Executive Secretariat Files: Lot 61D167: File—NSC 84 Series

Memorandum by the Secretary of Defense (Johnson) to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Lay)1

top secret
NSC 84

Subject: The Position of the United States with Respect to the Philippines

With respect to the above subject, which the National Security Council Staff now has under consideration at the request of the President, I am transmitting herewith, for the information of the Council members, the views and recommendations which the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at my request, submitted to me on 6 September 1950.

In view of the situation in the Far East and in the Philippines, there are certain views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on which I wish to comment at this time. In the first place, I concur in the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that prompt and positive political and economic action to arrest and reverse the current political deterioration in the Philippines is essential to the maintenance of the United States strategic position in the Far East. Secondly, I concur in the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that direct United States military intervention in the Philippines would be justifiable, from the strategic point of view, only if there remained no other means of preventing Communist seizure of the Islands; and that such intervention would require, in the light of the present world situation, a considerable increase in the extent of mobilization currently envisaged.

In the light of the views and recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I recommend that the NSC Staff submit a report to the Council on this subject at the earliest practicable date.

Louis Johnson
[Page 1485]
[Enclosure]

Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (Johnson)

top secret

Subject: The Philippines

1.
In accordance with the request contained in your memorandum dated 7 July 1950,2 the Joint Chiefs of Staff have formulated the following views regarding the military situation in the Philippine Islands and the steps that should be taken to protect United States security interests therein.
2.
By terms of the agreement of 14 March 1947 between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines,3 the United States guarantees the security and defense of that Republic. This commitment, together with other commitments implicit in the relationship of the two governments, invests the United States with special political and moral responsibilities toward the Philippines, extending further than merely military defense and security of the islands. The basic military policy of the United States with respect to the Republic of the Philippines, therefore, is to develop and strengthen the security of the Philippines against organized external aggression or internal subversion (NSC 48/24). The following statement in the public announcement by the President on 27 June 1950 now controls the actions to be taken with respect to this problem:

“I have also directed that United States forces in the Philippines be strengthened and that military assistance to the Philippine Government be accelerated.”5

3.
The Philippines are an essential part of the Asian offshore island chain of bases on which the strategic position of the United States in the Far East depends. The threat of further Communist encroachment in Formosa and in Southeast Asia renders it imperative that [Page 1486]the security of the Philippines against internal subversion and external aggression be assured. The strategic importance of the United States position in the Philippines is such as to justify the commitment of United States forces for its protection should circumstances require such action.
4.
From the viewpoint of the USSR, the Philippine Islands could be the key to Soviet control of the Far East inasmuch as Soviet domination of these islands would, in all probability, be followed by the rapid disintegration of the entire structure of anti-Communist defenses in Southeast Asia and the offshore island chain, including Japan. Therefore, the situation in the Philippines cannot be viewed as a local problem, since Soviet domination over these islands would endanger the United States military position in the Western Pacific and the Far East.
5.
Military intelligence from the Philippines is considered inadequate. Action is required to obtain more effective collection and dissemination of information regarding the actual strength, activities, and capabilities of insurgent forces.
6.
External threats to the Philippines appear to be relatively remote at this time. An enemy invasion would not be feasible now and, in all probability, would not be undertaken until after Formosa had been captured. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe, therefore, that a sound military policy for the Philippines justifies maximum emphasis on forces required for internal security and minimum expenditure for defense against external invaders.
7.
The sole apparent military threat to the internal security of the Philippine Republic lies in the guerrilla operations of the Hukbalahaps (Huks) who now call themselves the “Peoples Liberation Army”. This movement stems mainly from long-standing agrarian discontent in the agricultural provinces of central Luzon and, in part, from a preference for guerrilla life acquired by certain individuals during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Leadership over these lawless elements has been assumed by disciplined Communists who conduct their operations in accordance with directives from the Far Eastern Cominform. The ultimate objective of the “Peoples Liberation Army” undoubtedly is the overthrow of the Philippine Republic and the substitution of a Communist regime. On the basis of military factors alone, the Huks lack the capability to achieve this objective. According to the best available intelligence the Huks are maintaining in the field forces totaling not more than 10,000 to 15,000 lightly armed men. These forces operate on a hit-and-run basis. The existence of these guerrilla bands reflects the unsatisfactory socio-political situation in the Philippines and the general deterioration of the existing political and economic structure. Further, the influence of the Chinese Communists apparently is being felt by the large Chinese population in the [Page 1487]Philippines. Such influence may encourage this important ethnic minority into subversive activities. Should all of these trends continue, there might arise a situation in which an armed and militant Communist minority could seize power from a corrupt and discredited regime.
8.
Opposed to the Huks are some 33,000 relatively well-armed Philippine troops who are supported by the civil police. Based on military factors, the eventual elimination of the Huks should be within the capabilities of these forces. Vigorous action by the Philippine armed forces in accordance with present plans should, therefore, eliminate the Huks as a serious threat within one year, provided the Huks receive no substantial external support and provided further that the political situation in the Philippines can be stabilized.
9.
The threat to the United States position in the Far East now magnified by events in Korea demands prompt and conclusive action to eliminate unrest in the Philippines and justifies increased United States assistance to the Philippine armed forces in order to remove the Huk threat without further delay.
10.
Military measures, however, can only be a temporary expedient. Remedial political and economic measures must be adopted by the Philippine Government in order to eliminate the basic causes of discontent among the Philippine people.
11.
From the military point of view, the immediate security interests of the United States in the Philippine Islands include occupied installations, certain bases under treaty provisions not now occupied or in use, and United States armed forces personnel and materiel. In addition, there are other areas in these islands which may be needed for operational use. United States strategic and security interests require not only that the facilities and rights granted under the agreement reached between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States on 14 March 1947 be available for United States use but also that the Philippine Islands be denied to the USSR. This requires continued orientation of the Philippines toward the United States and away from the Communists. Therefore, the matter of direct military support of the immediate United States security interests in the Philippines must be examined from both the political and the military points of view.…
12.
There is implicit in the United States-Philippine Agreement of 1947 authority for the United States to determine the garrison strength required for the local protection of United States bases in the Philippines. Substantial reinforcements of United States armed forces in the Philippine Islands would be inadvisable at this time inasmuch as such action could be construed as imperialism and as a prelude to intervention in the internal affairs of the Philippine Republic. In this connection, Asiatic opinion generally, and Philippine opinion specifically, would prove especially sensitive to any implication [Page 1488]of a United States revocation of Philippine independence. The Joint Chiefs of Staff understand the position of the Department of State to be that United States military intervention in the Philippines could be justified only on the basis of a clear, present, and overriding military necessity. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that such a necessity cannot now be demonstrated on the basis of the current internal military situation in the Islands. Furthermore, intervention would only be justified if there were no other means of preventing Communist seizure of the Philippines.
13.
Although there may be some reason for concern regarding the local security of United States installations in the Philippines, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that, from the military point of view, present conditions in the Philippines do not indicate a requirement for the stationing of additional Army units in those islands. Further, in the light of the already over-extended position of the United States in Korea, no units should be earmarked at this time for redeployment to the Philippine Islands. The Joint Chiefs of Staff Relieve that the internal security of the Philippines, as well as the security of United States installations, can be improved by:
a.
Immediately restoring the Joint United States Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG), Philippines, to its previous strength of 32 officers and 26 enlisted men, which action has already been authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff;
b.
Continued study of the possibility of increasing the personnel of JUSMAG, Philippines, to pattern it generally after the United States Mission in Greece during the recent large-scale guerrilla activities in that country. Such augmentation to be instituted if measures already adopted prove inadequate to cope with the situation;
c.
Granting increased dollar amounts for equipment and supplies as military assistance for the Fiscal Year 1951; and
d.
Increasing the numbers of security personnel and the effectiveness of their equipment in the military units now guarding United States installations in the Philippine Islands.
If the foregoing measures prove ineffective and the situation in the Philippines deteriorates further, a reevaluation of the situation will be required.
14.
There is some doubt as to whether the Philippine Government is prepared to accept at this time a military advisory group patterned after that in Greece, in which United States officers act as tactical advisors in the field to native troop commanders. The Philippine Government has agreed, however, to the size mission now employed. Negotiations for the mission providing advisors at battalion level would necessarily be long and would not meet the immediate requirement for increased assistance.
15.
The basic problem involved in maintaining the United States strategic position in the Philippines against internal aggression is primarily [Page 1489]political and economic. Military action should not be an alternative for a stable and efficient government based on sound economic and social foundations. Remedial action insuring such changes in the Government of the Philippines as would regain the support of the people would go further toward removing the immediate threat to the United States strategic position in those islands than military action alone. It is recognized, however, that the two should proceed as part of an integrated plan.
16.
In response to the specific query in your memorandum of 7 July 1950, regarding the strengthening of United States forces in the Philippines, the Joint Chiefs of Staff would state that:
a.
The Marine contingent[s] at Subic Bay and at Sangley Point have been strengthened since May 1950 in numbers considered adequate to meet the present problems of security. A further increase to meet further possible contingencies is under study; and
b.
Orders have been issued for a considerable increment of air police who should arrive in the Philippines by 15 September 1950. Action has been taken to assure that the air police in the Philippines will be maintained at 100% strength.
In this connection the Joint Chiefs of Staff have directed that appropriate measures be taken to improve the collection of essential intelligence in the Philippine Islands. The Joint Chiefs of Staff wall submit recommendations in the near future on the subject of a military defense assistance program for the Republic of the Philippines.
17.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the Secretary of Defense:
a.
Urge upon the National Security Council the necessity for prompt and positive political and economic action to arrest and reverse the current political deterioration in the Philippines as essential to the maintenance of the United States strategic position in the Far East;
b.
Remove the present limitation on service attachés to the Philippines;
c.
Advise the National Security Council that direct United States military intervention in the Philippines would be justifiable, from the strategic point of view, only if there remained no other means of preventing Communist seizure of the Islands; and that such intervention would require, in the light of the present world situation, a considerable increase in the extent of mobilization currently envisaged; and
d.
Note that JUSMAG, Philippines, has been restored to its former strength of 32 officers and 26 enlisted men; and that the desirability of further augmentation is being studied.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Omar N. Bradley

Chairman
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. This memorandum and its enclosure were circulated to the National Security Council as document NSC 84, September 14, 1950, under cover of the following note by Council Executive Secretary Lay:

    “At the request of the Secretary of Defense, his enclosed memorandum and its attached views and recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the subject [The Position of the United States with Respect to the Philippines] are circulated herewith for the information of the National Security Council and the Secretary of the Treasury, and referred to the NSC Staff for use in connection with the draft report on the subject currently under preparation at the suggestion of the President.”

    Regarding the request by President Truman for a paper on the Philippines, see footnote 1 to the draft paper prepared by the Department of State, June 20, p. 1461.

  2. Not printed.
  3. Presumably the reference here is to the Agreement between the United States and the Philippines concerning military bases, March 14, 1947 (TIAS No. 1775, 61 Stat. (pt. 4) 4019), or A Decade of American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941–49, p. 869.
  4. The reference here is to a Report to the President by the National Security Council, dated December 30, 1949, and entitled “The Position of the United States with Respect to Asia;” for documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vii, Part 2, p. 1215.
  5. The quotation here is from the statement by President Truman on the situation in Korea, June 27, 1950; for the text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1950, p. 492.