Lyndon Baines Johnson Library Oral History Collection
Dean Rusk, Secretary of State -- Interview III, Tape 1 -- 19
I think the most concern we had over Indonesia had to do with the confrontation with Malaya. They got into a situation where they were sending guerrillas not only into the offshore parts of Malaysia over in Borneo, but also in Malay proper, and we were concerned because Australia and New Zealand had security commitments to Malaysia and had forces there. Under the Anzus Treaty, if New Zealand or Australian forces were attacked in the treaty area, and Malaysia was in the treaty area, that could very likely bring up the obligation of Anzus and involve the United States and our commitment to Australia and New Zealand. We tried to point that out to Sukarno in an effort to cause him to pause. Fortunately with the change in government in Indonesia, the confrontation came to a close; and that was a major step forward in the general political security situation in Southeast Asia.
Iím not one of those who claims that what we were doing in South Viet Nam made it possible for Indonesia to turn its policy around. There are some Indonesians who have commented that the very fact that the United States was present in Viet Nam and that the Seventh Fleet was there between Indonesia and mainland China gave them courage to move strongly against the Chinese Communists who were heavily involved in Indonesia and were participants in that attempted coup díetat which led to the turnover in government, but I think it would be unfortunate for the United States to claim that what we were doing in Viet Nam was the thing which produced the change in attitude in Indonesia. I think those changes came about for Indonesian reasons and not directly because of what we were doing in Viet Nam.
M: †I was smiling a minute ago not at your answer, but at the fact that you seemed to read my mind on these questions. I was just about to open my mouth to ask the question that you began to answer. Maybe weíve been at this long enough that I can just turn the machine on and let you go on. What about Korea? I gather that this is one of the instances where there was a real personal rapport between President Johnson and President Park that contributed a great deal to the success of our relations in Korea. Is that accurate?
R: Yes. President Johnson had a great respect for President
Park and for good reason. President Park, under great difficulties, had brought Korea along in remarkable progress, economically and socially and politically. He was tough in defense of the interests of South Korea but was reasonable and balanced and was not provocative or militant in his general attitude toward North Korea. He took a responsible attitude toward such questions as Southeast Asia. He seemed to be willing to play a role that reflected Koreaís gratitude for the assistance it had had from the United States back in 1950. His willingness to put two divisions of South Korean troops into Southeast Asia was welcomed by President Johnson. South Korea had no treaty obligation to do so. It was not a member of SEATO, and when he made it clear that he was prepared to take part in that struggle down there, this of course touched President Johnson very deeply. And the Koreans turned out to be very good fighters in South Viet Nam, as they turned out to be by the end of the Korean War in their own country. But there was a personal rapport between President Johnson and President Park.
M: When did the renewed tensions along the armistice line in Korea become serious again?
R: I think that we began to be freshly concerned in 1967 when the rate of infiltration seemed to increase significantly. And when the North Korean leaders began making militant speeches about unifying the country by 1970 and making very bellicose statements about their own policy and attitude, we became very much concerned because we had fifty thousand American troops in Korea.
We had a very flat and direct security treaty with Korea. A renewal of the Korean War would be something that we would look upon with the greatest dismay because we had enough of a struggle going on in Southeast Asia, We didnít want a second struggle up in Korea. It was rather courageous on the part of President Park to put two divisions of his own troops into South Viet Nam at a time when he was having infiltration problems with the North Koreans, and when the North Koreans were talking in a very belligerent mood, but he went ahead and did it. But throughout Ď67 and Ď68 we were very much concerned about North Korea.
M: Was the Pueblo incident a calculated part of this, do you think, or was that just an aberration that was unrelated to their troubles with South Korea?
R: I will never fully understand just why the North Koreans seized the Pueblo. Itís one of those situations where a small belligerent country can act with a lack of responsibility simply because other countries donít want war. The Pueblo was in international waters. It was there to do some listening on communications in North Korea. We had an interest in picking up as much intelligence as could out of North Korea because of the belligerency of North Korea towards South Korea and the increase of infiltration into South Korea, but we were relying upon the high seas, the freedom of the seasó
M: There was never a doubt about its location? R: Oh, no, never a doubt about its location. As a matter of fact, in the communications which the North Koreans themselves flashed back from the scene, they even put the position further out on the high seas than we did so they knew they were on the high seas. And when I say high seas, I mean beyond their own twelve-mile limit. M: Yes, their definition of high seas.
R: And not just beyond our three-mile limit. But that was a very unhappy episode from beginning to end. M: Thatís Presidential from the beginning, I expect. What was Mr. Johnsonís reaction to that?
R: He was, of course, furious with the North Koreans, and like me [he] failed to understand just why they went out of their way to be so disagreeable about it. Nevertheless President Johnson did not want a war with North Korea. He made a prompt decision to try to get the ship and its men back by diplomatic means rather than by military means. We were faced with the fact that if you tried to use military force to rescue the men you might pick up dead bodies, but you wouldnít pick up live men and that you might well start a war at a time when we didnít want a war between North and South Korea involving American forces. So we decided to swallow hard and try to get these men back by diplomatic means, and that took a great deal of doing. We had meeting after meeting that made no progress; and we finally released the men by a device which I described at the time as being without precedent in international affairs. We signed a statement which the North Koreans insisted we sign, but at the very time we signed it we made a statement saying that we denounced the signature and the statement itself was false.
M: They knew you were going to make this statement? R: They knew in advance that we were going to make that statement. This had been worked out in advance. Itís as though a kidnapper kidnaps your child and asks for fifty thousand dollars ransom. You give him a check for fifty thousand dollars and you tell him at the time that youíve stopped payment on the check, and then he delivers your child to you. I think probably what happened was that the North Koreans came to the conclusion that they had milked the Pueblo affair for all that was in it, and that there was no particular point in holding on to these men any further. M: The Russians didnít play any constructive role--? R: I think itís possible that the Russians played a mediating role in that situation. We have no way of knowing. We asked the Russians on several occasions to use their influence with North Korea to free these men and the ship, but we never knew just what they did by way of follow-up on it.
M: Did we have to act to restrain the South Koreans in that atmosphere [when] under renewed infiltration, the attack on the Blue House, and the seizure of the Pueblo all sort of came together?
R: The South Koreans were interested in what might be called close-in retaliation, but I never got the impression that the South Koreans wanted to go into full-scale war. So to the extent that it was necessary to restrain them, it wasnít a very difficult job because they were not itching for war, either. They did get very incensed about the Blue House raid and about other types of infiltration that were coming across. There were times when they would carry out retaliation against North Korea by counterraids without our permission, and so we had a little job at times of cooling them down a bit and restraining them from these retaliations which they were inclined to pull off.
M: Mr. Johnson talked about the concept of regionalism in Asia. Was there any basis in Asia for the development of that regionalism, or was that something that we pretty well had to impose ourselves upon them?
R: No, one of the very encouraging developments in Asia during
this period of the South Vietnamese conflict was that the
nations in Asia during this period of the South Vietnamese
conflict was that the nations in Asia themselves began to