State-JCS Meetings, lot 61 D 417

Memorandum on the Substance of Discussions at a Department of State-Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting1


top secret

General Vandenberg inquired as to the State Department’s feeling about Indochina.

Mr. Matthews said it was not happy.

General Vandenberg asked whether it was proposed to stand-by and do nothing in event that the Chinese Communists should come in or whether some solution of the problem was in mind?

Mr. Matthews and Mr. Nitze said the State Department was waiting on what Admiral Davis and his working party would come up with as an estimate of what might be done.

Mr. Bohlen remarked that this was a chicken-and-egg problem, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff were waiting for a clarification of policy before making up their mind about military aspects, while the rest of the Government was awaiting an estimate of military capabilities before deciding on policy.

General Vandenberg emphasized the necessity of deciding whether this was primarily a political or a military problem.

Mr. Matthews remarked that it was essentially both and that as to issuing a warning to deter the Chinese, it was necessary to know what could be done before deciding what was to be done.

General Vandenberg said it was essential to know whether the State Department believed a warning should or should not be given to the Chinese Communists as a step to deter them in Indochina.

Mr. Matthews said such a warning should be given, but not unless we were ready to back it up by action if the warning should be disregarded.

Mr. Nitze emphasized the interrelation of military and political factors, saying certainly the United States wanted to issue a warning to get the Chinese to cease and desist in Indochina, but it also wanted to do this without incurring the risk of general war and without using the atomic weapons, and the question therefore was both political and military in essentials.

[Page 36]

General Vandenberg remarked that it would be up to the State Department to estimate the effectiveness of a warning as a deterrent to the Chinese Communists.

General Bradley remarked that this was both a political and a military matter, and Mr. Nitze said that it was a problem for joint estimate.

Mr. Matthews and Mr. Nitze gave an affirmative opinion in response to General Vandenberg’s question whether it was thought that the British would go along with us in such warning.

In answer to General Vandenberg’s question regarding the prospect of Congressional support of the Executive in such undertaking, Mr. Nitze said that he believed such support would be forthcoming if State and Defense presented a joint position on the matter.

In answer to General Vandenberg’s remark that this was primarily up to the State Department, Mr. Nitze said that it would require both State and Defense, that State would need Defense collaboration in explaining the situation to the Congress, as the Armed Services Committees as well as the Committees on Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs would feel a primary and vital concern.

Mr. Matthews asked as to the military estimate of the imminence of Chinese interposition in Indochina.

General Bradley observed that the Chinese “keep building up”.

General Vandenberg said that it was likely to come some Sunday morning—too late for a warning to do any good.

  1. A note on the title page reads: “State Draft. Not cleared with any of the participants.”

    All the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff attended. Matthews headed the Department of State group. A total of 22 persons were present.