PPS files, lot 65 D 101, “Gullion

Memorandum by Edmund A. Gullion of the Policy Planning Staff to the Director of That Staff (Bowie)



  • Laniel Terms for Settlement of Indochina War (Paristels 32381 and 32402).

The terms outlined in the Assembly debate are almost sure to be unacceptable to the Viet Minh and may have been framed for that reason. This is all to the good if one accepts, as I do, the thesis that a compromise settlement on any of the bases now apparent (see my memorandum of February 253) would be tantamount to opening up Southeast Asia to Communist control. However, if they are taken merely as the opening gambit for further bargaining, they may contain the germ of a dangerous settlement on the basis of territorial division. [Page 443] More significant than the terms themselves is the apparent effort of the French to present the forthcoming conference as a general Far East conference.

Following are detailed comments:

The “terms” (Paristel 3240) in effect outline a solution which would be all the Navarre Plan of military operations might hope to obtain if it were prosecuted to the utmost. With reference to the enumerated guarantees sought by M. Laniel; (a) it is most unlikely that the Viet Minh would evacuate Laos. The position they have gained there may be said to correspond to that reached by the Chinese Communists at the end of the “long march”—i.e., an inexpugnable base to be maintained however Communist fortunes may fluctuate. Moreover, the Laos base is convenient for the exercise of pressures in other areas of Southeast Asia besides Viet Nam, and for the eventual flanking of the Tonkin Delta position; (b) the Viet Minh might for the present evacuate Cambodia and thus gain quite a bit of sympathy in Southeast Asia; but when any eventual flanking movement was begun they would reappear in this vulnerable area; (c) the Viet Minh now controls as much of the area of the Tonkin Delta and almost as many “souls” as do the French. It is hardly likely that they would evacuate upon demand; in fact, between now and April 26 the battle for control of the Delta will intensify; (d) the settlement proposed for Annam is very obscure but would set up a patchwork kind of arrangement which would not seem durable; (e) the Viet Minh is not likely to consent to evacuate Cochin-China unless they gain compensating advantages in the North.
Although the Viet Minh would not accept terms as at present drafted, they would not be so forbidding to them if considered as an opening gambit. They could even turn out to be dangerous for our side. These draft proposals tend more to the territorial division of Indochina than to the hypothesis of coalition governments and free elections. In other words, I see in them a possibility that the French might eventually consider withdrawal of French and loyal Vietnamese in Tonkin in exchange for Viet Minh evacuation of the Saigon Delta. This, then, is an important indicator for the French position at Geneva (for the dangers of such a territorial settlement, see my memorandum of February 25). It shows that some French are at least thinking in terms of some kind of partition.
It seems to me that these terms will be too harsh, not only for the Viet Minh but also for French parliamentary opinion, which has demanded that the French Government declare itself. I believe they are directed at least as much to the forthcoming talks with the Bao Dai Government at Paris as they are towards Geneva. It would be [Page 444] very difficult for the French to go to Geneva with the support of the Bao Dai Government unless it had declared a position which the loyal Vietnamese could conceivably—although painfully—accept.
Although, as the Paris Embassy suggests, Laniel’s speech may have been designed to head off premature offers of a cease-fire or a Nehru intercession, I am not sure it will have this effect. In fact, Laniel’s remarks about not prolonging the war if there is a chance to “end it one day sooner” might encourage rather than discourage Nehru.
In my opinion the most significant aspect of Laniel’s speech is the indication that France continues to think of a settlement for Indochina in terms of a general Far East settlement. (See Ambassador Dillon’s comment that “It is not difficult to discern in Laniel’s speech that if settlement is to be reached on Indochina at Geneva, it will be up to France’s allies to make concessions to Communist China with all that that implies for the United States.”4)

It seems to me that the working levels in the State Department and elsewhere can hardly prepare position papers for the Geneva Conference until their own government at the highest level determines whether bargaining is to be confined to (a) Indochina; or (b) Indochina and Korea; or (c) Korea, Indochina, the two China’s, etc.

Recommendations are that:

We request officially from the French, perhaps from General Ely, the details and background of the Laniel proposal.
That further clarification be sought of the French bargaining position at Geneva.
That we ask for an indication of the relation of this bargaining position to the LanielNavarre Plan.
That the relation of the Geneva Conference to an overall Far Eastern settlement be clarified in our minds as soon as possible.
That the French be left in no doubt as to our thinking on this score.
That our position now and at Geneva continue to be on the necessity of continuing the fight.
That we be no party to a Far Eastern settlement partitioning Indochina or which is likely to hand it over to the Viet Minh.
That as a final resort we plan for the employment of US force in Indochina, preferably in the framework of an internationalization of the problem.

  1. Dated Mar. 6. For text, see volume xiii.
  2. Dated Mar. 6, p. 435.
  3. Apparently a reference to a memorandum from Gullion to Bowie of S/P, Feb. 25, not printed, the subject of which was “Comments on Attached Paper (‘Indochina’ Paper Prepared by Study Group for NSC).” (PPS files, lot 65 D 101, box 533, “Gullion, E. A. Chron.”)
  4. Ambassador Dillon’s comments are contained in telegram 3238 from Paris. Mar. 6: for text, see volume xiii.