Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file
Memorandum of Discussion at the 192d Meeting of the National Security Council, Tuesday, April 6, 19541
The following were present at the 192nd Meeting of the Council: The President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense: the Director, Foreign Operations Administration; and the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; the Under Secretary of State; the Deputy Secretary of Defense; the Secretaries of the Army and Navy; the Chairman. Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army; the Chief of Naval Operations; the Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force; the Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps; the Director of Central Intelligence; the Assistant to the President; Robert Cutler, Special Assistant to the President; Robert R. Bowie, Department of State; Herbert Miller, Central Intelligence Agency (for Item 3); the White House Staff Secretary; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.
There follows a summary of the discussion at the meeting, together with the main points taken.
1. NSC Action No. 1074–a (Report on NSC Action No. 1074–a, dated April 5, 1954)2
Mr. Cutler briefed the Council very thoroughly on the content of this report dealing with the question of whether or not the United [Page 1251]States should intervene with armed forces in Indochina in the event that there was no other means of saving the area from Communist control. After having read the first eight pages of the paper, which were a statement of the problem, Mr. Cutler summarized the principal points in the Annex, which described the various alternate courses of action from which the United States could choose if it decided to intervene in Indochina. At the conclusion of his briefing, Mr. Cutler called the Council’s attention to the split view in the Intelligence Advisory Committee with respect to the Chinese Communist reaction to U.S. intervention. He then called upon the Director of Central Intelligence to brief the Council on the latest intelligence regarding the situation at Dien Bien Phu.
Before beginning his intelligence briefing, Mr. [Allen] Dulles explained that the split of opinion in the Intelligence Advisory Committee regarding Chinese Communist overt intervention was perhaps not as wide as it seemed at first glance.3 All the members of the Committee recognized that if the United States intervened in such force as to contrive the defeat of the Vietminh, there would be very great danger of overt Chinese Communist intervention. The only issue, therefore, was one of degree. Some members of the IAC felt that there was a better than fifty percent chance that the Chinese Communists would intervene. Mr. Dulles said that he personally felt that there was less than a fifty percent chance. At any rate, the contingency of Chinese Communist intervention was very significant and should be taken into consideration in the Council’s deliberations.
Turning to the latest intelligence on the situation at Dien Bien Phu, Mr. Dulles indicated that it had not greatly changed in the last few [Page 1252]days. Action had slackened off as the Vietminh forces were reconstituted after their extremely heavy losses.
After indicating in detail the changes in the positions at Dien Bien Phu, Mr. Dulles commented on the French reports that 20,000 additional Vietminh troops were on their way to reinforce the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu. If true, it would take these forces several days to reach the fortress from the Tonkin Delta or other distant points. The French expected the Vietminh to renew their mass attacks in the next few days, certainly within ten days.
The French losses to date in this action amounted to approximately four battalions, three of which had been replaced. The wounded presented a very severe problem, because accurate enemy anti-aircraft fire prevented evacuation of French casualties. This fire also made it extremely hazardous to airdrop supplies and replacements. Ground haze and frequent storms added to the difficulties of the French Union Air Forces.
The Vietminh losses were estimated as between ten and twenty thousand. To date there had been replacement of only three thousand, and Colonel de Castries had stated that the enemy was short of ammunition.
Mr. Dulles then turned to the question of Chinese Communist support of the Vietminh rebels. There was no confirmation of recent sensational reports that the Chinese Communists were providing Chinese personnel as well as military matériel to the rebels at Dien Bien Phu. Doubtless they had stepped up the provision of supplies, and there were probably two thousand Chinese advisers who had been with the Vietminh forces for a long time. There was, however, no confirmation of the report that a Chinese General was participating in the attack at Dien Bien Phu, or that the Chinese had provided the Vietminh with radar-controlled 37-millimetre guns. (Admiral Radford also doubted the existence of guns of this calibre.) Finally, said Mr. Dulles, there was yet no proof of the further French report that Chinese soldiers were manning some of the anti-aircraft artillery positions around Dien Bien Phu. General Cogny suspects this to be the case because the fire has been so accurate.
Mr. Dulles then commented on forces available to the Chinese Communists if they did undertake to intervene overtly. For this purpose there were five Chinese Communist divisions deployed along the border of Indochina, though there had been no change in their deployment in recent weeks. Within some 300 miles of the border there were in addition seven Chinese armies, numbering in all about 200,000 men, which could be sent into Indochina along the four available roads. With respect to Chinese Communist aircraft, no MIG–15’s were currently [Page 1253]concentrated on airfields in China sufficiently close to Dien Bien Phu to enable Chinese pilots to fly to Dien Bien Phu and return.
At the conclusion of Mr. Dulles’ briefing, Admiral Radford pointed out that according to his advices [advisers] the Dien Bien Phu garrison had sufficient food to last for three days and sufficient ammunition to last perhaps four or five days. The French were, of course, in very bad shape. They could not evacuate their wounded, and the airdrop of supplies was becoming very difficult. Precise details were lacking since the radio at Dien Bien Phu had been out of operation since Sunday afternoon, April 4, our time.
Mr. Cutler said that in order to point up the issue for the National Security Council, he wished to call attention to the estimate of the French military situation which was provided in paragraph 3 of the Planning Board’s paper. This read as follows: “There is not, however, any certainty that the French have as yet reached the point of being willing to accept a settlement which is unacceptable to U.S. interests or to cease their military efforts. Moreover, regardless of the outcome of the fight at Dien Bien Phu, there is no indication that a military decision in Indochina is imminent.” If this estimate remained accurate, the Council would not be obliged to decide at the present meeting whether to intervene in Indochina at once, but only whether it would be necessary to intervene at some future time if the French faced defeat.
Secretary Wilson said that there had developed quite a difference of opinion in the Defense Department on the question whether a military decision in Indochina was actually imminent. Mr. Allen Dulles added that he also thought that the statement in the Planning Board draft was now rather too optimistic. Admiral Radford supported the view of Secretary Wilson and Mr. Dulles.
The President, however, expressed the opinion that even if Dien Bien Phu were lost to the French, it could hardly be described as a military defeat, since the French would have inflicted such great losses on the enemy. The President said that to him the most depressing feature of the situation was the French failure to move anywhere else in Indochina while the seige of Dien Bien Phu goes on. Mr. Allen Dulles commented that the situation in the Tonkin Delta worried him almost more than the situation at Dien Bien Phu. The President continued his remarks, pointing out that the French Union forces seemed to have a fifty percent superiority in manpower nearly everywhere in Indochina, and he could not understand why they made no move to capitalize on this numerical superiority. As far as he was concerned, said the President with great emphasis, there was no possibility whatever of U.S. unilateral intervention in Indochina, and we had best face that fact. Even if we tried such a course, we would have to take [Page 1254]it to Congress and fight for it like dogs, with very little hope of success. At the very least, also, we would have to be invited in by the Vietnamese.
Secretary Dulles then asked if he might speak. He said that he was, of course, not qualified to pass a judgment on the military consequences of delaying a decision to intervene in Indochina. He did, however, feel qualified to talk about political considerations. First off, with regard to Congress. To judge from his meeting last Saturday4 together with Secretary Kyes and Admiral Radford, with eight Congressional leaders, he deduced that it would be impossible to get Congressional authorization for U.S. unilateral action in Indochina. To secure the necessary Congressional support would be contingent on meeting three conditions. One, U.S. intervention must be part of a coalition to include the other free nations of Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and the British Commonwealth nations. Secondly, the French must agree to accelerate their independence program for the Associated States so that there could be no question of U.S. support of French colonialism. Thirdly, the French must agree not to pull their forces out of the war if we put our forces in.
These three conditions, Secretary Dulles emphasized, had clearly emerged from his conversations with the Congressional leaders, and it would be a hopeless fight to try to overcome Congressional opposition to U.S. armed intervention unless we met these three conditions. This was a plain fact which the Council could not overlook even if this fact involved an undesirable delay from the military point of view.
Secretary Dulles, turning to the President, then stated that with the President’s approval he had already begun to put out some feelers with the Ambassadors of the various nations whose interests were involved in the Indochina war. The most difficult situation, to judge from his conversations with the Ambassadors, would be encountered with the United Kingdom. The British Government was at present in the doldrums. Prime Minister Churchill had almost collapsed in Parliament during the debate on the hydrogen bomb. The paralysis of the British Government was almost as serious as that of the French. Despite all these difficulties, Secretary Dulles still said he would not exclude the possibility that the British would come along with us. For one thing, the danger to Malaya will be considerable if the British do not agree to do something to defend Indochina. For another, the British would have to anticipate heavy pressure from Australia and New Zealand, whose interests and security were heavily involved. To judge from his conversations with the Ambassadors, both these Commonwealth Governments were disposed to try to join with us and [Page 1255]others in some kind of regional grouping to help defend Southeast Asia.
Secretary Dulles said that he had seen the representatives of Thailand and the Philippines yesterday.5 He was quite sure that they would come along with us, but unfortunately they would not bring much material help with them. He would see the representatives of the Associated States tomorrow.6
Secretary Dulles then said that he looked upon the decision which faced the Council today as not primarily a decision to intervene with military forces in Indochina, but as an effort to build up strength in the Southeast Asia area to such a point that military intervention might prove to be unnecessary. This objective was by no means impossible of realization if the situation in Indochina did not seriously deteriorate prior to the Geneva Conference or the advent of the rainy season and a slow-down in the fighting. And there was a fair chance that no irremediable military disaster would occur in the next thirty days unless the French will to resist should collapse. The French will to resist may be sustained if the French believe that they will get real help in the reasonably near future. In any event, it was significant that they were sending new forces from North Africa to reinforce Indochina. These forces would arrive somewhere toward the last of April or early May. This Secretary Dulles took to be an indication that the French were certainly not intending to quit the battle soon, so that if we could build a good political foundation in and around Southeast Asia, it might not be necessary to intervene with our own armed forces. If, on the other hand, the United States failed to get results in its efforts to build up a regional grouping, it would certainly be necessary to contemplate armed intervention. As the Joint Chiefs of Staff had stated in their comments to the Council on the recent Italian paper, NSC 5411,7 there were certain risks which we could take today which we might well not be able to take later.
The Geneva negotiations, said Secretary Dulles, were now coming up. The real issue at Geneva would be whether the French would sell out to the Communists or whether there would be a settlement reflecting Communist willingness to abandon the attempt to seize control of Indochina. Which of these eventualities actually happened would depend largely on the will to resist of the Associated States and of the other free nations in the Southeast Asia area. If these states were divided they would prove easy pickings for Communist imperialism. If they remained united, and if we could effect a real political grouping, the Communists might well give up their intent to seize the area. [Page 1256]The British position was of crucial importance. If we can get the United Kingdom to line up with us throughout Asia in resistance to Communism, and if the United Kingdom is prepared to risk the loss of Hong Kong in order to save Malaya, all of this might prove to be the beginning of the creation of a real United States policy in Asia. We have in fact lacked such a policy largely because the United Kingdom had proved consistently unwilling to go along with us on any significant policies or objectives in Asia. The chance may now be at hand, at long last, to win the British over to our side. The peril in Southeast Asia might forge the needed unity because the British stake in Malaya is so great and because Britain’s two children, Australia and New Zealand, are likewise imperilled. If the British come in now they will gain assets for their position in Australia and New Zealand. If they do not, Britain will lose its remaining influence in the ANZUS countries.
In conclusion, said Secretary Dulles, it was his feeling, therefore, that the National Security Council need not at this time make any decision whether to intervene or not in Indochina. We know that under certain conditions Congress is likely to back us up. We should therefore place all our efforts on trying to organize a regional grouping for the defense of Southeast Asia prior to the opening of the Geneva Conference. If we can do so we will go into that Conference strong and united, with a good hope that we would come out of the Conference with the Communists backing down. The situation was not unlike that which existed in 1932 when Stimson tried so desperately with Sir John Simon to get the United Kingdom to join with the United States in trying to slow down the Japanese. The British, of course, had refused to follow Stimson’s course. Secretary Dulles said he believed, however, that if we put our case to them strongly they may come along this time. This is the general course that Secretary Dulles recommended for Council action.
Mr. Cutler then asked Secretary Dulles whether he proposed that we go to Congress with our plan for a regional grouping for the defense of Indochina, prior to the opening of the Geneva Conference. Secretary Dulles replied in the negative. There was no use going to the Congress until we had something in the way of an organization lined up and until we got that organization to accept the three conditions which were essential if the Congress were to pass a Joint Resolution permitting U.S. participation in such a regional organization. Secretary Dulles said, however, that he felt that he had already sufficient assurance of Congressional support to feel perfectly able to talk to these other nations and to tell them that if they will go along on our proposal the Congress will permit U.S. participation in the regional grouping.[Page 1257]
The President expressed his hostility to the notion that because we might lose Indochina we would necessarily have to lose all the rest of Southeast Asia. This had not been the view of the Council at an earlier time. Indeed, the Council had set up a Special Committee to recommend measures for saving the rest of Southeast Asia in the event that Indochina were lost.
Secretary Dulles turned to Under Secretary Smith, who was sitting behind him, and after conferring briefly, informed the Council that Secretary Smith had just told him that the Special Committee referred to by the President had just completed its recommendations.8 If the President desired, Secretary Smith could give the Council the gist of the Special Committee’s recommendations.
Secretary Smith explained that in some respects the Planning Board draft now before the Council had overtaken the report of the Special Committee, of which he had been a member. Nevertheless, the Special Committee’s report paralleled the Planning Board views in that it likewise called for the creation of a regional organization designed both to try to prevent the loss of Indochina to Communism or, failing that, to oppose further Communist progress in Southeast Asia.
The President expressed warm approval for the idea of a political organization which would have for its purpose the defense of Southeast Asia even if Indochina should be lost. In any case, the creation of such a political organization for defense would be better than emergency military action.[Page 1258]
Secretary Dulles indicated, in answer to a question, that Nationalist China and the ROK should be left out of the proposed regional organization.
Mr. Cutler expressed the opinion that the Council had virtually decided not to settle at this meeting the big question of whether the United States should intervene with armed forces at some future time if no other action could ensure saving Indochina. While he understood this, he felt it desirable to ask the military to express an opinion as to whether the course of action proposed by the Secretary of State, for the creation of a regional organization, might be too slow to meet the mounting danger of the loss of Indochina.
Secretary Wilson replied that certainly the Pentagon had become very concerned in recent days that the military situation in Indochina seemed to be moving with great rapidity in the wrong direction.
The Vice President pointed out that the situation in Indochina had arisen not from outside aggression but from civil war. This was what posed the problem of intervention in all its difficulties from the point of view of Congress. The proposed regional defense organization might prove very useful as a means of resisting overt Communist aggression, but would it be effective in meeting the possible increase in internal Communist subversion, especially if Indochina fell? What do we do if a Communist revolt breaks out in Indonesia or Thailand or Burma? What do we do if the Communists send several thousands of their men to subvert Malaya? Accordingly, concluded the Vice President, at some point or other the United States must decide whether it is prepared to take action which will be effective in saving free governments from internal Communist subversion. This was the real problem, and it was quite different from Korea, where the aggressors had had to cross a national boundary.
Secretary Dulles reminded the Council of his speech of last Monday on the peril in Southeast Asia, which he said had been very well analyzed by the Vice President. The danger was indirect rather than direct aggression, and this was a very mixed up situation.
Secretary Wilson turned to Secretary Dulles and said, “Yes, indeed; you point out that it’s a very great danger, but still you do not know what to do about it, and we have the same problem to face in Italy, France, and other areas outside of Asia.” Secretary Dulles replied to Secretary Wilson by pointing out that he had used almost the same language in describing the peril in Southeast Asia as the Joint Chiefs of Staff had earlier used in their comment on the Italian paper, to the effect that we had about reached the point where we could not afford to permit the Communists to take over by any means further parts of the free world’s territory.[Page 1259]
The President expressed the opinion that the thing to do was to try to get our major allies to recognize the vital need to join in a coalition to prevent further Communist imperialism in Southeast Asia; a coalition to be joined by the Thais, the Filipinos, the British, the Australians, and the New Zealanders, together with the United States. France, it was clear, was decadent as a military power, and yet it remained a very proud and sensitive nation. This makes the problem very touchy, for the French may never agree to call for the concerted arrangement which we believed was essential.
The Vice President, turning to Secretary Dulles, asked whether he was correct in assuming that Secretary Dulles’ proposal called for the creation of a regional group which would put down Communist subversion in Indonesia or any other Southeast Asian area if the government of the state in question was not itself able to cope with such subversion. In other words, did Secretary Dulles envisage this organization as a means of dealing with local Communist subversion?
Secretary Dulles answered in the affirmative, and said that this regional grouping in addition was a means of compelling some of our allies, and notably the British, to agree to join with us in creating a really effective Far Eastern policy. It was also a means of compelling the British and some of the others to reexamine their colonial policy, which had proved so ruinous to our objectives, not only in Asia, but in Egypt, Iran, and elsewhere. The effort to compel these changes could, of course, have the effect of tearing the free world coalition to pieces. Nevertheless, we could not go on forever avoiding these great issues. The peoples of the colonial states would never agree to fight Communism unless they were assured of their freedom.
Governor Stassen asked Secretary Dulles if it was not possible to state the alternatives open to the United States in a somewhat different form. As he saw it, there were three possible courses of action. We could let Indochina fall, but if we did so the chances for the creation of a coalition to defend the rest of Southeast Asia would be very slim indeed. Secondly, we ourselves could intervene and drive right up to the borders of Communist China. But in that event the Chinese Communists were very likely to intervene. In between these two extremes there was a third possibility, which was to try to hold the southern part of Indochina and form our regional grouping to assure the defense of the remaining states of the area.
The President interrupted to state with great conviction that we certainly could not intervene in Indochina and become the colonial power which succeeded France. The Associated States would certainly not agree to invite our intervention unless we had other Asiatic nations with us.[Page 1260]
Governor Stassen, going on to develop his theory, suggested that it would be possible to put forces in Thailand and that the Thais themselves would assist in holding southern Indochina. But the President again interrupted to insist that if we could get the French and the Associated States to join in a genuine Asian grouping, there was no need to lose Indochina at all. In that case, replied Governor Stassen, it was essential to decide what we were ultimately prepared to do.
With respect to Governor Stassen’s proposal, Secretary Wilson pointed out that of course unfortunately the northern part of Indochina was the most valuable part of the country, which view Admiral Radford confirmed and said that the Tonkin Delta was actually the key to the military defense of all of Southeast Asia. As the Vice President had said, you start a chain reaction if you lose Indochina. Governor Stassen argued that it was nevertheless better to lose part of Southeast Asia and to strengthen what was left, which Admiral Radford described as “a very temporary solution at best”.
Mr. Cutler indicated that the exchange of views between Admiral Radford and Governor Stassen pointed up the question which he had asked of the military at the outset of the discussion. Did they believe that Indochina was actually going to be lost? Did they believe that the loss of Dien Bien Phu would be the beginning of the end?
Secretary Dulles said that his worry was that if the battle at Dien Bien Phu were lost the French might lose the will for further resistance. Admiral Radford then reminded the Council of the views of Laniel and Bidault that the fate of Indochina rested on the outcome of the battle at Dien Bien Phu. Secretary Wilson said that it was this opinion which had done so much to modify the previous military assessment of the likelihood of imminent French defeat or withdrawal in Indochina. Admiral Radford cautioned that this was not a unanimous military assessment, but it was his personal view that the French stood a very good chance of losing the battle at Dien Bien Phu and that the consequences were very hard to predict. If the battle were lost, the French might well not hold the line at Geneva. It was not merely the military repercussions, but the heavy psychological blow of losing Dien Bien Phu. This would not only be a blow to French prestige; the French would lose the flower of their own forces and would probably be deserted by the Vietnamese troops.
Secretary Humphrey asked Secretary Dulles, if he succeeded in creating his proposed coalition and the United States adopted a policy of intervening every time that local Communist forces became strong enough to attempt to subvert free governments, would this not amount to a policy of policing all the governments of the world?
The President spoke sharply to Secretary Humphrey and pointed out that no free government had yet gone Communist by its own choice. [Page 1261]Certainly the United States could no longer say that internal Communist subversion, as opposed to external Communist aggression, was none of our business. We had got to be a great deal more realistic than that.
Secretary Dulles stated that he continued to agree with the JCS view on this issue, namely, that we can no longer accept further Communist take-overs, whether accomplished by external or internal measures. We could no longer afford to put too fine a point on the methods.
The Vice President strongly supported the views of the Secretary of State and the President, and pointed out that the Communists had developed new techniques for conquest which we must recognize and learn to cope with. He pointed out also that everywhere he went during his recent trip to the Far East, he was made aware of the millstone which British policy represented around the neck of the United States. The British were everywhere regarded in Asia as colonialists and imperialists, and especially so in Malaya. We should not only make our own position clear in opposition to colonialism; we should insist on British assurance of their intention to grant freedom to Malaya at some future time. Secretary Dulles replied drily that he wouldn’t want to underestimate the difficulties of inducing the British to issue such a declaration regarding Malaya.
Secretary Humphrey again announced his very great anxiety over what looked to him like an undertaking by the United States to prevent the emergence of Communist governments everywhere in the world. He could see no terminal point in such a process. Secretary Dulles insisted that there was no intention of having the United States police the governments of the entire world. The United States Government certainly did not particularly like the Franco Government in Spain; on the other hand, it was making no effort to destroy it.
The President, again speaking with great warmth, asked Secretary Humphrey for a reasonable alternative. Indochina was the first in a row of dominoes. If it fell its neighbors would shortly thereafter fall with it, and where did the process end? If he was correct, said the President, it would end with the United States directly behind the 8-ball. “George”, said the President, “you exaggerate the case. Nevertheless in certain areas at least we cannot afford to let Moscow gain another bit of territory. Dien Bien Phu itself may be just such a critical point.” That’s the hard thing to decide. We are not prepared now to take action with respect to Dien Bien Phu in and by itself, but the coalition program for Southeast Asia must go forward as a matter of the greatest urgency. If we can secure this regional grouping for the defense of Indochina, the battle is two-thirds won. This grouping would give us the needed popular support of domestic opinion and [Page 1262]of allied governments, and we might thereafter not be required to contemplate a unilateral American intervention in Indochina.
Mr. Cutler summarized the discussion to this point by stating that if the Council adopted Secretary Dulles’ recommendation it would make no decision now with respect to intervening or not intervening at some future time in Indochina. Beyond that, he inquired whether the military thought that there were any additional steps we could take to assist the French, in view of the possible new military judgment as to the disastrous effect of the loss of Dien Bien Phu.
Secretary Dulles answered that this, of course, was primarily a political matter—a loss of will to continue the struggle in Paris rather than a military defeat as such in Indochina.
With respect to Mr. Cutler’s inquiry about additional steps to assist the French in the emergency, Secretary Wilson informed the Council that he had just received a request from the French for from ten to twenty B–29 aircraft together with the necessary U.S. maintenance personnel. The French, said Secretary Wilson, insist that they have the crews to keep ten of these B–29 planes in continuous operation, and had suggested that they should be based on U.S. facilities in the Philippines. The United States would, of course, be expected to supply the bombs and ammunition. At first glance, said Secretary Wilson, we in the Pentagon were inclined to regard this proposal as pretty fantastic, and we have been on the point of refusing it.
Governor Stassen observed that if one considered the alternatives it was doubtful whether the request should be rejected. These planes might actually save Dien Bien Phu. Admiral Radford, however, expressed very great doubt as to whether the French could actually make effective use of B–29’s, with which they had had little experience, a view that was reinforced by General Twining. Nevertheless, replied Governor Stassen, he would throw everything we had in to help the French, short of combat forces. Admiral Radford insisted that we have done just that, but that the French could never get B–29’s into operation in time to change the situation at Dien Bien Phu. Admiral Radford then went on to list the various responses we had made to French requests for assistance, and stated that this amounted to agreeing to every feasible French request. The French were, even so, unable to operate efficiently the B–26 planes already in their hands. They can only use these planes on an average of 25 hours a month, whereas we average 100 hours of use each month. The trouble was the painful inefficiency of the French. The President concurred, and said that this was little less than heartbreaking.
Governor Stassen replied that whatever might be said of the French, they were putting up a most gallant fight at Dien Bien Phu. There [Page 1263]followed a lively exchange of views between Governor Stassen and Admiral Radford.
Mr. Cutler then proposed a Council action on the basis of the discussion to this point. Secretary Dulles commented that while Mr. Cutler’s action included his own recommendation for a regional grouping, he could not fail to point out that the French and British Governments might well not be able to bring themselves to make the kind of crucial decision which was necessary. In fact, it began to look as if the United States Government alone was able to face up to these hard decisions in Asia. If this proved so, we might have to recognize that Britain and France were solely European powers. In that case it was only fair to point out that the United States would be required to make a complete reappraisal of its entire basic policy respecting the free world coalition. After temporary silence, Admiral Radford said that the command arrangements suggested in the Planning Board draft were not wholly agreeable to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had a proposed change in paragraph 8 dealing with these arrangements.
Dr. Flemming inquired as to the timing in carrying out the proposed Council action suggested by Mr. Cutler. As he understood it, the initial effort would be to work out the coalition, after which the problem would be taken up to Congress to find out their attitude toward U.S. participation. The President confirmed Dr. Flemming’s statement, and said that we would take the matter before Congress after an ad hoc coalition had been agreed upon. We would then know where we stood and could talk to Congress. Dr. Flemming returned to the question of the timing. Would this course of action consume a matter of days, or weeks, or months? The President replied that whatever time it took, it was a matter of the highest urgency. As far as he was concerned, he was all for beginning right now. In that case, replied Dr. Flemming, he wished to refer to that portion of the Planning Board report which had indicated the importance of initiating plans for the military and mobilization measures required to meet the contingency of U.S. intervention in Indochina. Should he proceed with initiating the required planning? The President replied in the affirmative.
The Vice President informed the Council that they should not underestimate the ability of the President, the Secretary of State, and the military advisers to the Council, to induce Congress to agree to whatever measures these men thought the national interest required. Congress would do what the National Security Council felt was necessary. As an example, the Vice President cited the comparative ease with which Congress had supported the dispatch of five hundred technicians to assist the French to maintain the American planes they were using in Indochina.[Page 1264]
The President said if that were the case, then let’s commence tomorrow to ask Congress to agree to the prompt dispatch of additional technicians and maintenance crews to Indochina. We should tell Congress that if more technicians can be sent at once the whole situation may be saved. If Congress agrees, the basis will be provided for giving the French all the additional planes they could use; not the B–29’s, but other planes which the French could fly.
Governor Stassen again expressed his view of doing everything for the French short of armed intervention. The President replied impatiently that we were already doing that, but let’s step up our air support if Congress will agree to the dispatch of additional technicians. After a brief discussion of the tactics of the approach to Congress, the President suggested that this be done by Secretary Kyes and Admiral Radford.
Secretary Dulles suggested that Corsairs, light Navy bombers, might be offered in place of the B–29’s, which idea the President thought useful. The President also raised the question of allowing the French to fly these Corsairs off of U.S. aircraft carriers. Secretary Kyes, however, pointed out that an additional French aircraft carrier was about to reach Indochina, and the President then suggested that there was no reason why U.S. technicians and maintenance personnel could not operate on board a French aircraft carrier. The President’s proposal received the support of Secretary Dulles and Admiral Radford.
The National Security Council:9
- Noted and discussed the reference report and postponed decision on the recommendation in paragraph 7-c thereof,10 but agreed that military and mobilization planning to be prepared for this contingency should be promptly initiated.
- Agreed that the United States should direct its efforts prior to
the Geneva Conference toward:
- Organizing a regional grouping, including initially the U.S., the U.K., France, the Associated States, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philippines, for the defense of Southeast Asia against Communist efforts by any means to gain control of the countries in this area.
- Gaining British support for U.S. objectives in the Far East, in order to strengthen U.S. policies in the area.
- Pressing the French to accelerate the program for the independence of the Associated States.
- Noted the President’s view that, if agreement for the organization of the above-mentioned regional grouping could be achieved, Congressional authorization for U.S. participation therein should then be requested.
- Noted the President’s directive that:
- The Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, should urgently attempt to obtain appropriate Congressional support for increasing the number of U.S. technicians for aircraft maintenance in Indochina and for extending the period of the assignment of such technicians.
- Assuming such Congressional support, additional aircraft deemed capable of effective use in Indochina should be offered to the French.
Note: The action in a above subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of Defense and the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization, for appropriate action. The action in b above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of State for appropriate action. The action in d above subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of Defense for appropriate action.
. . . . . . .
- Prepared by S. Everett Gleason, Deputy Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, on Apr. 7. The diary of James C. Hagerty, Press Secretary to the President, contains the following Apr. 6 notation regarding this meeting: “NSC meeting in P.M. on Indo-china—I announced it as just weekly meeting which was ‘more convenient’ to hold on Tuesday this week—situation getting crucial—Fr. want 50 more bombers—and they are running short of pilots—could use ‘American volunteers’—also considering use of troops eventually.” (Eisenhower Library, James C. Hagerty papers) For a diary note on this meeting by Vice President Nixon, see editorial note, infra.↩
For NSC Action No. 1074, see extracts from the memorandum of discussion at the 190th Meeting of the National Security Council, Mar. 25, p. 1163.
Copy number 5 of an Apr. 5 Planning Board draft report on NSC Action No. 1074–a, labeled “Mr. Bowie” (Robert R. Bowie, Director of the Policy Planning Staff and State Department representative on the NSC Planning Board) is in S/P–NSC files, lot 62 D 1, “Indochina”, as are antecedent drafts of Apr. 1 and 3. The Apr. 5 text is presumably that considered by the National Security Council on Apr. 6. The text of the Apr. 5 draft is identical with the draft report printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, Book 9, pp. 298–331. (Note: the Apr. 5 draft in lot file 62 D 1, also printed ibid., is a report by the NSC Planning Board pursuant to NSC Action No. 1074-a of Mar. 25, not the text of the action itself.)
For a document titled “Army Position on NSC Action No. 1074–a,” undated, see ibid., p. 332.↩
- The Intelligence Advisory Committee transmitted its comments on the intelligence aspects of NSC Action No. 1074-a to the National Security Council by memorandum of Apr. 6. The memorandum read in part as follows: “the Intelligence Advisory Committee is divided on the question as to whether Communist China in this situation [United States intervention in Indochina] would decide upon overt intervention in Indochina. The Director of Central Intelligence and the Deputy Director for Intelligence, The Joint Staff, believe that in such circumstances, the chances are better than even that the Chinese Communists would not openly intervene in Indochina, even if they believed that failure to intervene would mean the defeat at that time of the Viet Minh field forces in Indochina. The Special Assistant, Intelligence, Department of State; the Director of Naval Intelligence; the Assistant Chief of Staff, G–2, Intelligence, Department of the Army; and the Director of Intelligence, USAF, believe that in such circumstances, the chances are better than even that the Communists would accept the risk involved and that the Chinese Communists would intervene openly and in force in an effort to save the Communist position in Indochina.” (S/P–NSC files, lot 62 D 1, “Indochina”)↩
- Regarding the meeting of Saturday, Apr. 3, see memorandum for the file, p. 1224.↩
- For memoranda of the conversations, see volume xii.↩
- See memorandum of conversation by Bonsal, Apr. 7, p. 1279.↩
- For text of NSC 5411, “U.S. Policy Toward Italy,” Mar. 12, 1954, and related documentation, see volume vi.↩
Reference is to Part II of the Special Committee report prepared in accordance with NSC Action No. 1019 of Jan. 21, 1954 (for text of Action No. 1019, see extracts from the memorandum of discussion at the Council Meeting of Jan. 21, p. 986). Part II of the report, dealing with long-range policy and courses of action in Southeast Asia, was prepared by the working group of the President’s Special Committee, Gen. Graves B. Erskine, chairman. General Erskine transmitted Part II to the Special Committee on Apr. 5, with a covering memorandum which read in part as follows:
“2. This report does not directly concern itself with the matter of possible military intervention in Indo-China nor with the desirability for political action vis-à-vis the French government; these matters were covered in the report of the Special Committee concerning the forthcoming Geneva Conference. [See the first editorial note, p. 1148.]
“3. This report does address itself to the fact that regardless of the outcome of current operations in Indo-China, the U.S. should in all prudence develop a regional defense posture incorporating all the Southeast Asian states.
“4. The report concludes that such an organization is essential, even if Indo-China can be retained in the Western camp; and if Indo-China should be lost, would provide the only basis on which the free world might hope to regain its position in Indo-China or failing that, to delay as long as possible the further expansion of Communism in the area.”
By memorandum of Apr. 14, NSC Executive Secretary Lay transmitted Part II of the Erskine subcommittee report to the NSC Planning Board for its use in further studies. The report, Part II, the Erskine memorandum of Apr. 5, and the Lay memorandum of Apr. 14 are in S/P–NSC files, lot 62 D 1, “Indochina”. The report, Part II, is printed in United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, Book 9, pp. 346–358. For text of Part I of the report, which deals more specifically with Indochina, see p. 1109.↩
- Points a–d below constituted NSC Action No. 1086, Apr. 6, 1954. (S/S–NSC files, lot 66 D 95, “NSC Actions”)↩
- Paragraph 7-c of the report of Apr. 5 read as follows: “On balance, it appears that the United States should now reach a decision whether or not to intervene with combat forces, if that is necessary to save Indochina from Communist control, and, tentatively, the form and conditions of any such intervention. The timing for communication to the French of such decision, or for its implementation, should be decided in the light of future developments.” (S/P–NSC files, lot 62 D 1, “Indochina”)↩