Eisenhower Library, Dulles papers, “Meetings with the President”

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

top secret
personal and private

Memorandum of Luncheon Conversation With the President


We discussed the draft cable to Ambassador Dillon dealing with the conditions on which the United States might intervene in Indochina.1 [Page 1533] We discussed this in terms of the implication that we might conceivably go ahead without the active participation of the United Kingdom. I pointed out that while this had its grave disadvantages in indicating a certain breach, there were perhaps greater disadvantages in a situation where we were obviously subject to UK veto, which in turn was in Asian matters largely subject to Indian veto, which in turn was largely subject to Chinese Communist veto. Thereby a chain was forged which tended to make us impotent, and to encourage Chinese Communist aggression to a point where the whole position in the Pacific would be endangered and the risk of general war increased.2

The President agreed to this fully. He proposed a change in the cable to Dillon (Para 2 (e) third sentence) after the words U.S. forces—”principally air and sea”. With this change he authorized the cable to be dispatched.

I went over with him the proposed draft of instructions to General Smith.3 He agreed with their tenor, suggesting that the opening paragraph should contain a reference to their being confirmatory of oral instructions so as to explain the time lag.

[Here follows discussion of subjects other than Indochina.]


Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State4

top secret
personal and private

Points for Discussion

1. Risk of Expansion of War

All US estimates agree on at least 50 per cent chance of Chinese Communist reaction to US intervention. A split among US and its allies might well increase this risk materially.

Consequently, any decision to intervene would have to be accompanied by substantial changes in military programs and other measures to anticipate possible Chinese reaction.

[Page 1534]

2. Consequences for British and NATO Alliance

If US intervention results in war expanding to China, and Soviet Union became involved, British and NATO opinion might well be split as to support of US in use of any British and NATO bases.

3. Method of Conducting Operation

Major foreign ground forces will be required to hold areas while Viet Nam forces are being trained. Present French forces will provide greater part, but US should assume need for some US ground forces and for large forces under some contingencies. US should not intervene with idea it can be done cheaply by air and naval forces.

Any use of atomic weapons will raise very serious problems of Asian opinion and attitude of our allies.

  1. See telegram 4023 to Paris, May 11, infra.
  2. A handwritten marginal notation at this point read as follows: “See attachment re this paragraph.”
  3. The instructions sent to Under Secretary Smith at Geneva regarding the Indochina phase of the Conference were transmitted in telegram Tosec 138 to Geneva, May 12. For text, see vol. xvi, p. 778.
  4. The copy of this memorandum in the files of the Policy Planning Staff indicates that it was drafted on May 11 by Robert R. Bowie, Director of S/P, for the use of the Secretary at his meeting with the President that day. (PPS files, lot 65 D 101, “Indochina”)