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New Global Disclosure Release Reveals State Department's Role in Reversing US Withdrawal from South Korea in Mid-Seventies

Executive Seminar in National and International Affairs, 1981-82

Read the report.

Robert G. Rich, "U.S. Ground Force Withdrawal From Korea: A Case Study in National Security Decision Making", Executive Seminar in National and International Affairs, 1981-82.

This case study is taken from an Executive Seminar in National and International Affairs that was released to the Nautilus Institute under the US Freedom of Information Act. Other papers from this series will be released shortly.

The tug-of-war between different hardline policy currents over US policy towards the DPRK is well known in Washington DC. The subject of insider newsletters, it is also displayed openly in the American media as the regime transformationalist current competes head-on with the pragmatic engagement current for presidential and congressional support, most obviously in media leaks and counter-leaks aimed at spinning the latest news.

As the United States prepares for the third round of multilateral talks with North Korea, it is useful to understand how conflict between contending policy currents toward Korea has played out in political and bureaucratic warfare in the past, especially when the fundamental policy direction set by the White House is problematic to the foreign policy establishment.

Robert G. Rich presents an insider's view (from the Korea Desk) on the bureaucratic stratagems used to reverse President Carter policy of withdrawing the Second Infantry Division from Korea in the mid-seventies. Rich's case study shows how an alliance of senior State Department and Pentagon officials managed the process of policy implementation in a way that ultimately reversed presidential policy in the face of broad public support.

The historical analogy with today's policy conflict is not exact-Carter's policy was crystal clear but was reversed during implementation by a closed bureaucratic consensus (note lack of leaks designed to embarrass President Jimmy Carter while the bureaucracy set about changing Carter's mind), whereas President George Bush's Korea policy is unclear, the bureaucracy is at odds over policy towards the DPRK, and the outcome will (or so it seems) be defined by appealing to public domestic and international constituencies in the process of implementation, thereby making up Bush's mind after rather than before the fact.

However, Rich's case study reveals several important features worth noting in relation to current decision-making:

"There were some within the military who strongly wanted to advocate directly a policy of no withdrawals, and sought to have such an option included and defended in the PRM [Presidential Review Memorandum]."(13)

"...some remarkable anomalies had turned up in the scheduled periodic 'bean count' of major North Korean armor by the US intelligence service…. These anomalies led the Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) and the CIA in the Spring of 1978 to undertake a major intelligence review of North Korean military capabilities…. In December, the broad conclusions of what was emerging from the raw data leaked in an article in the Army Times and was subsequently referred to in general terms in the Department of State's report to Congress on Korean at the end of the year."(25)

"In this environment, the new policy review was launched in almost complete secrecy. All of the President's key advisors on this problem felt it important that the government be able to work quietly to bring the fullest and most competent analyses and options to the President before he began to feel politically boxed in on this issue…. If it had been generally known in Washington that a full policy review study was underway, this would have considerably increased the temperature of debate and heightened the direct political pressures on the President. With such pressures already at a barely tolerable level, it was hoped to keep the steam on the issue down at least until the President was in a position to review the best information and advice that could be assembled."(26)

On the effect of the corruption scandals that hindered the development and implementation of policy:

"These investigations and their hearings produced a situation in which, through pure saturation of effort and resources, it was extremely difficult for the Executive Branch to move forward on constructive resolution of the major pending issues. For the Congress it led to almost complete paralysis on anything with a 'Korea' label…. By the Spring of 1978, the Congress probably could not have passed a bill stating that Korea was a peninsula in Northeast Asia."(19)

This report available at here.

Nautilus Invites Your Responses

The Nautilus Institute FOIA Project invites your responses to this essay. Please send responses to: bscott@nautilus.org. Responses will be considered for redistribution to the network only if they include the author's name, affiliation, and explicit consent.