289. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson) to the Secretary of State1


  • Problem of the MAAG Ceiling in Vietnam
[Page 619]


1. The Secretary of Defense and the JCS have strongly recommended in the attached letter to you (Tab A2) that we allow MAAG Viet-Nam to exceed the ceiling of 342 under which they have been operating since the coming into force of the Armistice Agreement in July 1954, by authorizing the replacement of withdrawing French military training and technical personnel by American military training and technical personnel. The Director of Central Intelligence supports the position of Defense and JCS (Tab B3).


2. On December 17, 1954, you affirmed to Eden that we had no intention of increasing MAAG Viet-Nam beyond the level obtaining when the Geneva Armistice entered into force. You stated this raised a real problem with respect to training the Vietnamese and would require continuing use of French military personnel (Tab C4). This position has subsequently been reaffirmed privately from time to time to Indian and French officials.

3. The withdrawal of French forces from Viet-Nam has taken place at a far more rapid rate than was anticipated. French troop strength prior to Geneva, in 1954, was on the order of 185,000, whereas only about 30,000 French troops now remain, of whom only 122 are engaged in the combined training activity (as against 268 in April, 1955).

4. Defense and JCS have advised you that unless they can exceed the 342 ceiling in the immediate future, the NSC military objective for Viet-Nam will have to be revised downward so as to reflect a lesser mission which might reasonably be accomplished by MAAG Viet-Nam with personnel not exceeding 342.

5. L considers the first paragraph of Article 16 of the Armistice Agreement obscure. One possible interpretation permits the substitution of U.S. training and technical personnel for similar departed French personnel, since this would not result in any “additional military personnel” in Viet-Nam (Tab D5). However, it can be argued [Page 620] with equal force that U.S. military personnel is restricted to the number in Viet-Nam at the time of the armistice. This is the view taken by the British in November 1954 (Tab E6). L points out that the International Commission is responsible for supervision of the introduction of military personnel (Article 36), and will probably interpret the Agreement to limit U.S. military personnel to the number in Viet-Nam at the time of the armistice.

6. The Embassy at Saigon “fully realizes the need for additional MAAG/TRIM (training) personnel and does not challenge the military arguments for wishing to disregard restrictions resulting from the Armistice Agreement”. However, it points out that the political repercussions of a possible change of policy prior to July 1956 might be very serious and might afford other parties involved the opportunity of placing the onus for collapse of the Geneva settlement on the U.S. doorstep.

7. The Embassy’s political objections to a change of policy are spelled out in fuller detail in paragraphs 6 and 7 of the attached staff study which also details some of the legal aspects of this question (Tab F7).

Courses of Action

8A. If you determine that we should inform the Secretary of Defense and Director of CIA that we consider permissible the replacement of withdrawn French training and technical personnel by American military personnel in similar functions, it is recommended:

That you inform Sir Anthony Eden during his forthcoming visit8 that in view of the rapid withdrawal of French forces a new situation has been created with respect to the vital task of training the Vietnamese Army which will oblige us to replace withdrawn French by American military training and technical personnel; and
That you inform the Secretary of Defense that, in the additional staffing of MAAG Viet-Nam over 342, Defense should not exceed, without prior concurrence by State, a number to be jointly determined by State and Defense.

8B. If, on the other hand, you determine that it is preferable at this time not to depart from the 342 ceiling, it is recommended that [Page 621] you inform the Secretary of Defense that our policy will be kept under constant review for the next few months and that we will interpose no objection to Defense personnel practices designed to keep the full effective strength of the military component of MAAG Viet-Nam at 342 on duty in Viet-Nam at all times.9

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.5/1–1856. Secret. Drafted by Kattenburg with concurrences from PSA, FE, L, and C; a marginal note on the source text indicates that the Secretary saw this memorandum.
  2. This letter from Wilson, December 13, is not attached to the source text. See footnote 3, Document 287.
  3. This support was in the form of a memorandum from Allen Dulles to John Foster Dulles, December 16, not attached to the source text. (Department of State, Central Files, 751G.5/12–1655)
  4. Tab C, Secto 11 from Paris, December 17, 1954 is not attached to the source text; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xiii, Part 2, p. 2385.
  5. Tab D, a memorandum from L, December 6, is not attached to the source text and has not been found. The argument referred to here, however, is repeated verbatim in a later memorandum from L/FE to Hoey, December 21. (Department of State, Central Files, 751G.5–MSP/12–1355)
  6. Tab E, described in the list of attachments as “British legal interpretation, November, 1955” (italics added) is not attached to the source text and has not been found.
  7. This staff study, also drafted by Kattenburg, is not attached to the source text. Text of the study, which is essentially the same as this memorandum but in greater detail, is in Department of State, Central Files, 751G.5–MSP/1–1655.
  8. The reference is to British Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s visit to Washington, January 30–February 1, 1956. For extracts of Eisenhower’s and senior U.S. officials’ discussions with Eden and British Foreign Secretary Lloyd, see Documents 296 and 297.
  9. There is no indication on the source text of approval or disapproval of these two courses of action, but the instructions in telegram 2503 to Saigon, Document 291, make it clear that 8B was approved.