Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 280

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Adviser to the United States Delegation (Bonsal)

top secret

Participants:

  • Pote Sarasin, Ambassador to Washington and Member of Thai Delegation
  • The Under Secretary
  • Philip W. Bonsal

Subject:

  • Security Arrangements in Southeast Asia and U.S. Military Assistance for Thailand

Ambassador Sarasin stated that he was interested in getting information on his own behalf and that of Prince Wan regarding progress being made on (a) the development of collective security arrangements in Southeast Asia and (b) measures for strengthening the Thai armed forces. He said he had been informed of the call which the Thai Chargé paid on the Secretary on May 10th in Washington at which time it was the Chargé’s impression that progress on the united action concept, at least so far as immediate implementation is concerned, is held up by British unwillingness to go along at this time.1

The Ambassador indicated a full awareness of the requirements of the Thai armed forces in the matter of equipment and training. He said that a certain amount of small arms had recently been received. He said that the Thai Prime Minister is anxious to increase the Thai army from its present strength of between 50 and 60,000 to a total of 150,000. The manpower is readily available but there is the problem of training cadres. There is also a financial problem. The Thai budget currently amounts to $250 million of which the armed forces absorb over $100 million. The Thai financial situation is very tight. This was confirmed by the International Bank recently when it refused to make a loan requested by Thailand because of concern over Thailand’s public finances. The Ambassador concluded with an appeal for a statement of the extent to which US assistance might be counted on in developing Thailand’s armed forces and improving Thailand’s defense position.

[Page 802]

The Under Secretary replied that while his information regarding progress on military assistance to Thailand was not entirely current, he could state that our JCS have been asked to examine and make recommendations with regard to a program which would include assistance in increasing the Thai army to 90,000; constructing the Saraburi Highway and certain other matters including an air base. The Under Secretary stated that his views had been requested and that he was making favorable recommendations. He said that he thought that ways and means would be found whereby existing resources might be made available to help the Thai Government.

The Under Secretary added that he had most strongly recommended the establishment in Thailand of an air base with fighter planes in the event that the Thai Government should request the installation of such a base. He stressed the top secret nature of this matter and the important part which such a base could play in free world defense of Southeast Asia against aggression.

The Under Secretary stated that, provided the necessary resources could be made available, the concept of assistance to be rendered the Thai Government in military matters would be broad and flexible. It would include financial support in view of the state of the Thai budget and assistance in the construction of housing and presumably in the provision of certain types of infrastructure (roads and air fields). The Under Secretary emphasized also the important assistance which we could render in training Thai officers and noncommissioned officers. He recalled the experience which the US Marine Corps has acquired in the peculiar problems of jungle warfare with modern weapons.

The Under Secretary then took occasion to reiterate the Secretary’s appreciation of the strong stand taken by the Thai Government immediately after the Secretary had launched his united action concept. He said that this attitude had greatly strengthened the Secretary’s hand. He added that he thought it important that the Burmese Government should now be encouraged to move away from its position of neutrality. He said that there were definite signs of a change. He expressed the hope that Thailand could be of assistance in accelerating this movement.

The Ambassador replied that Mr. Eden has requested Prince Wan to try to exert some influence with the Burmese. This matter is a delicate one because of some traditional factors in Thai-Burmese relations and also because of certain recent incidents, including the bombing of Thai territory by the Burmese air force. However, the Thai Government is taking a conciliatory and constructive attitude and hopes that it can be useful.

[Page 803]

The Ambassador took occasion to express his satisfaction at the recent strengthening of the Cambodian Government as reflected by the fact that certain dissident elements have rallied to the King. He cited these developments as illustrative of the dynamic effect of real independence. The Ambassador stated that he was in full agreement that the situation in Laos and Cambodia should be disassociated from the situation in Viet-Nam in any settlement of the Indochina war.

The Ambassador then asked the Under Secretary whether the US would proceed with the united action concept even if the UK should drag its feet or even refuse to go along in any useful manner. To this the Under Secretary replied that in his opinion the situation with which we are confronted in Southeast Asia makes it essential that we and other likeminded countries proceed as rapidly and as energetically as possible.

The Ambassador then reverted to his theme as to the importance of keeping India out of any defense arrangements in the area. He said that collective arrangements which included India would insure united inaction rather than united action. The Ambassador indicated that the Indians had been trying to influence the Thai authorities away from the united action concept. He said, however, that Pakistan would be a useful participant in any arrangement.

  1. For memorandum of conversation between Secretary Dulles and Minister Thuaithep Devakul, May 10, see volume xii .