Problem Paper Prepared by a Working Group in the Department of State1
Military Aid for Indochina
i. the problem
Should the United States provide military aid in Indochina and, if so, how much and in what way.[Page 712]
- There will not be an effective split between the USSR and Communist China within the next three years.
- The USSR will not declare war on any Southeast Asian country within the next three years.
- Communist China will not declare war on any Southeast Asian country within the next three years.
- The USSR will endeavor to bring about the fall of Southeast Asian governments which are opposed to Communism by using all devices short of war, making use of Communist China and indigenous communists in this endeavor.
iii. facts bearing on the problem
- When the Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949 was being written, the question of providing military aid to Southeast Asia was examined and it was decided not to include specific countries in that area, other than the Republic of the Philippines.
- The attitude of the Congress toward the provision of military and economic aid to foreign countries recently has stiffened due to both economy and to policy considerations.
- At the same time, the Congress has shown considerable dissatisfaction with policies which are alleged to have contributed to the Communist success in China and which are involved in the current United States’ approach toward the question of Formosa.
- Section 303 of the Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949 makes available to the President the sum of $75 million for use, at the President’s discretion, in the general area of China to advance the purposes and policies of the United Nations.
- Section 303 funds are unrestricted in their use.
- The British Commonwealth Conference recently held at Colombo recognized that no SEA regional military pact now exists due to divergent interest and that such an arrangement was now unlikely.
- Communism has made important advances in the Far East during the past year.
- Opposition to Communism in Indochina is actively being carried on by the three legally-constituted governments of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
- Communist-oriented forces in Indochina are being aided by Red China and the USSR.
- Indochina has common border with China and Burma, thus making it subject to invasion by Red China.
- Its population is some 27 million concentrated in the delta regions of the Mekong and Red Rivers. Of the total population, Chinese [Page 713] account for between 600,000 and a million, concentrated largely in the cities.
- Indochina has an agricultural economy based principally on rice of which it is an exporter. World War II and its aftermath seriously disrupted the national economy. The country presently has an annual trade deficit of about $85 million.
- There are three subdivisions of Indochina: Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. An agreement was signed March 8, 1949, between France and Vietnam which provides for the latter to become an Associated State within the French Union. Ratification of the Agreement, followed by the recognition of the Vietnam by the West, is expected in the near future. French policy aims at making Laos and Cambodia Associated States within the French Union at the same time.
- Governmental stability is poor in Indochina. In Vietnam, less than one-third of the country is controlled by the legal government with the French in control of the major cities; in Cambodia and Laos, the French maintain order but unrest is endemic. Before World War II Indochina was made up of four French Protectorates (Tonkin, Annam, Laos and Cambodia) and the colony of Cochinchina. It was occupied after the war by Chinese troops in the north (Tonkin) and by British and later French in the south. In 1946 a (nationalist coalition) government headed by the Moscow-trained Communist agent Ho Chi Minh consented to the return to the north (Tonkin) of the French upon promises of independence within the French Union. French negotiations with Ho were broken off following the massacre of many foreigners in Tonkin and Cochinchina in December 1946 by Ho’s forces. Hostilities have continued to date.
- The French are irrevocably committed in Indochina and have sponsored Bao Dai as a move aimed at achieving non-Communist political stability. It was a case of backing Bao Dai or accepting the Communist government of Ho Chi Minh. This latter alternative was impossible not only because it would obviously make their position in Indochina untenable but would also open the door to complete Communist domination of Southeast Asia. Such a communist advance would have severe repercussions in the non-communist world.
- Military operations in Indochina represented a franc drain on the French Treasury of the equivalent of approximately $475 million in 1949. This constitutes nearly half of the current French Military Budget.
- Ho Chi Minh, a Moscow-trained Communist, controls the Viet Minh movement which is in conflict with the government of Bao Dai for control of Vietnam. Ho actually exercises control of varying degree over more than two-thirds of Vietnam territory and his “government” maintains agents in Thailand, Burma and India. This communist [Page 714] “government” has been recognized by Communist China and the USSR
- Most Indochinese, both the supporters of Bao Dai and those of Ho Chi Minh, regard independence from the French as their primary objective. Protection from Chinese Communist imperialism has been considered, up to now, a secondary issue.
- Unavoidably, the United States is, together with France, committed in Indochina. That is, failure of the French Bao Dai “experiment” would mean the communization of Indochina. It is Bao Dai (or a similar anti-communist successor) or Ho Chi Minh (or a similar communist successor); there is no other alternative. The choice confronting the United States is to support the French in Indochina or face the extension of Communism over the remainder of the continental area of Southeast Asia and, possibly, farther westward. We then would be obliged to make staggering investments in those areas and in that part of Southeast Asia remaining outside Communist domination or withdraw to a much-contracted Pacific line. It would seem a case of “Penny wise, Pound foolish” to deny support to the French in Indochina.
- The US plans on extending recognition to the newly-created states of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, following French legislative action which is expected in early February 1950.
- Another approach to the problem is to apply the practical test of probability of success. In the present case we know from the complex circumstances involved that the French are going to make literally every possible effort to prevent the victory of Communism in Indochina. Briefly, then, we would be backing a determined protagonist in this venture. Added to this is the fact that French military leaders such as General Cherrière2 are soberly confident that, in the absence of an invasion in mass from Red China, they (the French) can be successful in their support of the anti-Communist governments in Indochina.
- Still another approach to the problem is to recall that the United States has undertaken to provide substantial aid to France in Europe. Failure to support French policy in Indochina would have the effect of contributing toward the defeat of our aims in Europe.
- Significant developments have taken place in Indochina since the Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949 was drawn up, these changes warranting a reexamination of the question of military aid.
- The whole of Southeast Asia is in danger of falling under Communist domination.
- The countries and areas of Southeast Asia are not at present in a position to form a regional organization for self-defense nor are they capable of defending themselves against militarily aggressive Communism, without the aid of the great powers. Despite their lack of military strength, however, there is a will on the part of the legal governments of Indochina toward nationalism and a will to resist whatever aims at destroying that nationalism.
- The French native and colonial troops presently in Indochina are engaged in military operations aimed at denying the expansion southward of Communism from Red China and of destroying its power in Indochina.
- In the critical areas of Indochina France needs aid in its support of the legally-constituted anti-Communist states.
- The United States should furnish military aid in support of the anti-Communist nationalist governments of Indochina, this aid to be tailored to meet deficiencies toward which the United States can make a unique contribution, not including United States troops.
- This aid should be financed out of funds made available by Section 303 of the Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949.
- This paper was prepared by a working group consisting of representatives of the Office of Western European Affairs, the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs, and the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. Copies were made available on the working level to the Office of Military Assistance, Department of Defense.↩
- Chief of the Premier’s Permanent Military Staff.↩