Washington, May 29, 1962.
This paper is in response to a request from Governor Harriman for a review of the situation with examination of various US policy alternatives and their probable consequences.
I. The Problem
Present GRC policy consists of closely interrelated political and military objectives focusing on recovery of the Chinese mainland. The political goals are continued assurance of US support for the GRC as it is now constituted and guarantees that the US will not drift toward a “two-China” policy. Militarily the GRC seeks increased US material support and eventual US involvement in an attempt to regain control of China.
Chiang Kai-shek believes that an uprising on the mainland is possible and that the GRC can gain control of such a revolt, perhaps initiating it through small-scale military action. However the GRC recognizes that even if a spontaneous uprising should occur, re-gaining control of the mainland would be impossible without significant increases in the GRC forces and eventual US participation, at least at the logistical level. A summary of GRC efforts to win increased US support for operations against the mainland is included in an appendix attached herewith.11. Not printed, but see the Supplement.
US estimates challenge the basis of GRC planning on three counts: (1) there is almost no chance that a mainland uprising would extend beyond a single province, (2) there is even less likelihood that such an uprising would follow GRC leadership, and (3) should a GRC-sponsored uprising actually threaten the Chinese Communist regime, Russian intervention would almost certainly be forthcoming. Thus GRC efforts face either quick defeat or short-lived success. The accompanying risks for US policy range from political embarrassment to a war of escalation.
II. Chiang's Position
President Chiang probably sees that the US has no present intention of supporting a GRC attack. Under the circumstances, he can attempt independent action or he can hope for a change in the situation which would cause the US to re-examine its policy. This change could come from increased tensions in Southeast Asia or from growing unrest in Communist China. Having waited thirteen years, he probably feels that unilateral action is not yet necessary. Waiting, however, requires that he keep the US committed to support of the GRC, and if possible, to strengthening its forces. At the same time, he must avoid confronting the US with a basic decision wherein a later US re-examination would be foreclosed through refusal of any further support for preparations against the mainland.
As evidence of this delaying tactic, Chiang apparently decided in mid-April to put off all offensive action until after September since no US support was forthcoming this spring and the environment might prove more auspicious in the fall. The Laotian crisis undoubtedly strengthened this hope. Although possibly disappointed that US troops did not enter Laos, GRC leaders probably see the deployment of US forces in Thailand as indicating a stronger anti-communist stand than was originally anticipated in Taipei. While this may reduce GRC suspicions of US actions as foreshadowing the abandonment of Chiang, it increases the likelihood that the GRC will exploit this more determined US posture by stepping up its requests for material support.
The recent flood of refugees into Hong Kong provided further encouragement for GRC hopes that a sudden breakdown of Chinese Communist controls will unleash ever widening disturbances. Even though the exodus has ended, at least for the moment, it is probably regarded in Taipei as proof of the unrest to be exploited in the very target-areas selected for proposed GRC airdrops.
III. US Policy Alternatives
The US may respond to GRC demands for support in its mainland aspirations in any of four general ways: acquiescence, outright refusal, temporizing, and polite postponement.
Acquiescence to GRC demands would relieve immediate US-GRC pressures. The GRC would feel encouraged to exploit mainland unrest as it saw fit, regardless of subsequent US warnings. Defeat would end Chiang's hopes forever, removing this thorn in US-GRC relations. Success, if prolonged beyond a few days, would reveal the weakness of Communist China. If Soviet intervention proved necessary, Peiping's claims to Asian leadership would be thoroughly discredited. Against these favorable considerations must be weighed the certainty of US political involvement and the consequent embarrassment of relations with Asian and European allies. Should UN censure strike at the GRC, US interests would be affected. This combination of military and political setbacks might compel Chiang to resign, with no certainty of his successor's ability to rule Taiwan as the Republic of China. Should GRC operations against the mainland be prolonged, the civil war might spread or escalate. Hong Kong and Laos would be vulnerable to Chinese Communist counter-pressures. Soviet intervention might confront the US with abandonment of its ally or thermonuclear war.
Outright rejection would eliminate the ambiguity in US-GRC relations. Direct or indirect revelation of this move would lessen the US embarrassment should Chiang go it alone. Indications of a GRC intent to violate the mutual defense treaty obligations requiring joint approval of offensive military operations could be answered with graduated sanctions through the withholding of US economic and military aid. This open confrontation of US-GRC interests, however, might strain relations to the breaking point. Chiang might strike against the mainland with whatever force he could muster in hope of winning a toehold. This would buy time for appealing directly to his countrymen and for building political pressure within the US to force a reversal of policy. Should he not go it alone, Chiang might submit a token resignation in symbolic protest against the US position, hoping that the domestic US response would force a change of policy. Throughout this political crisis in US-GRC relations, Peiping would intensify its efforts to collapse GRC morale, alternating between renewed threats of force and offers of amnesty for those who rejoined the motherland.
Temporizing would delay an explicit US response concerning our ultimate intentions while offering material and political tokens of our sympathetic support for Chiang's goals. We would insist that two prerequisites for offensive operations were (1) clear indication of sufficient support on the mainland to guarantee GRC success and (2) demonstration of GRC realism in planning both the attack and the subsequent pacification. This would ease US-GRC tensions somewhat, depending upon the levels of material assistance accompanying our temporizing. We would have an opportunity to influence GRC planning and would probably improve our information on GRC preparations for attack. So long as no significant revolt occurred on the mainland, only minor crises would arise as each GRC request won partial and delayed US agreement. Should a revolt begin, US involvement would have become almost inextricable even if unilateral GRC action in violation of treaty obligations provided legal justification for disengagement. In the eyes of many in the GRC, Asia, and the US itself, our public identification of American policy and interest with Chiang, buttressed by our material support for his forces, would require further support now that the opportunity for regaining China lay at hand. Regardless of the risks identified with the acquiescence alternative above, personal and institutional pressures might well override previous intentions. Should we disavow the GRC action, many observers would conclude that the US nerve had weakened at the last moment. Other allies might lose confidence in the US resolve to make genuine sacrifices for their interests. The possibility of a GRC fait accompli on the basis of these overall considerations cannot be wholly discounted.
Polite postponement permits the US to insist that overriding considerations connected with the unstable Southeast Asian situation compel complete suspension of all steps in preparation against the mainland, pending resolution of the Laotian crisis. Not only would GRC exacerbation of mainland unrest jeopardize our joint interests through possibly provoking Peiping to countermoves in Laos, but any indications of eventual action against the mainland might persuade Peiping to raise the stakes in Southeast Asia as a counter against subsequent GRC action. Thus even token material support would be denied on the basis of its possible effect on Chinese Communist authorities. The GRC would insist that its forces could help beleaguered Southeast Asian states by keeping Chinese Communist planners insecure and that in case of a deepening crisis in Laos, diversionary attacks in support of local uprisings could only strengthen Free Asia's security. Since the US position did not foreclose eventual assistance for mainland operations, GRC protests might not strike too acrimonious a note. Requests for equipment would reoccur, and should a coalition government eventuate in Laos, GRC pressures would mount. Uncertainty as to the eventual US position, however, might caution against extreme demands with tolerable levels of tension characterizing US-GRC relations.
* Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Return to the Mainland, 1/62-5/62. Secret; Noforn. Filed with a covering memorandum of the same date from Brubeck to Bundy stating that it might be of interest and use to those attending the meeting on GRC matters that afternoon and an unsigned note to Bundy dated May 31 which stated, “FYI. Secretary had on his copy ‘President should see.’”
1 Not printed, but see the Supplement.