751G.00/1–452: Telegram

The Minister at Saigon (Heath) to the Department of State

top secret

1324. Rptd info Paris 506, London 21. Fr note on criteria on Chi Commie assault against Indochina (Paris tel 3856 to Dept, 1027 to London, Dec. 29)1 contributes to clarification problem. There are however certain aspects of Fr presentation which seem to require further consideration.

Fr position that action of hostile Sino-VM airforce wld not be casus belli provided air units take off from bases inside Vietnam and that aggression wld occur only if enemy planes operate from Chi territory. Origin enemy aircraft, training air crews, sources maintenance and supply facilities wld all be unmistakably Chi. We think this problem must be approached more practically: Appearance of enemy aircraft in Vietnam whatever their jumping-off place will mark major Chi Commie aggression against Indochina. (Altho we have no evidence that is being considered it might not be beyond [Page 9] possibility for Chi Commies to lease or cede bases to VM republic on Liechow Peninsula or Hainan or, for a period, even to retrocede Fort Bayard to provide jurisdictional cover.)

Fr insistence that present Chi Commie aid in equip, advisers, technicians, training, and transborder bases not aggression and wld not become “genuine aggression” until effectiveness this intervention reaches “point of upsetting equilibrium of opposing forces”. Thesis seems to be that test genuine aggression is its success, point of view that wld reverse much of postwar history. Obvious local danger in accepting theory is that once Chi Commie intervention has been built up to “point of upsetting equilibrium”, at least Tonkin might be overrun, Hanoi–Haiphong redoubt liquidated, and Fr Union forces in north destroyed before US or UK cld act or UN consider Fr declaration that genuine aggression had at last occurred. If our or UN support to contribute to holding this vital pass it shld be given opportunity work from established Fr positions, beachheads, and airfields. Ultimate meaning Fr position almost certainly that any supporting effort wld be more difficult, more costly and probably too late.

So far as we can determine, prospects of mil support from Philippines in answer Fr appeal seem rather dim; as for effective mil support from Thai, outlook seems even dimmer. Re mil action by Atlantic Pact countries and British dominions of white race in pursuance UN recommendations in Indochina, good deal of preparatory work wld appear necessarily to have to be done. In addition to question capabilities (which forthcoming tripartite talks may explore) we have impression that Indochina situation and issues not widely known and some evangelistic effort may be required.

We take it Fr can document extent and range of Chi Commie intervention in Indochina although they have never done so. We believe Fr shld be urged document intervention case as it now exists. If it is as substantial as we believe, bipartite or tripartite consideration might indicate desirability submittal to UN before equilibrium of opposing forces is indeed upset. We fully appreciate cogency Letourneau‘s observation that it not absolutely certain that appeal to UN at this time wld receive reception desired (Paris tel 3881, Dec 29).2 It all the more important that we be in position to weigh evidential strength of Fr case. Problem of UN timing together with criteria of aggression and consequent responses by France’s allies must form important agenda item in forthcoming tripartite mtg.