8. Telegram From the Special Representative in Vietnam (Collins) to the Department of State1

2581. Reference Department telegram 2644.2

Paragraph a reference telegram. Daridan tells me French subsidies to sects now reduced from earlier amounts and will cease entirely 31 January. I understand Diem now furnishing sects several million piastres per month exact amount unknown. I doubt wisdom our permitting use American aid for sect subsidy except for legitimate pay of sect forces integrated into National Army. About 3,000 Cao Dai and similar number Hoa Hao troops now thus integrated, out of total of 15,000 to 20,000 for each sect in private armies. Under proposed cut-back of Vietnamese armed forces from 160,000 to about [Page 18] 90,000, it is unlikely that additional sectarian troops will be taken in; in fact, it may be necessary eventually to reduce the number now in National Army ranks. In any case, many thousands of sect troops can not be accommodated in National Army and will have to be demobilized. They constitute appreciable danger at present and will continue do so until National Army has been reorganized and redeployed so as to neutralize threat they offer. This danger is not so much that they may seek join forces with Viet Minh (they have apparently been determinedly anti-Communist) as that they may increase their exactions on populations of provinces they control or else turn to wide-scale banditry at time when forces of law and order are still too weak to cope with them. Diem is aware of this danger which is why government has assumed responsibility for paying at least part of subsidy hitherto paid by French, presumably until it feels strong enough to cut off support with impunity. While there is some danger in this procedure, which may become acute at later time when Diem wishes cut off support, I believe he may have no option at present time but to continue some measure of subsidy to sects. However, this should not be done with direct aid US funds.

Re paragraph 3 reference telegram. I intend to push ahead with Vietnamese Government toward reaching agreement on force levels and training in accord with terms of minute of understanding. As stated in my telegram 2554,3 there was never any question of submitting minute of understanding to Vietnamese Government for its approval. Minute was intended only as agreement between US and France which would provide terms of reference for my approach to Vietnamese on military matters. Defense Minister Minh has not yet submitted his ideas on desired force goals, but I understand from MAAG that Vietnamese General Staff still talking in terms of 150,000. I still believe I can work out satisfactory arrangement with Vietnamese so long as French Government does not undermine principle of full MAAG direction of training and organization established by General Ely. I am not aware of any “secret defense treaty” between France and Vietnam. Department is requested to amplify this reference.4

Paragraph 4 reference telegram. During course of discussion this morning, 6 [5?] January, with Diem on National Assembly opportunity arose to sound out Diem re possible return of Bao Dai. Reaction was negative. Details included in cable following.5
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.5/1–555. Top Secret. Repeated for information to Paris.
  2. Dated December 29, 1954; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xiii, Part 2, p. 2435.
  3. Document 3.
  4. The Department provided clarification in telegram 2745 to Saigon, January 6, which reads in part:

    “Regarding paragraph 2: We have not yet received from French Embassy Washington the revisions which French have suggested (Paris 2826 [repeated] to Saigon) but will not give any concurrence to French scheme until after full study and your views. Secret treaty reference concerns 1950–51 agreement between De Lattre and Vietnamese Government which we did not see but whose existence was confirmed as constituting at that time a definite and exclusive Franco-Vietnamese military pact. We hope no longer effective but cited as example of possible limitation on ability Diem to negotiate.” (Department of State, Central Files, 751G.5/1–555)

    Telegram 2826 is not printed. (ibid.)

  5. Telegram 2583 from Saigon, January 5. (Ibid., 751G.2/1–555)