begin to set the stage by escalating charges of U.S.-ROK provocations.

After we discussed the subject with the EA Bureau, the State Department sent a written request that the NSC direct the Department of Defense to devise procedures that would assure adequate control and early information in the event of untoward incidents resulting from U.S. surveillance of North Korean vessels. We also believe DOD should caution U.S. commanders to be on the alert to North Korean attacks during such reconnaissance. (This State recommendation is part of a recent State memorandum recommending the NSC direct DOD to assure particular care and discretion in the surveillance of PRC vessels. Dick Solomon is waiting for an opportunity to talk to you about how you wish to pursue the recommendations concerning our surveillance of North Korean as well as Chinese shipping.)

Clint Granger concurs

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, Box 10, Korea (16). Confidential. Sent for information. Concurred in by Granger. According to the correspondence profile, Scowcroft saw this document on June 1. (Ibid.) North Korean news accounts of enemy provocations are ibid.
  2. Barnes informed Scowcroft of North Korean threats and of accusations of South Korean provocations.