396.1 GE/3–1054

Memorandum by the Counselor (MacArthur)1

top secret


  • Meeting at 10: 00 a.m. Thursday, March ll,2 in Room 5104 New State to discuss the Indochina Phase of the Geneva Conference

I am attaching three papers to serve as guides for our discussion tomorrow morning:

  • Attachment A—A list of five Questions on the Indochina Problem at Geneva
  • Attachment B—A longer list of Questions on Indochina prepared by Mr. Bonsal
  • Attachment C—Possible Advance Tripartite Consultations on Indochina

I urge each of you to give as much thought as possible to the problems raised in the attached papers in order that we can obtain maximum benefit from our exchange of views.

Douglas MacArthur II

Attachment A

The Problem of Indochina at Geneva: Some Questions To Be Used as a Guide for Discussion

What is the U.S. position regarding possible Communist proposals to:
hold a plebiscite in Indochina as the basis for the formation of a government for the whole country.
establish a coalition government which would include Ho Chi Minh or his followers.
cease fire and establish a demarcation line roughly along the 16th parallel with the area north of that line being handed over to the administration of Ho Chi Minh and his supporters.
What should the U.S. say and do with respect to the French if the latter are approached by the USSR and/or Communist China with a proposal to cease aid to the Viet Minh in return for French support for Chinese Communist entry into the UN or other steps to legitimitize the Chinese Communist regime?
What should be the U.S. position in regard to the conditions for a cease fire put forward by M. Laniel on behalf of the French Government on March 5. (See Paris’ unclassified telegram 3240, dated March 6.3)

As a tactical matter in our efforts to keep the French in line, if the Laniel conditions are in general acceptable to us, we might be able to hold the French to them whereas we might have great difficulty in holding them to proposals which emanated from us.

The U.S. may be confronted with a situation where the French would demand more active U.S. participation in Indochina in return for their rejecting Communist proposals unacceptable to us. How far should we go in giving assurances to the French in such a situation?
How far should the U.S. go at Geneva in committing itself to substantial contributions to the reconstruction of Viet-Nam, Cambodia and Laos after the end of hostilities? This might have an important effect in keeping the Associated States (and possibly also the French) in line.

Attachment B

Some Questions on the Indochina Phase of the Geneva Conference

Until we give the French Government our views regarding the composition and objectives of the Indochina phase of the Geneva conference, we run the risk of a crystalization of French attitudes and particularly the making of undesirable commitments by French leaders to their political followers. What is the latest date at which we should communicate our thinking to the French and British?
It is desirable to delay the Indochina discussions at Geneva. The Secretary envisages a discussion at Geneva among the four Berlin powers to determine the participants and the method of issuing invitations [Page 450] for the Indochina phase. Can we envisage a date such as June 15 for the start of the Indochina phase of discussions on the basis that agreement on invitations could be reached early in May?
Unless we are willing either to make concessions to the Chinese Communists in certain fields or to take a positive stand regarding U.S. participation in the struggle, we will achieve no more through negotiation at Geneva than the Communists believe the Franco-Vietnamese forces have the capacity and will to achieve militarily. To what extent do we still believe that the French and Vietnamese possess the will and the capacity to achieve decisive results in Indochina in accordance with the LanielNavarre principles in the event of a breakdown of negotiations?
It is possible that a desirable peace in Indochina could be obtained in return for concessions in other fields to the CPR and perhaps to the USSR. We are unwilling to recognize Communist China, to admit the CPR to the UN, to withdraw our support from the Chinese Nationalists on Formosa or to relax current trade embargoes against Communist China. Are there any other items desirable by the CPR or the USSR which we would be willing to consider as entering into a possible negotiating position?
It is probable that we could work out with the French and Vietnamese a minimum acceptable position for a negotiated cessation of the Indochina war. Such a settlement might include a cease fire along the lines recently set forth by Laniel,4 general disarmament of native troops except for Vietnamese troops needed to maintain order, withdrawal of French Union troops to stated bases pending conclusion of regular Franco-Vietnamese arrangements, provision for a transitional period of political activity looking to eventual elections etc. Such a minimum acceptable position might be accepted by the enemy if the alternative were that the U.S. would consider continuation of hostilities by the Vietminh beyond a certain date as an aggression warranting “massive retaliatory action” against Communist China. Would the U.S. be willing to envisage such a position?
Unless the U.S. is willing to take an affirmative position as indicated above or unless the French and Vietnamese are willing and able to carry the Navarre plan to a conclusion, we will be confronted with a negotiated settlement which will leave the eight enemy divisions in Indochina undefeated and armed. This will make it highly likely that the whole area will fall to the Communists sooner or later. Do we agree that in the eventuality of this type of negotiated settlement, a [Page 451] partition which would turn Tonkin and northern Annam over to the Communists (a bitter loss of hundreds of thousands of friends) but would leave Laos, perhaps Cambodia and southern Annam and Cochin China within the French Union with French Union air and naval bases (under arrangements similar to those which we have in the Philippines) would be preferable to any other arrangement such as a plebiscite or a coalition government for the entire area?
A willingness on our side to contribute substantially to the reconstruction of Viet-Nam, Cambodia, and Laos after the end of hostilities might be an important factor in stiffening the will to resist of the Vietnamese (and possibly the French) and in persuading them to adhere to an acceptable negotiating position. Can we be in a position to make definite commitments at Geneva?

Attachment C

Possible Tripartite Consultations Regarding Indochina (in advance of geneva)

Both the French and the British have posed the possibility of tripartite consultations in Paris concerning the Indochina phase of the Geneva meetings. No definite ideas as to timing have been put forward, this aspect being somewhat complicated as regards the French because of the current talks with the Viet-Namese.

If it is decided that such consultation should take place, a tripartite group might begin work in Paris about April 15 with a view to completing their work in time for the Ministers consideration when they arrive in Paris for the NATO meeting. This would be Apr. 21–22.

The advantage of such consultation is that it would enable the three ministers to concert their tactics in advance of the Geneva meeting. On the other hand, such consultation might result in stimulating the Indochinese question, when our basic purpose has been to gain as much time as possible for the military situation to develop in a favorable manner.

Should we encourage the idea of such consultation or should we maintain our present relaxed attitude and agree to such consultation only if the French push for it?

In any event, the opportunity must be found in Paris, prior to the Geneva meeting, for the Secretary to impress on M. Laniel and M. Bidault in unmistakable terms the U.S. position with regard to the Indochina phase of Geneva.

  1. Addressed to Merchant, Robertson, Key, Bowie, and Vice Admiral Davis.
  2. In a memorandum to MacArthur, Mar. 11, not printed, Trulock of S/S-O summarized decisions reached at the Mar. 11 meeting that papers would be prepared on the five questions listed in Attachment A. The first of these papers would summarize questions 1, 2, and 3, and would include a summary of the U.S. estimate of the probable Soviet and Chinese Communist intentions regarding the Indochina phase of the Geneva Conference. Trulock suggested that this paper could serve as a basis for either another Assistant Secretary level meeting or for a meeting with the Secretary on this subject. (Conference files, lot 60 D 627. CF 262)
  3. Ante, p. 435.
  4. See telegram 3240 from Paris, Mar. 6, p. 435.