Policy Planning Staff Files, Lot 54–D195
Memorandum by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Kennan)81
United States Policy Toward Formosa and the Pescadores
- It now seems that there is little likelihood that the policy set forth in NSC 37/1,82 37/283 and 37/584 will attain our major objective with respect to Formosa and the Pescadores—the denial of the islands to the Communists through their separation from Chinese mainland control. The situation in Formosa and the Pescadores is degenerating [Page 357] along lines which probably, though perhaps not for two or three years or perhaps in a matter of months, will culminate in Chinese Communist domination of the islands. A review of our policy is therefore in order.
- It would now seem clear that the only reasonably sure chance of denying Formosa and the Pescadores to the Communists and insulating the islands from mainland authority would lie in the removal of the present Nationalist administrators from the islands and in the establishment of a provisional international or U.S. regime which would invoke the principle of self-determination for the islanders and would eventually, prior to a Japanese peace settlement, conduct a plebiscite to determine the ultimate disposition of Formosa and the Pescadores. Formosan separatism is the only concept which has sufficient grass-roots appeal to resist communism.
- There are two ways in which this change in regime could
conceivably be brought about.
- One would be to induce other Far Eastern powers to take the lead in initiating international action to achieve the above purpose. (For purposes of illustration, I attach a paper outlining such a course of action, drafted on the assumption that this was the course we would wish to pursue.)
- The other would be to announce a temporary unilateral re-assertion of authority over the islands on the grounds that subsequent events had invalidated all the assumptions underlying the Cairo Declaration and that U.S. intervention was required by the interests of stability in the Pacific area as well as by the interests of the inhabitants of the islands.
- Either of these courses would necessitate a change in the views of the National Military Establishment on the strategic importance of Formosa.*
- Either would serve to provide the Kremlin and Chinese Stalinists with a welcome propaganda foil to the growing restlessness in Chinese Communist circles over Russian imperialism in Manchuria (particularly Port Arthur and Dairen).
- Either would confront us with the eventual probable responsibility for removing the Chinese forces and many of the Chinese refugees by force to the mainland. This would involve a considerable [Page 358] amount of pushing people around, which would be unpleasant and might lead to serious moral conflicts within our own people and government.
- The first of the two courses would involve a diplomatic operation calling for great subtlety of approach and for rapid, resolute action, with the most sensitive command of timing. It would, I am afraid, surpass the framework of experience and capabilities of the many people, both here and abroad, who would have to participate in it.
- The second alternative would offend the sensibilities of many people in the Department on legal and procedural grounds, and we would probably have to cut some legal corners to justify it.
- All the advice I can get in the Department tells me that both of these possible courses should be rejected and that we should reconcile ourselves to the prospect of Formosa’s falling into the hands of the Chinese Communists. I personally feel that if the second course were to be adopted and to be carried through with sufficient resolution, speed, ruthlessness and self-assurance, the way Theodore Roosevelt might have done it, it would be not only successful but would have an electrifying effect in this country and throughout the Far East. I have nothing to support this view but my own instinct. And since the successful execution of the idea would depend on many other people, including the President, having the same instinctive concept and a readiness to assume gladly and with conviction the unquestionably great risks which it involves, I cannot put it forth without reservation as a measured and formal staff recommendation.
- My feeling is, therefore, that at this stage you should discuss this with the President and your colleagues in the National Security Council, and should make plain to them that the courses outlined above seem to be the only alternatives to eventual Chinese Communist rule on the islands. If they then feel strongly, as I do, that our situation in the Far East will not permit further inaction in areas where our military and economic capabilities would be adequate to meet the possible commitments flowing from intervention; if they agree, as the NME85 has hitherto been reluctant to do, that Formosa and the Pescadores is such an area; and if they are prepared to assume their full share of the responsibility for initiating and pursuing such a course—then my personal view is that we should take the plunge.
- If we are not willing to do this, then we should ask the NSC to note carefully our view that as a consequence the islands are more likely than not eventually to fall under Chinese Communist control; that any later efforts on our part to prevent such a contingency would probably be both tardy and ineffectual; and that we should therefore [Page 359] set about to prepare U.S. and world opinion as best we can for a possible further significant extension of Chinese Communist control—this time to an area close to our military position in the Ryukyus, close to the Philippines, and relatively inaccessible to military attack by land forces from the mainland in the face of even the most rudimentary air and naval opposition, and above all to an area populated by a dependent people for whom we have a certain specific responsibility and for whom such control would constitute an oppressive alien domination.
[ Washington ,] July 6, 1949.
- This memorandum, PPS 53, according to an attached chit, was canceled on July 6; a note stated that the views of the Policy Planning Staff would be submitted by Mr. Kennan in a personal memorandum; latter not found in Department of State files.↩
- January 19, p. 270.↩
- February 3, p. 281.↩
- March 1, p. 290.↩
- “The Joint Chiefs of Staff are staff of the opinion that any overt military commitment in Formosa would be unwise at this time. In spite of Formosa’s strategic importance, the current disparity between our military strength and our many global obligations makes it inadvisable to undertake the employment of armed force in Formosa, for this might, particularly in view of the basic assumption that diplomatic and economic steps have failed, lead to the necessity for relatively major effort there, thus making it impossible then to meet more important emergencies elsewhere.” (NSC 37/3, February 11, 1949.) [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- National Military Establishment.↩
- See Department of State, United States Relations With China (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1949), p. 307; see also post, pp. 1365 ff.↩
- Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian Prime Minister.↩
- As used in this paper “the powers which defeated Japan” and “the powers at war with Japan” refer only to those represented on the Far Eastern Commission: US, UK, USSR, China, Philippines, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Netherlands, France—plus Pakistan and Burma. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- Signed at San Francisco, June 26, 1945; 59 Stat. (pt. 2) 1031, 1053.↩