No. 144
Memorandum by the Regional Planning Adviser for Far Eastern Affairs (Ogburn) to the Director of the Office of Chinese Affairs (McConaughy)1

top secret


  • NSC 146/12

NSC 146/1 seems to me to fall within the category of papers that a few years hence will be read with puzzlement. If an NSC paper on Formosa must have as its premise that the Chinese National Government in Formosa represents a key instrument for detaching China from the Soviet Union, then I suppose NSC 146/1 is about as good a paper as could be written.

If we are committed to producing this kind of paper on Formosa I wish, however, we could do another, informal in nature and without official stamp, which would take account of what seem to me the self-evident facts of the situation: first, if China is to be detached from the Soviet Union, it will be because the Peiping regime itself reacts against Russian domination or because the Peiping regime is overthrown by the defection of those who now constitute its main strength; and, second, that those on the Chinese mainland who throw out the Russians will have no intention of recognizing or submitting to the authority of the regime in Formosa. At that stage, the National Government will become much more of an embarrassment to us than anything else. To suppose that the future of China lies in any sense with the National Government seems to me to ignore all the evidences of reality we have.

Apart from all the other facts limiting the future role of the Chinese National Government, there is the consideration that as the armed forces of this government become increasingly Formosan (as they must if they are to be maintained at anything like their present strength) the government itself must become more and more Formosan; the Formosans are not going to supply the armed strength of the government without wishing to exercise the powers [Page 258] of government. It would follow that what we are going to have on the island is an increasingly provincial regime which will be more and more preoccupied with Formosan affairs and less and less interested in a “return” to the mainland and which will prove increasingly difficult for us to present to the rest of the world, including the Chinese minorities in Southeast Asia, as the true government of China.

If the Chinese Nationalist army is destined to become a Formosan army, it is difficult to see why we are spending so heavily of our limited resources to build it up. NSC 146/1 skirts, with modestly downcast eyes, the unpleasant fact that the troops brought from the mainland will soon become superannuated but it does acknowledge that replacements must be largely Formosans and states that the Formosan people could furnish between 450,000 and 650,000 able-bodied males of military age. It leaves unanswered, however, the question of why we should invest so heavily in such a huge Formosan force and so meagrely, by comparison, in Burma, Thailand and Indonesia. By any military evaluation I can conceive of, Formosa is far easier to defend than any of the mainland Southeast Asian countries while at the same time the Communists’ capture of Burma or Thailand—which would presage the loss of Indochina, Malaya, and Indonesia and the posing of the most serious threat to the Philippines and Australia—would be much more serious for us than the loss of Formosa. I am not saying that we should risk the loss of Formosa but am only suggesting that we show a sense of proportions.

As an apologia for our spending so much on the Chinese Nationalist forces, NSC 146/1 suggests that these forces will be available for operations against the mainland and that they “would be at their best if used against the Chinese mainland”. (NSC 146/1 does not, however, consider that they will ever be adequate by themselves to defend Formosa.) It seems to me we ought to bear in mind that if we disembark a Chinese Nationalist force on the mainland the results will probably take one of two dangerous turns. On the one hand, the landing may be unsuccessful, in which case we may suppose that losses would be heavy, much American matériel would come into the hands of the Communists, and United States’ prestige would suffer. On the other hand, the landing might be held, in which case, since it is hardly possible that we could talk the Nationalists into going back to the mainland and thus giving up their dream at the very moment it was becoming actual, we should find ourselves committed to supporting a campaign on the mainland of indefinite duration. A Chinese Nationalist beachhead could not be stabilized; if it were not eradicated by the enemy it would have to go on and on at least until it encompassed enough of [Page 259] South China to make a second mainland China, independent of Communist North China, on the pattern of Korea. When we speak of the Chinese Nationalists landing on the mainland I think we ought to have very clearly in mind just what such a landing would involve us in.

I think we should also disabuse ourselves of the notion that the nations recognizing the Chinese Communists are going to be much moved by any demonstration of good government given by the Chinese Nationalists. Formosa must be by all odds the easiest country in Asia to govern and in addition is receiving more aid from us in relation to its population than any other country in the area and probably in the whole world, except those countries which have been the theatre of full-scale war—Korea and Indochina. The countries that have recognized Communist China have done so not because they thought the Chinese Communists would afford better government than the Nationalists (though some of them may have thought this) but because the Communists have been the actual government of China.

In paragraph 24,3 we advance the thought that if Formosa or even the Pescadores fell into Communist hands we would not be able to defend Japan, the Ryukyus, the Philippines, Australia or New Zealand. Even granted that certain kinds of statements in NSC papers are not supposed to be taken too seriously, this seems a rather far-fetched way of saying that it is important for us to prevent Formosa and the Pescadores from falling into Communists’ hands.

It seems to me that our present policy toward the Chinese Nationalists, as set forth in NSC 146/1, is based not upon a reasoned estimate of the situation and of our national interests, but upon a desire (by no means discreditable) to make amends for what we consider our shortcomings in the past. Again I must say I wish we could prepare as an experiment a second paper on “United States Objectives and Courses of Action with respect to Formosa and the Chinese Nationalist Government” that would take account of what any detached and objective (or heartless) observer must, I believe, consider the hard facts of the situation. I am afraid that in preoccupying ourselves with illusions we may be making our policies unintelligible to those whom we aspire to lead, and neglecting what may be our real opportunities, such as they are.

  1. Ogburn sent copies to Assistant Secretary Robertson and Deputy Assistant Secretary Everett F. Drumright. A note in Robertson’s handwriting, attached to the source text, reads: “I do not agree with the reasoning of this memo—WSR.”
  2. NSC 146/1, “United States Objectives and Courses of Action With Respect to Formosa and the Chinese National Government,” Oct. 28, 1953, which included a draft statement of policy prepared by the NSC Planning Board and an NSC staff study, a revised version of NSC 146 and its Annex (see footnote 6, Document 86, and footnote 2, Document 93). Except for a few revisions, it is identical to NSC 146/2, Document 150. Further documentation related to the NSC 146 Series is in S/PNSC files, lot 61 D 167, “Formosa—NSC 146”.
  3. Paragraph 24 of the staff study portion of NSC 146/1 is identical to paragraph 24 of the staff study portion of NSC 146/2, Document 150.