Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 308

Memorandum by the Adviser to the United States Delegation (Dwan) to the Head of the Delegation (Johnson)

top secret


  • Report of Five Power Military Conference, June 1954.1

Following is a summary of the conclusions of the Five Power Military Conference for your information:

The Present Situation

1. The retention of the Tonkin Delta is of the greatest importance to the defense of Southeast Asia as a whole. At the present time, the military situation in the Delta is critical. The Viet Minh are in a position to launch a strong offensive at any time from mid-June and by September will be able to undertake a fully coordinated offensive. Between now and September they will undoubtedly exert heavy pressure and, if by then, no reinforcements have been received a severe Franco-Vietnamese reverse is probable. This may well lead to a serious defection of Vietnamese troops.

Forces Required to Stabilize the Situation in the Delta

2. The stabilization of the situation and establishment of a secure base in the Delta would require outside assistance on the order of three well trained and equipped divisions and about three hundred aircraft. Owing to the limited capacity of the airfields in Indochina these aircraft would have to be provided initially by a carrier task force, supported by appropriate naval units and from air forces based outside Indochina. Minesweepers may also be required.

3. The movement and concentration of these forces will take time and a decision to reinforce the Delta must be made immediately if adequate forces are to be ready to meet the large scale Viet Minh offensive expected in September 1954.

4. The Delta will remain vulnerable until the whole of Tonkin has been secured and the Viet Minh Regular Army in Indochina has been destroyed. There can be, therefore, no guarantee that further reinforcements will not be required later. The size will depend on a number of factors including the extent of the recovery of morale throughout Indochina, the growth in size and effectiveness of the Vietnamese forces; the extent to which French Union Forces, now necessarily dispersed on police duties throughout the country, can be concentrated; and the reaction of Communist China.

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5. The arrival of reinforcements from the Free Nations, other than France, would be an important factor in the restoration of Vietnamese confidence. In the opinion of the French General Staff the psychological impact of those reinforcements would be enhanced if they were drawn from the Western Powers.

Situation Should the Delta be Lost

6. Should the Delta fall to the Viet Minh, consideration must be given to the holding of a line of recovery further south. Due to the nature of the terrain and the forces which might be available to hold it such a position is not readily to be found. The line Thakhek-Dong Hoi offers the best possibilities although it is subject to a number of limitations. It would require a force of the order of four divisions with supporting air forces to hold it, together with the forces necessary to secure complete control of southern Indochina. Provision too, would have to be made for ensuring the security of the flank resting on the Thai border. The maintenance of this force would require development of the existing logistic facilities.

7. Under present conditions the French Union Forces in Southern Indochina are fully occupied with internal security duties and could make no contribution to the holding of this position. Therefore, unless adequate forces were extricated from the Delta, the success of this operation would depend on the timely arrival of the necessary reinforcements from outside Indochina.

War With China

8. The danger of Chinese Communist intervention will increase with the approach of Allied forces, other than Vietnamese forces, to the Chinese border. From the start provision must be made to meet such intervention.

9. Should war with China be precipitated by Chinese Communist aggression in Southeast Asia, air attack should be launched immediately aimed at military targets. In the selection of these targets political considerations cannot be ignored. To achieve a maximum and lasting effect nuclear as well as conventional weapons should be used from the outset. A blockade against China should also be established.

10. It is unlikely that the land forces immediately available would be sufficient to hold the Chinese advance but a recovery line in Indochina and defensive positions in Thailand and in Burma should be considered as a means of inflicting the maximum delay on the enemy and winning the support of those peoples. The lack of natural defensive positions and the inadequacy of forces likely to be available would limit what could be achieved.

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11. The final stop-line should be a defensive position on the Kra Isthmus, the essential communications being controlled by air and naval forces based on the Philippines, Malaya and Ceylon. Intermediate operations should not be allowed to prejudice the ability to hold this final position.

Global War

12. Any war with China involves some risk of war with Russia although no agreement was reached at this Conference as to whether the risk was probable or merely problematical. This is an important factor to be considered when deciding to commit forces to a war with China since such a committal must not be allowed to destroy the balance necessary for the implementation of allied global strategy.

13. In the event of Global War, the overall strategy of the Allies should be generally defensive in Southeast Asia utilizing the offensive capabilities of naval and air forces as practicable. Elsewhere in the Far East the possibilities for offensive action should be exploited.

Measures to improve Internal Security in Southeast Asia

14. The maintenance of internal security in Southeast Asia depends largely on our ability to enlist the determined support of the leaders and people of the free Southeast Asian countries in the fight against Communism. This is a political problem but if it can be solved there are certain military measures which can be taken to increase their stability and develop their strength.

15. From the military viewpoint, a vital factor in the maintenance of internal security is the existence of strong, reliable, well trained and well equipped forces including police. Therefore, the Allies should be prepared to aid in developing these forces and their ability to operate. Such action would contribute not only to internal security but also to the general defense of Southeast Asia. These measures should not be considered in isolation, but with political and economic factors, which, applied together, will contribute greatly to welfare and stability.

Military problems of a Cease-fire in Indochina

16. Both the local situation in Indochina and previous experience of truce or armistice between free and Communist nations was taken into account. The conditions which would be the soundest and which would prevent a cease-fire in Indochina developing quickly into a more serious situation were set down only from the military point of view.

17. Any cease-fire agreement should provide for the retention by the French Union Forces of the Hanoi-Haiphong area, the communications between those two places and at least the area south of the line Thakhek-Dong Hoi.

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18. There must be a guarantee by nations other than those directly involved that they will intervene if the agreement is broken and neutral observers with freedom of movement must be provided to detect and establish violations where they occur.

General Conclusions

19. Throughout the studies the Principal Military Representatives have been much impressed by the fact that the military measures required to enable resistance to further Communist aggression or infiltration in Southeast Asia to be effective call for firm solidarity between the Five Powers represented at this Conference. The Principal Military Representatives would also call special attention to the critical nature of the present situation in Tonkin and the urgency of decisions on the immediate problems that it presents.

  1. For documentation on the five-power talks, see volume xii.