State-JCS Meetings, lot 61 D 417


Memorandum on the Substance of Discussions at a Department of State-Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting 2

top secret

[Here follow a list of persons present (21) and discussion of U.S. Spanish relations. General Collins and Admiral Fechteler, but not Generals Bradley and Vandenberg, were present. Deputy Under Secretary H. Freeman Matthews headed the Department of State group.]


Mr. Nitze:3 One of the principal questions on our minds is the question of how effective we could be if the general sanction became operative and we found ourselves in a state of war with Communist China.

[Page 23]

General Collins: We have set up a committee to consider that question and related questions. We thought it was necessary to get a report from this committee before we reached any final views on the form and nature of a declaration.

Admiral Fechteler: General Juin tried his hardest to get a definite commitment out of us. He did not seem to understand that this was a governmental matter and that he could not be given a definite commitment. He spent most of one day trying to get us to give him definite and precise answers on matters which required a governmental decision.

General Collins: He wanted us to promise right now that if the Chinese Communists did such-and-such, we would do so-and-so. We told him that that required a political agreement first.

Mr. Lacy:4 I believe you told him that this was being considered by the political leaders.

General Collins: Yes, that is correct. We told him that until this step had been taken all we could do would be to assist the French, if necessary, in evacuation.

Admiral Fechteler: I think that General Juin wanted to confront whatever government he found when he got home with a fait accompli of commitment from the U.S.

General Collins: The committee we have set up will consist of General Ely as chairman, Elliot, and Admiral Davis,5 plus a representative of Australia–New Zealand.

Mr. Nitze: It seems to us that this problem requires a great deal of thought. If we could start our thinking about it at this time we feel that we would be in a better position to act when we receive the committee’s report. We have a number of questions that we would like to take up with you. I take it that everyone is agreed on the premise that the loss of Indochina would be a most serious development. The first question I have is this: What are the chances that the French can hold if the Chinese Communists do not intervene directly with their own forces?

Admiral Fechteler: General Juin says categorically that they can hold unless the Chinese Communists intervene with their own forces.

General Collins: I believe he feels that if Chinese assistance was substantially increased the French might have to withdraw to the Haiphong area. This would enable them, in his judgment, to shorten their lines sufficiently to hold whatever the Viet Minh could throw against them. If they hold that area around Haiphong it [Page 24] would enable them to save the rest of Indochina. They could not hold there if the Chinese Communists came in in force. How long they could hold in these circumstances no one knows. I spoke to De Lattre some time ago about this and told him that in my judgment this was the key. He assured me at that time that he was going to do something about improving the defense of that area.

Mr. Matthews: If you do not hold around Haiphong do you lose the rest of Indochina?

Mr. Lacy: We had always so assumed.

Mr. Nitze: The second question I had in mind is to define what constitutes Chinese Communist intervention. I think we want to make that more precise than we have. If the Chinese Communists intervene with their own forces with the result that the French are killing Chinese Communists or taking some of them prisoners, that would certainly be a clear-cut case and would trigger the general sanction. If the Chinese Communists send over their air force that would also be a clear-cut act which would trigger this thing off. What is not clear, however, is how we should treat a stepping up of the volume of military assistance and training. Should such a development trigger the thing?

Admiral Fechteler: They are getting almost all of their supplies from the Chinese Communists right now. In my judgment it should not be triggered simply because they provide more assistance than they are now providing. I think we would have to wait until they were actually using their own forces.

General Collins: That is my view also. In this connection General Juin said that a mere increase in the volume of equipment might mean that the French would have to withdraw to the Haiphong area but would not mean that they would be driven out of the Haiphong area.

Mr. Allison: How would we react? Would we increase our aid?

General Collins: I am not sure about that. Indochina now has top priority after Korea. I don’t think we can step up our assistance without diverting shipments from other areas. Juin pointed out that a withdrawal to the Haiphong area would free some of his forces for use in the south.

I asked Juin specifically whether he would favor a use of Chinese Nationalists and he replied that he would not.

Mr. Matthews: I assume he fears that this would be provocative.

General Collins: Yes.

Mr. Lacy: Did he not, however, agree with Slim that a large-scale intervention of Chinese Communists would justify the use of Chinese Nationalists?

General Collins: I don’t think he did. He kept reiterating that Chinese Communist intervention in strength would mean that the [Page 25] French would be driven out. There simply wouldn’t be time to bring the Nationalists to bear in Indochina even if there were no objections to using them. It takes time to move forces that distance.

Mr. Lacy: I had assumed that Slim was referring to the possibility of using the Nationalists elsewhere in Indochina.

General Collins: My memory is not good on this point.

Mr. Matthews: Another question that worries us is the timing of a declaration. If we have not obtained an armistice in Korea and if we make a warning of the type we are considering, I think it may be difficult to explain here at home why we are prepared to take this action in the event of an attack on Indochina when we have not been willing to take it in the Korean area.

General Collins: I now have the notes on the point which Mr. Lacy raised. I might read the minutes on this point. According to the minutes General Juin said he would be prepared to introduce Nationalists into China in the case of Chinese Communist aggression in Indochina. Slim opposed this—he did not favor this, on the contrary, he opposed it—on the ground that it would solidify the Chinese Communist position and harden their resistance. In this connection he asked how dependable the Chinese Nationalists are. At that point I replied that I thought it all depended on their prospects of success. Frankly I was sceptical of their dependability. The minutes seem to show, therefore, that Slim was not in favor of this but opposed to it.

General Bradley recently had a discussion with Mr. Bullitt6 after his return from Formosa. He said that he saw an excellent amphibious exercise by the Chinese Nationalist forces. Personally, I am highly sceptical. The one I saw was high school stuff. One of the things I was interested in was the artillery—whether it could re-direct its fire. I was told that they would not dare to call for such an action by their artillery.

Mr. Matthews: Returning to the question of timing, do you visualize the issuance of this declaration before a Korean armistice?

General Collins: General Juin wants it yesterday. As far as I am concerned, I am reluctant to consider the matter until our committee has reported. It is my own personal view at this moment that the Chinese Communists will not move into Indochina while the Korean war is going on.

Mr. Nitze: As to the problem Mr. Matthews has raised, I think it would be necessary for us, and possible for us, to argue the matter quite differently in the two cases. If the Korean war is still going on, the argument would be that the Chinese Communists were responsible [Page 26] for generalizing aggressive action in the Far East and this decision on their part required us to deal with the problem generally. If, however, an armistice has been obtained in Korea, the argument would have to be based on the Indochinese situation in the light of the fact that we had obtained an armistice in Korea. In the second case, what do you think would happen to the Korean armistice if we started action against South China? Would the Korean armistice fall?

General Collins: It would certainly be in our interest to preserve it. We would be called upon to aid the French in Indochina. We are stretched thin right now. I recognize that the action we would be called upon to take would be largely naval and air action but even in those fields our capabilities are limited. I would be strongly opposed to putting ground forces into Indochina.

Admiral Fechteler: Juin did not ask for that.

Mr. Matthews: Even if large numbers of Chinese come in?

General Collins: He would like it, but he did not ask for it.

Mr. Nitze: Do you have the necessary bases for air and naval action?

General Twining:7 We could operate from Formosa.

Greneral Collins: We would not be able to give any fighter-bomber support from Formosa. We would be limited to medium bombers.

Admiral Fechteler: —and carrier-based aircraft.

Mr. Matthews: Are there any jet fields in Indochina?

Mr. Nitze: I believe there is one near Saigon.

General Twining: I am not sure.

General Lee:8 The most important work we could do, I think, would be to interfere with their railroads and to lay mines to interfere with their sea-borne movements.

Mr. Matthews: This would have to be done, would it not, by unescorted craft?

Admiral Fechteler: Some carrier support could be provided. Another factor to bear in mind is that four of our six Pacific carriers are in the Korean area now. If we were to divert any to support operations in Indochina they would have to be diverted from Korea.

Mr. Matthews: Do you expect to have any more carriers in the Pacific soon?

Admiral Fechteler: They could only be obtained from the Atlantic and Mediterranean theaters.

Mr. Matthews: Are there any new ones coming out of the mothball fleet?

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Admiral Fechteler: We have only got twelve at present and we would like to divide them six and six between the Atlantic and the Pacific. I suppose we could go to eight and four.

General Collins: I tried to pin Slim down on how seriously the loss of Indochina would affect the defense of Malaya. He thought it would still be possible to defend Malaya. Of course that conflicts with De Lattre’s views. He thought that if Indochina fell, all the rest of Southeast Asia would fall almost automatically.

Mr. Matthews: It would be politically harder to defend Malaya. All the Chinese fence-sitters would show up on the Communist side.

General Collins: Even if we assume the loss of Indochina, Siam and Burma, what would the Communists get out of it? The only thing I see is some rice. They couldn’t even get that out overland and we could prevent their removal of it by sea by a naval blockade. In order to prevent their profiting we get right back to the blockade question. I am speaking, of course, of physical losses, not psychological losses.

Mr. Nitze: But we on our side would have lost two and a half million tons of rice. Japan, India, Indonesia and Malaya are all rice deficit areas.

General Collins: That is true. We would still hold Malayan rubber and tin.

Mr. Lacy: It would be difficult to hold Malaya and Indonesia. The people in those countries would have very weak knees.

Mr. Nitze: Although we got the impression from our own discussions that it would be easier to defend the Kra Isthmus than the Haiphong area, we also got the impression that the additional military requirements to defend Haiphong would not be great. I guess we would have to build some new airfields.

General Collins: The U.K. can hold Malaya either at the Kra Isthmus or where they are right now.

Mr. Nitze: But this would involve, I take it, a military effort almost as great as the effort to hold Indochina.

Admiral Fechteler: The U.K. would certainly hold at some point on the peninsula because of the great economic value of Malaya.

General Collins: Templer,9 the man they are sending out there is a very able fellow. In my judgment he is the best man in the British Army. Slim has even told me that he hopes Templer will succeed him as Chief of Staff.

Mr. Nitze: I find that I was wrong about that rice figure. It is not two and a half million tons, but 3.1 million tons.

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General Collins: There is no doubt about its importance. I think even the Philippines are getting some rice from this area. They could raise enough to meet their needs but they haven’t done so for a long time.

Mr. Lacy: That is true of the Philippines but I do not think it is true of Malaya, India, Indonesia, and Japan. General Collins: Does India get rice from Burma?

Mr. Lacy: Yes.

General Collins: Perhaps we could get Mr. Nehru10 interested in security on that basis.

Mr. Nitze: I think the rest of the questions we had related to war with Communist China.

General Collins: I am not at all sure what we could do to assist if the Korean war is still on. If we should shift any forces to Indochina, assuming that an armistice had been obtained, we would make ourselves vulnerable in Korea and they might start something all over again in Korea. I am not at all optimistic about what we can do to help.

Mr. Matthews: And even if we went all out against Communist China I do not suppose we could prevent the loss of Indochina.

General Collins: I am not so sure about that. I think we could make it very difficult for the Chinese to supply their forces in Indochina by bombing the one railroad line between the two countries. I might also point out that there is an area about half way down the coast where the French hold a lateral road across the country. There are communists to the north and south of this line. However, if they pulled out of Haiphong and consolidated their forces in this middle area, they could still hold the great rice-producing area in the south. It would be a difficult operation but not an impossible one, especially if we provided some air support.

Mr. Allison: In any event it is clear that we would find ourselves in an extremely difficult situation if the communists intervened. In my judgment, the only way to deter them from this course is to make a warning.

Admiral Fechteler: But I think we have to look a good deal farther ahead than that. If we issue our warning and have nothing in our hip pocket to back it up, then we are really up a creek.

Mr. Allison: But in those circumstances we could, I assume, step up our production here at home, provided we got the agreement of all necessary people here.

General Collins: I wouldn’t count on that. We are not getting our scheduled production now and we won’t get very much more under [Page 29] any circumstances. We certainly will not get much more unless we cut civilian economy back quite a ways.

Admiral Fechteler: Has there been any reaction yet to Mr. Eden’s statement in his Columbia speech11 the other day?

Mr. Lacy: Yes, there has. On the whole it has been favorable.

Mr. Allison: Of course Mr. Eden did not say much when you analyze his remarks.

Admiral Fechteler: It was the reaction out in the Far East which interested me.

Mr. Lacy: There hasn’t been time to take a reading on this yet.

Mr. Bohlen:12 There has been increasing propaganda by the communists on Southeast Asia. Late in December you will remember there were charges that we were transporting Chinese Nationalists into the area for aggressive purposes. Then Vishinsky13 picked this up in the UN. Izvestia has just recently begun to emphasize the aggressive plans of the U.S. in this area. Of course we don’t know what all this means. It is possible that the communists believe their own propaganda. It may mean that they are preparing to move against the area or it may only be a continuation of the war of nerves. It is worth noting, however, that the communist press is stressing Southeast Asia at this time.

I would like to clarify one point. Would an increase in Chinese supplies to the Indochinese force the French out of the Haiphong area?

General Collins: No. That was not the impression that General Juin gave us.

Mr. Bohlen: I think we can distinguish between three situations. The first and easiest one to deal with politically is overt intervention by the Chinese Communists. The second, and the one that is really serious in my judgment, is what might be called infiltration by the Chinese Communists. The third one is a stepping up of supplies by the Chinese Communists—on the whole I think that could be managed if we could provide somewhat larger assistance to Indochina. I think the one to worry about is the second one—infiltration—for I think that is the one we are most likely to face. They might provide some air and some “Volunteer” forces without intervening [Page 30] so directly as to call our general sanction into play. Our warning should be directed against this course if possible. The problem is how to convey this to these people. It will be difficult to convince them that a development by degrees would bring us into the war. At least it would be difficult to do this without over-convincing them to the point that they think we are planning to declare war. It will be very difficult to make clear precisely what we mean.

General Collins: One of the questions on my mind is the importance which the British attach to the retention of Hong Kong as against defending their position in Southeast Asia. I asked Slim about this. I think we have to face the fact that any move such as the bombing of China would mean the loss of Hong Kong. It is impossible to defend Hong Kong. I have never been able to get the British to really address themselves to the question of the relative value of the two positions.

Admiral Fechteler: I got the impression that Malaya is regarded by them as of overriding importance. In my own view, one of the important features of the Hong Kong situation is that the Chinese Communists themselves are not anxious for Hong Kong to fall.

Mr. Bohlen: I don’t think it is really a question of Hong Kong versus Malaya. I think it is Malaya versus Indochina. The British may think they can hold both Malaya and Hong Kong, even if Indochina falls.

General Collins: However, it was Slim who strongly urged us to do more in Indochina.

Mr. Lacy: He was the first to mention the possiblity of a declaration.

Mr. Nitze: I really wonder whether we can reach a definite conclusion on this matter unless we are willing to face the question of war with the Soviet Union. We might find ourselves in a train of circumstances that led straight to that.

Admiral Fechteler: From the naval point of view, we would have to divert ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

General Collins: Of course you could expand rather quickly from your mothball fleet.

General Lee: The Chinese Communists are building two fields which will accomodate jets. One of them is near Formosa.

General Collins: That one would be too far away to be of any use in the Indochina field.

General Twining: It is my view that we are going to be in bad trouble if we get involved down there in Indochina. I think it would require us to review, re-schedule and re-plan everything.

Admiral Fechteler: I am not at all sure that if the Chinese Communists move into Indochina we want to bring force to bear on [Page 31] them in Indochina. I think we may want to hit Shanghai, Tsingtao, and such places.

General Collins: That is general war with Communist China, which is a political question as well as a military question.

Mr. Nitze: Our political position, however, relates to our military position.

Mr. Bohlen: I think we may get into something of a “chicken and egg” situation here. On the top political side in the NSC we are waiting for a military judgment whereas you have told General Juin that you are waiting on a political judgment. I think the issue we have to face is the issue whether Indochina is worth the risk of general war with Communist China and the further implications of general war with Communist China. We could get a picture of the world situation on two assumptions, the first being the loss of Southeast Asia and the second being a state of war with Communist China.

Mr. Nitze: I think we should also estimate the chances that our deterrents would work, provided we are willing to carry a war to the Chinese Communists and, if necessary, to the Soviet Union.

Mr. Bohlen: We wouldn’t have any deterrent unless we really meant it.

General Collins: What does State think about the treaty between Soviet Russia and Communist China?

Mr. Bohlen: It is still our judgment that neither one wants war at this time. In many ways Indochina is a situation which the Communists like to have because there are three layers of responsibility: first, the Viet Minh, second the Chinese Communists, and last, the Soviet Union. I think that the advantages and disadvantages of a political state of war are not altogether dependent upon what we may be able to do militarily. It might be advantageous to put ourselves in that position even if we could not do much about it for some time.

Admiral Fechteler: I hate like the devil to declare war on someone and then to sit around for six months without doing anything.

General Collins: I think this is all related to the danger of war with the Soviet Union in Europe. It is not my desire to pass the ball back to State or anyone else but if somebody could tell us that we are willing to accept the risks of war with Communist China and that this risk will not lead to war with the Soviet Union, my own answer as to what we should do would be radically affected. In those circumstances I think we could do a great deal to injure Communist China.

Admiral Fechteler: What is the question that we are really talking about? Is it the question whether it is sound to make a political commitment involving military action which at the moment of the [Page 32] political commitment is beyond the capability of the military to back up? Is that the question?

Mr. Bohlen: We have not acted on that basis in the past as NATO demonstrates. In fact I think we would never make political commitments in time of peace if we had to wait for the development of the necessary military capabilities to back them up. The U.K. and France gave a political commitment to Poland and the important thing was not whether they had the military capabilities to back it up but the fact that the Germans should have known that some day sooner or later the political commitment would be backed up. Another aspect of this problem is that if we lose Southeast Asia we have, in my judgment, lost the cold war. In that case we would be headed for war with the Soviet Union sooner or later.

General Collins: Do you think that statement holds even if Malaya can be defended?

Mr. Bohlen: I think it is highly doubtful that Malaya could be held because of political and psychological reactions due to the loss of Southeast Asia. The number of guerrillas will probably increase by geometric proportions. Right now there are six or seven thousand guerrillas and it takes the best British general and 60 to 70 thousand British forces to deal with them.

General Collins: I don’t think larger guerrilla forces could be supplied either by land or sea.

Mr. Bohlen: Well, we could divide the problem into two parts. We could look first at the loss of Southeast Asia except for Malaya, and secondly, the loss of Southeast Asia including Malaya. In the second case it seems to me we would have lost the cold war.

General Collins: All of this comes down, in my mind, to the threat of Soviet action. If there is a real threat from the Soviet Union we do not, in my judgment, have the capability of making war on Communist China. We simply do not have what it takes to defend Western Europe and to do this at the same time.

Admiral Fechteler: There is a possibility and, in my mind, a good one that the Soviet Union would think it was just fine if we went to war with the Chinese Communists.

Mr. Nitze: Another thing to look at is the willingness of this country to provide aid to Western Europe if we are at war with Communist China. There would be many people who would think that we ought to put first things first and would think it was time for the Europeans to help us rather than vice versa.

General Collins: If we become involved in a war with China we should get out of Korea and the14 off-shore islands right away and when we have done that we could proceed to bomb China.

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Mr. Bohlen: Of course this would change our whole mobilization effort.

General Collins: It is not doing it now.

Mr. Bohlen: As to the question whether the Soviet Union would go to war because we were attacking China, I might say a few words. The treaty of course relates to defense against aggressive action by Japan. The Soviets could claim that Japan was involved or not as they chose. They are not bound to come to China’s defense under any and all circumstances. I think geography would have a great deal to do with it. I interpret Soviet behavior as being directed to an effort to push the Chinese Communists south and to establish the primacy of the Soviet Union in northern Asia. Stalin’s message to the Japanese people was designed as much for Chinese ears as for Japanese ears. I think a great deal would depend on whether we were striking Manchuria. In that event I think we would enhance the possibility that the Soviet Union would react. If we were striking in the south, we would enhance the chance that the Soviet Union would not react.

On the question whether China would be weakened, it is important to remember that Stalin thinks it is a fiction that involvement in war weakens a country. On the contrary, he believes that only when a country is in war does it pull itself together and build strength. For that reason I do not think he would like to see the U.S. at war with Communist China. He knows we would grow in strength.

Some time later this spring we are planning to take a commitment to defend Greece. One question we might ask ourselves is whether Southeast Asia is as important or more important than Greece. Militarily the situation is more or less the same in that we cannot really defend either area. Is not Southeast Asia equally worth the risk of general war?

General Collins: I doubt it. In the event of general war we are not going to try to retake Indochina. We will be conducting a strategic defense in the Pacific. It was proved in the last war that if we take care of Western Europe first, then we can take care of our difficulties in the Pacific more easily. Holding Western Europe, in my opinion, is infinitely more important than holding Indochina or Southeast Asia.

Mr. Bohlen: If the French forces are thrown out of Indochina, the repercussions in Africa will be very tough. In fact this is one of the toughest problems I have had to deal with for either course presents frightful disadvantages.

Mr. Lacy: I think the loss of Southeast Asia would seriously prejudice our ability to back up our commitments to Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines.

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General Collins: I don’t think it would affect our ability to defend them.

Admiral Fechteler: I think we could do that with the Australian Navy.

General Collins: The one place we have got to hold is Japan. Mr. Bohlen: How much of Japan’s trade is with Southeast Asia? Mr. Nitze: About 25%.

Mr. Lacy: The transmission of the declaration might do the trick and I don’t think it need involve us in commitments.

Admiral Fechteler: This is a new thing to me, to make a political declaration and then not do anything about it.

Mr. Bohlen: One of the mistakes that dictators have made and that they almost always make is to misjudge the political determination of their opponents. They do not err in their judgment of the opposing military capabilities but they have been altogether wrong in their judgment of whether their victims would have the political will to resist. If we continue to go on the calculation that the Soviet Union is not desirous of general war, there might be a very good reason for making this declaration.

General Collins: On balance, I think I favor a declaration, whether or not we can implement it. If we do not make it we will lose Southeast Asia anyway. If we do make it, we may save Southeast Asia and even if we do not, what have we lost by making it?

Admiral Fechteler: If we make a declaration and if the Chinese Communists come into Indochina, we could do something about it by deploying forces from the Atlantic and Mediterranean theaters. What would be the political effect of markedly weakening our strength in the West in order to shoot up Communist China?

Mr. Bohlen: It would be terrible.

General Collins: But my question is, what do we lose even if we don’t back up the declaration?

Mr. Lacy: If it were made privately I do not think we would lose much prestige. We have been considering whether or not it ought to be private.

Mr. Nitze: I would have most serious reservations about that view.

  1. Top secret records of meetings between representatives of the Department of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the period 1951–1959 and selected problem files on the Middle East for the period 1954–1956, as maintained by the Executive Secretariat of the Department of State. Retired by S/S.
  2. A note on the title page reads: “State Draft. Not cleared with any of the participants.”
  3. Paul H. Nitze, Director of the Policy Planning Staff.
  4. William S.B. Lacy, Director of the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs.
  5. Vice Adm. Arthur C. Davis, U.S. Deputy Representative on the NATO Standing Group.
  6. Retired Ambassador William C Bullitt had visited a number of Asian countries in the last months of 1951.
  7. Gen. Nathan F. Twining, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force.
  8. Maj. Gen. Robert M. Lee, Director of Plans, U.S. Air Force.
  9. Gen. Sir Gerald Templer, High Commissioner for the Federation of Malaya.
  10. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian Prime Minister and Minister of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations.
  11. In the course of his speech delivered at Columbia University on Jan. 11, Eden had referred to the conflicts in Indochina and Malaya. He had continued: “These positions must be held. It should be understood that the intervention by force by Chinese Communists in Southeast Asia—even if they were called volunteers—would create a situation no less menacing than that which the United Nations faced in Korea. In any such event the United Nations should be equally solid to resist it.” Full text of the speech is printed in the New York Times of Jan. 12.
  12. Charles E. Bohlen, Counselor of the Department of State.
  13. Andrey Yanuaryevich Vyshinsky, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union.
  14. The source text bears the handprinted interpolation “back on” between the words “and” and “the”.