Memorandum by the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (Cutler) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Murphy)1

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Because of the strength of the President’s reaction to my briefing this morning on the messages exchanged between Dillon and the State Department over the weekend, I thought it advisable to come over and talk with you and give you the attached memorandum.

It seems to me that the position of the State Department and the position of the President are in entire consonance.

Reading the exchange of wires and realizing the local pressures on an Ambassador, I am doubtful whether it is as clear to Dillon as it is to you and the President that some united action is an essential element to U.S. response. Perhaps it would be a good idea to let Admiral Radford have a copy of the attached memorandum and any further explicit message sent by State to Dillon on the subject.2


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Memorandum of Conversation Between the President and General Cutler

I read the following messages which had come in for the President over the last two days: From Paris 4613, 4612, 4605, 4607; to Paris [Page 1648] 4325 and 4332.3 After reading them, I went in to summarize them to the President. He did not read any part of them himself and accordingly some of the refinements of Dillon’s positions did not reach him.

I said that the messages divided really into two parts. One part dealt with Ely and Trapnell discussions on French strategy, which I briefly summarized. The other part dealt with French inquiries as to what the U.S. reaction would be to a massive air strike by the Chinese communists, perhaps from Hainan, prior to any regional grouping for the defense of Southeast Asia being arranged following a failure of the Geneva Conference.

The messages showed that at high French levels (Ely, Laniel, Schumann), there was talk as if a commitment had been made by Admiral Radford of immediate U.S. retaliation in the event of Chinese communist overt aggression. The French leaders seem to recognize that any such U.S. action would require political approval, but they wanted to be sure that U.S. assistance in this event would come very rapidly. I said that the last State Department message (Deptel 4332, Paris)* made plain that in this contingency there would have to be time for consultations in Washington and that therefore no U.S. counteraction could be immediate.

The President expressed himself very strongly in reaction to my remarks. He said the United States would not intervene in China on any basis except united action. He would not be responsible for going into China alone unless a joint Congressional resolution ordered him to do so. The United States should in no event undertake alone to support French colonialism. Unilateral action by the United States in cases of this kind would destroy us. If we intervened alone in this case we would be expected to intervene alone in other parts of the world. He made very plain that the need for united action as a condition of U.S. intervention was not related merely to the regional grouping for the defense of Southeast Asia, but was also a necessity for U.S. intervention in response to Chinese communist overt aggression.

I called attention to the provisions of our Southeast Asian policy [Page 1649] (NSC 5404) [5405],4 which indicated that in the event of Chinese overt communist aggression against Thailand, Burma, or Malaya, the United States would try to get allies to join in retaliation, but that eventually the United States would consider taking action alone. I called attention to Secretary Dulles’ speech last fall indicating that overt Chinese action against Southeast Asia would lead to a situation that might not be limited to that area. The President said there was no difference between himself and the Secretary of State at all. However, he expressed the strong view that there should be no failure to make the U.S. position absolutely clear to the French so that there would be no basis of misapprehension on the part of the French.

  1. Typewritten notations on the source texts indicate that both this memorandum and its annex were dictated, but not read by General Cutler.
  2. A handwritten marginal notation at this point on the source text reads “done.”
  3. For telegrams 4613, 4612 (both dated May 31), 4605, and 4607 (both dated May 30), see pp. 1643, 1641, 1636, and 1639, respectively. Regarding telegram 4325, see footnote 5, p. 1630. Regarding telegram 4332, see footnote 6, p. 1641.
  4. Deptel 4332, Paris, referred to paragraph 3 of Deptel 4094, May 15, as stating U.S. position in event of possible Chinese communist air intervention and that Dillon should not permit Schumann or anybody else in the French Government to be under any misapprehension concerning it. Said paragraph 3 reads as follows: “If collective defense arranged as contemplated, this would of course embrace situation resulting from intervention by MIGs. If such intervention should occur prior to conclusion of collective defense arrangements, then the US reaction would have to be judged under circumstances of the moment, but in any case President would expect to make his action dependent upon Congressional authorization, assuming US interests not directly attacked. However, Defense advises that their intelligence does not indicate that Chinese airfield situation is such as to make such intervention seem likely.” [Footnote in the source text. For text of telegram 4094 to Paris, May 15, see p. 1569.]
  5. For extracts of NSC 5405, “United States Objectives and Courses of Action With Respect to Southeast Asia,” Jan. 16, 1954, see p. 971.