Memorandum by the United States Member of the Five-Power Ad Hoc Committee on Southeast Asia (Davis) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff1

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  • Report of the Five Power Ad Hoc Committee on Southeast Asia.
[Page 37]


  • a. My memorandum of 29 January 1952
  • b. SM-309–52 of 30 January 19522
The attached report of the Five Power Ad Hoc Committee on Southeast Asia, Dated 5 February 1952, contains differences in fundamental viewpoints which I am satisfied could not have been reconciled by any further negotiation or discussion on the Ad Hoc Committee level.
The following condensation is derived from analysis of the report in combination with discussion during Ad Hoc Committee meetings:
The position of the United States member is consistent with your guidance and with the terms of reference3 of the Ad Hoc Committee;
The position of the British and French members is in opposition to blockade of China. They are also opposed to bombing of China except in connection with direct support operations close to the border where Chinese aggression might occur;
The French position is motivated primarily by the wish to forestall diversion of forces from direct support of Indochina operations;
The British position, more definitely expressed than that of the French, is motivated primarily by determination to avoid any action that might unduly irritate Communist China or the USSR; and
These French and British positions are, in general, rationalized by their assumptions that blockade and bombing would be both impracticable and ineffective.
The foregoing may be restated to the effect that the French want all the help and commitments they can get in connection with their immediate Indochina problem and that the British position remains that of holding Hong Kong and Indochina if possible while avoiding any action of consequence against Communist China itself.
It seems to me that the underlying difficulty is refusal on the part of the Ad Hoc Committee as a whole to recognize that their task is simply an initial step in determining what to do about the Southeast Asia problem and is clearly hypothetical. This is evident [Page 38] from the fact that the British and French are unwilling to meet the terms of reference, which, in essence, require recommendations as to what might be done if retaliatory action were to be taken. Instead, they undertake to decide that real retaliatory action should not be undertaken and that military measures should, in effect, be limited to defensive action.
The point, however, is that we are about where we started, except for clarification of basic differences. It is my impression that the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff are not inclined to go along with recommending a warning with respect to “further acts of aggression” without prior firm agreement that, if such a warning were disregarded, actual retaliatory action would have the concurrence and participation of the other interested nations. I am satisfied that the British and French viewpoints, as shown in the Ad Hoc Committee report and amplified above, are primarily national, so that I doubt if our own views would be supported on their political levels even if supported by the British and French members of the Ad Hoc Committee.
The foregoing raises the question of consistency as between issuing of a warning, if there is a Korean armistice, without prior international agreement as to what military measures might be taken if that warning were disregarded, and insistence upon such an agreement before issuing a Southeast Asia warning. I do not know the answer to this.
In any event, strong efforts will continue to be made to commit us to complete direct support, as distinguished from retaliatory action in Southeast Asia. In fact, it might be said that there was considerable disposition to regard the Ad Hoc Committee task as a vehicle for this objective.
In the latter connection, both the British and French made repeated objection in the Ad Hoc Committee to our position against commitment of troops and the basing of air units ashore. They wished the statements weakened, obviously in the hope that this could be the basis for more effective pressure on these points hereafter. I am sure this pressure will continue in any case.
Another point of importance is that the British and French are determined to persist in their desire to set up a form of combined command in the Southeast Asia area. In the Ad Hoc Committee report this intention is toned down and, as will be noted, I have safeguarded our own position, but the original draft on this point as proposed by the British, together with attendant discussion, indicates that they think any direct support operations by us should come under the French in Indochina and under the British in Hong Kong. Whether or not this could be shown to be theoretically correct, it seems to me that, taking the British and French positions [Page 39] as a whole, they would like not only to determine what we shall do with our own forces in the event of our taking military action with respect to the Southeast Asia problem, but also to command our forces while these limited actions are being taken.
It is of interest to note that the New Zealand representative was present only as an observer and that the Australian representative was relatively open-minded and cooperative.
A final point, which I think requires consideration at once, is that the British and French representatives are recommending individually that the report of the Ad Hoc Committee be considered by the Chiefs of Staffs of the several nations in Lisbon during, but separate from, the forthcoming NATO meetings. I pointed out that the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff are not scheduled to be in Lisbon. I expect that the British and French will persist on the basis that General Bradley can, of course, represent the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. My opinion, for what it may be worth, is that consideration in Lisbon would be premature, for it appears that it is now time for us to firm up some sort of Defense-State position before engaging in further argument on the strictly military level. That is, I think the British and French already have firm politico-military positions and I believe that this is not the case as far as we are concerned.
In light of all of the foregoing I recommend that the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Make decision with respect to the Lisbon meeting discussed in the last preceding paragraph;
Take steps to firm up a Defense-State position regarding the Southeast Asia problem;
Note the attached report of the Five Power Ad Hoc Committee on Southeast Asia;
Approve and support paragraphs 30, 31, and 32 of the report as the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff position;
Agree to take no unilateral action against Communist China, other than as provided in General Ridgway’s current instructions;4
Consider limiting United States military action to assistance in evacuation if the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff position remains unsupported by the British and French; and
Give serious consideration to our entire Far East position in relation to global problems, with a view to the possible desirability of some adjustment in emphasis.
A. C. Davis
Vice Admiral, USN
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Report by the Ad Hoc Committee on South East Asia to the Chiefs of Staff of

  • Australia5
  • France
  • New Zealand6
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

We are sending you herewith the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the defense of South East Asia. This report is drawn up according to the terms of reference which were agreed by the Chiefs of Staff or their representatives at their meeting in Washington on 11 January 1952.

Air Vice Marshal F. R. W. Scherger

General de Corps D’Armee P. E. Ely

Air Commodore J. L. Findlay (observer)

New Zealand
Air Chief Marshal Sir William Elliot

United Kingdom
[Vice] Admiral A. C. Davis

United States of America

[Sub enclosure]

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South East Asia

report of ad hoc committee

I. Study of Possible Military Measures Against Further Chinese Communist Aggression


1. Representatives of the Chiefs of Staff of the United States, United Kingdom and France are considering recommending to their respective Governments that a warning should be given to [Page 41] the Chinese Communists to the effect that a further act of aggression will result in strong retaliation, not necessarily limited to the area of the aggression. In order to study the military force available to back up such a warning, an Ad Hoc Committee was appointed. Australia and New Zealand were invited to representation on this committee—Australia accepted as a participating member; New Zealand as an observer.


2. For the purposes of our study, we have assumed that, as a result of a political decision, a warning in the above terms has been given.

3. It is further assumed that the warning has been disregarded and a further act of aggression has taken place in any non-Communist area contiguous to China.

4. Active aggression may come in any degree from an increase in infiltration to a full scale onslaught. We are not competent to define an act of aggression. Any decision for such definition would ultimately rest with Governments.

The Problem

5. To:

Determine the collective capabilities of the nations represented on the Committee which could be made available for retaliation;
Make recommendations for eventual transmission to Governments through the respective Chiefs of Staff as to what specific military measures might be taken as a collective effort against the Chinese Communists, not only in threatened areas but also directly against China.

The solution of this problem entails beforehand the definition on fundamentals of the overall allied objectives, which are to limit further aggression and must make any aggression which has already been launched as difficult, painful and unprofitable as the combined resources of the Western Powers permit.

Guidance From Chiefs of Staffs

6. It was decided that in studying the problem generally, the following factors should also be considered:

The possibility of Chinese attacks anywhere on the South East Asia periphery;
The possibility of a global redeployment of forces, account being taken of the world situation;
The use of Chinese Nationalist forces;
The employment of sea and air bases, including Formosa.

Considerations Governing Achievement of Allied Objectives

7. The Allied objectives should be considered in the light of the possibilities of: [Page 42]

Holding those bases presently occupied, which control the opening of China towards South East Asia, in order to oppose Communist expansion;
Avoiding deep inland ground actions, and
Reducing the offensive capability of Communist China through:
Air actions applied to the Chinese territory as a whole;
Establishment of a blockade on the Chinese coast.

[Here follow all of sections II, “Aspects of the Problem”, and III, “Detailed Consideration of Indo-China”, and a detailed exploration of alternatives in section IV, “Possible Action Against China”. Paragraphs 26–33 below conclude the latter section.]

Conclusion of Possible Action Against China

26. We conclude that, whether or not bombing or blockade of China would in the long term force the withdrawal of the Chinese Communist Armies back within their own frontier, or alternatively cause the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Government, there is little doubt that such action alone would probably not prevent the forced evacuation of Tonkin or Hong Kong, if attacked, or deny access to South East Asia to the Chinese Communists.

Conclusions on the Short-Term Aspect of the Problem

27. Indo-China is the most likely area of Chinese aggression. Considerable Chinese forces are known to be massed in South China, and can be capable of attacking it alone, or in conjunction with a new assault in Korea.

28. We have considered the possibilities of rendering direct aid to the French forces in Indo-China in the event of a full scale Chinese attack. If allied action were confined within the borders of Indo-China, the resources of the Western Powers presently available would make such aid insufficient to ensure the retention of the Tonkin Delta by the French.

29. We have therefore considered action directly against China, not confined to the area of aggression.

The actions which might be undertaken are as follows:

A naval blockade in conjunction with an embargo.
Operations against Communist China by Chinese Nationalist forces if and when they are adequately equipped and trained.
Assistance to anti-Communist Chinese guerilla forces in China.
Assistance to the British in the evacuation of Hong Kong, if required.
Assistance to the French in the evacuation of Haiphong, if required.
Air operations against China proper south of the Yellow River with the objective of creating the maximum drain on the USSR and China with the minimum loss to Western forces.

[Page 43]

All these actions incur the risk of general war with China, dependent only upon the Chinese reaction aroused. Further, the extension of the conflict into global war would be dependent only upon the decision of the USSR.

30. But if further Chinese aggression occurred in disregard of an issued warning, such a warning should be implemented.

The military action we might take should be designed to have a significant adverse effect on Communist China’s war making capability. It must limit further aggression and must make any aggression which has already been launched as difficult, painful and unprofitable as the combined resources of the Western Powers permit.

31. We conclude that the following specific military measures might be taken as a collective effort against the Chinese Communists not only in threatened areas but also directly against China:

Control the air over threatened areas including attack at the source of the threat.
Isolate the battlefields wherein aggression is being fought, including interdiction of routes of communication in China proper.
Direct air support of ground troops in threatened areas.
Evacuation where necessary.
Blockade of China coast.

32. a. We conclude that any of the actions contemplated above might lead to extension of the action as necessary for the security of our own forces or to combat aggressive actions in other areas contiguous to China. All actions run the risk of incurring further aggressive actions in other areas even extending to general war with China. The extension of these actions into global conflict will be wholly dependent upon the reaction incited in the USSR.

b. The above conclusions as to the collective forces that could be made available for retaliation, and as to the specific military measures that might be taken as a collective effort against the Chinese Communists, are presented as an informational basis upon which political decisions with regard to the issue of a warning to Communist China might be made.

c. The limited forces available with which to undertake operations of the scope necessary to constitute strong retaliation and to achieve overall success against Communism in the Far East, together with the risk of world-wide repercussions as a result of the actions considered, would indicate that the gravity of the situation might warrant further consideration of the global aspects of the entire Asian problem.

33. The above are, in the main, the agreed conclusions (paragraphs 27 through 32). However, the British wish certain comments to be recorded. These are: [Page 44]


Paragraph 29

The object of any action against China is not revenge for her evil doing but to prevent independent countries on her borders from falling to Chinese Communism. The object therefore should be to limit action against China. Moreover, it is to our general advantage to avoid unlimited war with China since it would entail deployment of forces to the Far East, where they would be misplaced in the event of war with China leading to global war.


Paragraphs 29 a and 31 e.

For the reasons stated in paragraph 21, the British do not think that a blockade against China would have any marked effect even in the long-term and that possible repercussions would be unacceptably serious.


Paragraph 31 a.

While the British agree with the isolation of any battlefield from its immediate source of supply within China, they feel that attacks carried to the source of the threat, if those attacks were extended to the heart of China, would again cause repercussions which would be unacceptably serious.

V. Recommendations

34. Although the Ad Hoc Committee are at variance on certain fundamentals of policy (Section IV), it has reached a measure of agreement. (See paragraphs 27 through 33.)

We invite our respective Chiefs of Staff to accept the conclusions as the views of the Ad Hoc Committee. We consider these conclusions adequately fulfill the task set out in paragraph 5 of our Report.

35. The U.K. and French members would like to draw attention to the urgent need for consideration of setting up machinery to implement any agreed military measures. Such machinery should provide for the collation of intelligence and the study of operational and logistic plans to meet the possibilities of Chinese aggression in South East Asia. They recommend, if the Tripartite Chiefs of Staff agree [to] their recommendation, that a joint directive should be issued to their respective commands in the Far East setting up machinery for studying the implementation of military action. Such study in no way commits nations to action which is the prerogative of Governments.

The U.S. member feels that the Ad Hoc Committee is not competent to recommend definite actions as outlined above, this, further, being outside the scope of their terms of reference. He also considers that at this stage the suggested actions are not desirable.

[Here follow appendices outlining the capabilities of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States in the event of hostilities with the People’s Republic of China, and an appendix outlining French Union forces then in Indochina.]

  1. Transmitted to the Department of State under a covering memorandum of Feb. 7 from Admiral Lalor to H. Freeman Matthews, Deputy Under Secretary of State. The memorandum reads: “Pursuant to a request by General Bradley, as a result of his conversation yesterday with the Secretary of State, there are enclosed herewith for the information and use by the Secretary of State in possible conversations in connection with the Lisbon meeting, three copies of the subject report.”

    The Ninth Session of the North Atlantic Council and tripartite meetings of the Foreign Ministers of France (Robert Schuman), the United Kingdom (Anthony Eden), and the United States took place concurrently in Lisbon beginning Feb. 20.

    In telegram Secto 95 from Lisbon, Feb. 26, the Secretary reported: “Eden in tripartite mtg this afternoon raised question of Indochina. Commented on divergence of milit views. We indicated US making thorough review which from the milit point of view shld be completed within a month, and wld take another month of interdepartmental and other consultation. At end of that time, we might be ready to talk further.” (740.5/2–2652)

    For a report of this tripartite meeting, see vol. v, Part 1, p. 167.

  2. Neither found in Department of State files.
  3. Not found in Department of State files.
  4. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP); Commander in Chief, United Nations Command (CINCUNC); and Commander in Chief, Far East (CINCFE).

    For documentation on General Ridgway’S role as CINCUNC, see volume xv.

  5. Lt. Gen. S.F. Rowell.
  6. Maj. Gen. K.L. Strout.