PPS files, lot 64 D 563

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Nitze)1

top secret


  • Indochina


  • Defense
    • Robert A. Lovett
    • William C. Foster
    • Frank Pace, Jr.
    • Dan A. Kimball
    • Roswell L. Gilpatric
    • Charles P. Noyes
    • Gen. Nathan F. Twining
    • Gen. Omar Bradley
    • Gen. Charles L. Bolte
    • Adm. William M. Fechteler
    • Adm. Edmund T. Wooldridge
  • State
    • Dean Acheson
    • David K. Bruce
    • H. Freeman Matthews
    • Charles E. Bohlen
    • John M. Allison
    • Paul H. Nitze
[Page 88]

Mr. Acheson opened the discussion by saying that there were certain difficult problems concerned with the question of the action we might take in the event of Chinese intervention in Indochina on which it would be helpful if we had greater clarity. He said he would appreciate having the JCS discuss the actions they had in mind.

General Bradley said that he had read the various papers and felt that they reflected a different approach by the State Department and the JCS. It would seem clear that if there was overt Chinese intervention we could not stead aside, and that we might either limit our military action to the approaches to Indochina or we might go to the source of the aggression with air action and a naval blockade. He said that he gathered from the papers submitted to the NSC2 that the State Department favored the first approach. The Joint Chiefs were inclined to favor the second approach. Neither of the two approaches would necessarily be decisive against China, nor would they necessarily result in the defense of Southeast Asia.

The second approach, however, did not get us so deeply involved as the first. If we were to land forces in Indochina, it would be extremely difficult for us to get them out. It would also take approximately a year to build the necessary airfields and port facilities. The JCS were thinking primarily of the deterrent effect of being willing to undertake an action rather than whether the action in itself would be decisive. The second approach would involve some shift of naval forces from Korea and from the Atlantic to the Pacific in order to make possible the blockade action. There would also have to be a shift of air strength of some eight wings.

[Page 89]

Mr. Nitze pointed out that the State Department’s paper3 to which General Bradley referred was an answer to a specific request from the NSC for the diplomatic courses of action necessary to secure support for hypothesis (a) and hypothesis (b). There would be no particular problem from the diplomatic standpoint for securing the support for course (a) as this is the course which the British and French already support. It would be very difficult, however, to secure diplomatic support for course (b) in view of the fact that this course would probably not be decisive and would not result in securing Southeast Asia. Our paper was not intended to be a recommendation as to the relative advisability of course (a) or course (b), but was intended merely to answer the questions which we had been asked to answer by the NSC.

Mr. Acheson asked Mr. Bohlen as to the types of action which might involve Russian implementation of the Sino-Soviet Treaty.

Mr. Bohlen said that military action close to the Soviet borders or military action which threatens to result in the establishment of an anti-Communist regime, particularly in north China, would be more apt than any others to cause the Russians to implement the treaty.

General Bradley said that it would be difficult to make a blockade effective if it did not include virtually all of the Chinese coast line.

Mr. Bohlen said that the naval blockade of north Korea had presented no particular problem to the Soviets and he doubted whether a full blockade of the Chinese coast line would present any problem other than at Dairen and Port Arthur which are Russian-controlled ports.

Mr. Acheson asked what air action the Joint Chiefs had in mind.

General Bradley said that they had in mind attacks against transportation targets and the Chinese communication net.

Mr. Nitze said that he had thought that there was an additional problem—neutralizing the Chinese air forces—which might require air action against Chinese bases in Manchuria.

General Bradley said that this was so. That recent photographs had indicated that there were 412 jets on fields within 50 miles of the Yalu River.

Admiral Fechteler said that Admiral Radford had had a conference with Admiral Ortoli4 at which Admiral Ortoli had said that [Page 90] the French could not evacuate the Tonkin Delta. The populace would turn on them and the result would be a general massacre. Any attempt to help the French evacuate would require a major naval effort under circumstances of extreme difficulty.

Mr. Pace said that he had been looking at the question from the standpoint of what action would be more apt to prevent Chinese intervention. He wondered if an attack against the Chinese would be more persuasive than action restricted to the approaches to Indochina.

Mr. Matthews said that in any case the warning to the Chinese should not be specific as to the action we proposed to take. We should leave them guessing as to what we had in mind.

Mr. Acheson said that even if it were unwise to be specific as to the action we would take, it might be dangerous if the ten on our side could not agree on what it is that they are going to do. We may be faced with a dilemma in that it may be necessary to take action which will be expensive, both in terms of what we do and in terms of what we have to divert from other theaters.

Mr. Lovett said that he agreed that it was not necessary to be specific in our warning. However, he was concerned about the weakness of our Allies. What was it that we expected them to do?

Mr. Nitze said that even under course (b) we would look to the British for the defense of the Kra Isthmus. He went on to say that he thought there was a real problem in getting over the difficulties which plagued the recent discussions in which Admiral Davis represented the JCS. At that time the British and French objected to course (b) because they doubted whether it would be decisive. He thought this would be hard to answer unless one was prepared to get into the question of the use of atomic weapons.

[Here follows discussion of Indochina, printed in volume XIII, Part 1, page 141.]

Mr. Acheson attempted to summarize the sense of the meeting in the following terms. We should agree as to what it is we want to do. We want to keep both the French and the Vietnamese in the battle. In order to accomplish that it will be necessary to enlarge the Vietnamese army so that there is some hope both for the Vietnamese and for the French. It will require intensive study to see how this will be done. Where are we going to get the money and other things to get started. We might make some progress with the French if the U.S. assists in their training program. The second part of the problem concerns the possibility of Chinese overt intervention. There should be a warning. It should indicate that aggression would be followed by action which would be painful to the source of aggression. What are the elements on which we can agree. The French should put out of their minds the possibility of [Page 91] U.S. ground forces participating in Indochina. We are prepared to give naval and air support. What is the first thing that needs to be done. We should obviously attack those things which are supporting the aggression. We should attack the communications to the area of aggression. Then we might take up the problem of a blockade. We should have thoroughly thought-out answers to the problems which would then arise. Probably it will be necessary to go further. We can probably agree that, unless there is also trouble in Korea, we should not go into Manchuria.

Mr. Foster said that he thought any such program should be accompanied with measures of the type Mr. Bruce mentioned. The non-cooperative French functionaries should be removed. The necessary political and economic measures in Indochina must go right along with the military measures Mr. Acheson had outlined. This may require putting considerable pressure on the French. What we need is action—not words.

Mr. Lovett suggested that Mr. Noyes and a representative of the State Department and the JCS prepare a paper which could be used by Mr. Acheson when he goes to Paris.5 He also suggested that it may be necessary to screen our position preliminarily on the Hill. Many of our friends think we are now a fat boy with a bag of candy who is in danger of having the whole bag taken away.

Mr. Pace said he thought that the proposition which had been developed was a salable and affirmative proposition.

  1. Actions leading up to this meeting are documented in Lovett’s letter (with enclosures) to the Secretary of State, May 1, and Allison’s memorandum (with enclosures) to the Secretary, May 7; for texts, see vol. xiii, Part 1, pp. 113 and 124.

    Participants in the list below not previously identified include Frank Pace, Jr., Secretary of the Army; Dan A. Kimball, Secretary of the Navy; Roswell L. Gilpatric, Under Secretary of the Air Force; Charles P. Noyes, Deputy (Defense) Representative to the Senior Staff, National Security Council; Lt. Gen. Charles L. Bolté, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Research, U.S. Army.

    Bruce became Under Secretary of State on Feb. 7.

  2. Reference is to the studies undertaken in response to NSC Action No. 614; see footnote 7, p. 75. None of these studies completed prior to the May 12 meeting documented here is printed. Most are in S/SNSC files, lots 63 D 351 and 61 D 167.

    Some of these studies include estimates of the probable success of diplomatic and/or military action undertaken under two alternative hypothetical courses. In a memorandum of Mar. 13 to the Secretaries of State and Defense signed by Lay, the NSC Staff had formulated these courses as follows:

    “Estimates should assume the support of our major allies and should be prepared on two hypotheses:

    • “a. On the hypothesis that allied operations are directed toward the defense of Southeast Asia and that operations against Communist China are limited to the area of or approaches to the land battle in opposition to the aggressor forces.
    • “b. On the hypothesis that allied military operations are accompanied by military action against the source of aggression, namely Communist China itself.” (S/SNSC files, lot 63 D 351, NSC 124 Series)

  3. Apparent reference to the Department of State memorandum of Apr. 29 to Lay, not printed, distributed to NSC members Apr. 30. In it, the Department had generally supported option “a” on the ground that it would be more likely that such operations would attract the support of major allies of the United States. (S/SNSC files, lot 61 D 167)
  4. Vice Adm. Paul Ortoli, Commander of French Naval Forces in the Far East, had conferred with Admiral Radford at Pearl Harbor, Apr. 3–7.
  5. Acheson left Washington for Europe on May 22 in connection with a variety of matters including NATO, EDC, Southeast Asia, and relations with France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the United Kingdom. He was in Paris May 26–29 and arrived back in Washington May 30. Regarding this trip, see the editorial note in vol. v, Part 2, p. 1543.