Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file

Memorandum of Discussion at the 180th Meeting of the National Security Council, Thursday, January 14, 19541

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Present at the 180th meeting of the Council were the President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Secretary of State; the Acting Secretary of Defense; the Acting Director, Foreign Operations Administration; the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Acting Secretary of the Interior (for Item 1); the Secretary of Commerce (for Item 1); the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (for Item 3); the Federal Civil Defense Administrator (for Item 3); the Under Secretary of State; the Service Secretaries and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (for Item 3); Col. Bonesteel, Mr. Lehrer and Col. Powell, Department of Defense (for Item 3); the Director of Central Intelligence; the Assistant to the President; Robert Cutler and C. D. Jackson, Special Assistants to the President; Richard L. Hall, NSC Special Staff; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

Following is a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the chief points taken.

1. Significant world developments affecting U.S. security

. . . . . . .

Mr. [Allen] Dulles then briefed the Council on the latest intelligence regarding the situation at Dien Bien Phu. There were now 11,000 French Union troops in 15 battalions at the base. They had only six [Page 962] days’ supplies of rations. Nevertheless, unless the Vietminh were able to stop the airlift, no difficulties in supply were to be anticipated, and it was thought unlikely that the Vietminh anti-aircraft guns could stop this airlift. The number of Vietminh troops, said Mr. Dulles, would amount by January 15 to some 24,000 in 19 battalions. It was thought doubtful that this was a sufficient number to take Dien Phu by frontal attack.

. . . . . . . .

4. United States objectives and courses of action with respect to Southeast Asia (NSC 177; NSC Action No. 1005; Memo for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated January 12, 1954)2

Mr. Cutler referred to the action of the Council at last week’s meeting on NSC 177, called attention to the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff which had been received since the last meeting, and pointed out that the Joint Chiefs had suggested language to cover the two splits which occurred in NSC 177.

With respect to the split on page 1 of NSC 177, which read “a defeat or an abandonment of the struggle by France would diminish France’s value as a factor in free world defense [in Europe and in North Africa] “,3 Secretary Dulles said that he had a more drastic solution for the disagreements, namely, that the entire sentence, and not merely the bracketed phrase, should be deleted. There were some people who argued that France might be much stronger at home or in North Africa if it got out of French Indochina. The President indicated that the preceding sentence sufficed to cover the problem.

Secretary Dulles went on to argue that the proper focus of interest of the NSC was the effect of a French abandonment of the struggle in Indochina on U.S. security interests, and it was accordingly academic to get into an argument as to the effect of such abandonment on French security interests. After all, continued Secretary Dulles, the United States is not engaged in defending France’s vital interests; and the vital interests of the United States, as the President had pointed out, were adequately covered by the previous sentence.

Mr. Cutler explained and defended the Planning Board’s inclusion of this sentence, but the Secretary of State repeated his contention that it was beside the point to become involved in arguments as to the effect on France of a withdrawal from the struggle in Indochina.

[Page 963]

Mr. Cutler observed that the Planning Board had gone down to defeat at the hands of the Council. He would accept the defeat, …

. . . . . . .

After some further discussion on this matter, the Secretary of State requested the Council’s permission to make some observations. He then said that despite everything that we do there remained a possibility that the French position in Indochina would collapse. If this happened and the French were thrown out, it would, of course, become the responsibility of the victorious Vietminh to set up a government and maintain order in Indochina. In his opinion, said Secretary Dulles, he did not believe that in this contingency this country would simply say “Too bad; we’re licked and that’s the end of it.” If we could carry on effective guerrilla operations against this new Vietminh government we should be able to make as much trouble for this government as they had made for our side and against the legitimate governments of the Associated States in recent years. Moreover, the costs would be relatively low. Accordingly, an opportunity will be open to us in Southeast Asia even if the French are finally defeated by the Communists. We can raise hell and the Communists will find it just as expensive to resist as we are now finding it. Secretary Dulles recommended that a lot more thought be given to this opportunity instead of wasting time in worrying too much about what we should do if the French were defeated in Indochina or abandoned it.

. . . . . . .

The President observed that he wished we could have done something like this after the victory of the Communists in China. Secretary Dulles answered that of course it was a grave mistake to have allowed the Communists the opportunity to consolidate their position in China. If we had made our plans in advance we might well have succeeded in keeping Communist China in a turmoil. In any event, the possibilities should be kept in mind for Indochina.

Mr. Cutler reminded the Council that the reason that no such suggestions had been made in this paper was the feeling of the Council and the Planning Board that NSC 177 should not even mention the possibility of a French abandonment of their responsibilities in Indochina.

The Vice President commented that while Secretary Dulles’ idea had merit, he was not clear as to where we would find the guerrillas. He predicted that the Vietnamese would not like this role. He also added the thought that the departure of the French from Indochina might provide just what was lacking to the Vietnamese by way of the will to fight. They might therefore allow us to come in and build up their native forces and in general do for them what the French had [Page 964] thus far failed to do. The Vice President cautioned that this did not mean the introduction of U.S. combat forces.

The President also expressed approval of Secretary Dulles’ idea, and pointed out, apropos of it, the very great role which the Russians had informed him was played by their own guerrillas in defeating the Germans in World War II.

The National Security Council:4

Adopted the statement of policy contained in NSC 177, subject to the following changes:
Delete the last sentence of paragraph 1-a.5
Delete paragraph 46, and renumber succeeding paragraphs.6
Agreed that the Director of Central Intelligence, in collaboration with other appropriate departments and agencies, should develop plans, as suggested by the Secretary of State, for certain contingencies in Indochina.

Note:NSC 177, as amended, subsequently approved by the President, circulated as NSC 5405, and referred to the Operations Coordinating Board as the coordinating agency designated by the President. The action in b above subsequently transmitted to the Director of Central Intelligence for implementation.

. . . . . . .

  1. Prepared by S. Everett Gleason, Deputy Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, on Jan. 15.
  2. For text of an additional portion of the record of the discussion of this item, see volume xii. NSC 177, as slightly amended, was approved as NSC 5405 of Jan. 16; for extracts from NSC 5405, see p. 971. The text of NSC Action No. 1005 is included in the extracts of the memorandum of discussion at the 179th Meeting of the Council, Jan. 8, printed on p. 947. For the Jan. 12 memorandum by Executive Secretary Lay to the NSC, transmitting a memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, see volume xii.
  3. Brackets in the source text.
  4. Points a and 6 below constituted NSC Action No. 1011. (S/SNSC files, lot 66 D 95, “NSC Actions”)
  5. For information on this deletion, see the second paragraph of discussion under item 4, above.
  6. For paragraph 46 of NSC 177, which concerned action to be taken in the event of major Communist aggression against Thailand, see footnote 5 to Robertson’s memorandum to Secretary Dulles, Jan. 6, 1954, printed in volume xii.