26. Memorandum of Discussion at the 233d Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, January 21, 1955, 9 a.m.1

Present at the 233rd meeting of the Council were the President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense; the Director, Foreign Operations Administration; and the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Attorney General; the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; the Director, U.S. Information Agency; the Under Secretary of State; the Deputy Secretary of Defense; Robert R. Bowie, Department of State; the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; the Assistant to the President; Robert Cutler and Nelson A. Rockefeller, Special Assistants [Page 90] to the President; the White House Staff Secretary; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

There follows a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the main points taken.

Chinese Nationalist Offshore Islands (NSC 5429/5; NSC 5503; NSC Action No. 13112)

The Director of Central Intelligence read a special intelligence estimate entitled “Reactions to Certain Possible U.S. Courses of Action with Respect to the Islands off the Coast of China”.3 He pointed out that this estimate had been prepared as a matter of urgency the previous evening, and represented an uncoordinated CIA estimate (copy filed in the minutes of the meeting). The general tone was not optimistic on the reaction to be anticipated if the course of action suggested at the previous day’s meeting of the National Security Council by Secretary Dulles were adopted.

The President said he was not surprised by the conclusions of the estimate, and asked if there were any questions. There being no questions, Mr. Cutler called on Secretary Dulles to report on the latest developments and future actions regarding the new proposal as to the Nationalist-held offshore islands.

Secretary Dulles explained that he had had a talk with the British Ambassador yesterday evening. There had been a meeting of the British Cabinet yesterday in London to discuss the course of action proposed by the United States. Secretary Dulles said that he was not certain yet as to the precise position taken by the British Cabinet, but two points seemed fairly clear. In the first place, the British Government was reluctant to see the United States take this proposed step relative to the offshore islands. The reluctance stemmed, apparently, from the British feeling that in order to make this commitment stick, we might be obliged to use atomic weapons in order to hold the Quemoys and the Matsu Islands. The British were always very sensitive about this subject. Secondly, the British felt that if there were to be a public declaration at this stage regarding the U.S. course [Page 91] of action, the decision would be irrevocable, and efforts to stabilize the situation in the United Nations would prove futile.

On the other hand, said Secretary Dulles, while the British might not like this program, they would probably be willing to go along with it if it involved the President’s going to Congress to seek authority generally to use the armed forces of the United States in the defense of Formosa, without publicly identifying those offshore islands which the United States would help to defend. Secretary Dulles felt, however, that this latter point should be made clear privately to both the Chinese Nationalists and the Chinese Communists. In these circumstances the British might be willing to go ahead with the program for action in the UN.

Secretary Dulles went on to say that in the course of working on the Presidential statement to Congress, he had come to the conclusion that it would be best not to nail the flag to the mast by a detailed statement respecting our plans and intentions on evacuating or holding certain of these islands. This matter could be covered by informing the Chinese Nationalists exactly what we have in mind.

The President then informed the Council that he had talked with Joe Martin and the Speaker of the House yesterday morning.4 Mr. Rayburn had reflected Mr. McCormack’s opinions. In general, he had said that the President had all the powers he needed to deal with the situation, and that whatever the President decided to do would be unequivocally backed by the House of Representatives. He believed, however, that a joint resolution at this particular moment would be unwise because the President would be saying in effect that he did not have the power to act instantly, and a filibuster could start in the Congress, causing dissension both in the Congress and throughout the country. Accordingly, it was the Speaker’s advice that the President take whatever action he deemed necessary, and thereafter ask for Congressional approval of such action. Speaker Rayburn guaranteed that this approval would go through the House in 45 minutes, without a word of criticism of the President.

The President went on to say that in talking this matter over with the Secretary of State, he and the Secretary had believed that they could do a lot of things as a mere matter of course, but that we must at all costs avoid another Yalu River sanctuary situation in any struggle over Quemoy. The President said he was absolutely determined on this point. Accordingly, he had concluded that we must get a line of action clearly in mind, including all the sequential steps. He [Page 92] believed that we could do what we wanted to do with regard to these islands without being too specific in the statement to Congress. On the specific side, the President said that if we went to Congress for authority to defend the Formosa area generally, the proposal would have a tremendous effect. This would also provide time in which to let the UN action get off the ground. If the UN does not get off the ground in time, we will have to follow up with this new policy decision. In any case, we will have to let the Chinese Nationalists know about this decision. The President then inquired whether anything had been heard as yet from Foreign Minister Yeh. Secretary Dulles replied that nothing but an unofficial radio [telephone?] report had been heard from the Foreign Minister.

Secretary Humphrey said that it was clear in his mind that the President’s intention was to withdraw from the Tachen Islands. But do we withdraw from Quemoy and the other offshore islands?

The President explained to Secretary Humphrey that our ultimate objective was to defend Formosa and the Pescadores. The other offshore islands were incidental to this objective. He therefore contemplated no permanent extension of the defense area of Formosa. We will continue to defend these islands until some other arrangements can be made to quiet the Formosa area. We would then get out of the offshore islands.

Governor Stassen suggested that it might be wise to emphasize that our ultimate objective is stability in the Far East, with Formosa in friendly hands. The President replied to Governor Stassen in the affirmative, and then proceeded to read the opening sentences of a draft statement to the Congress which had been prepared by Secretary Dulles.5 He interrupted his reading to state that he did not feel he needed additional authority in order to evacuate Chinese Nationalist garrisons from certain of the offshore islands. However, if in the course of such action we were obliged to attack the Chinese Communists, the President felt that he might need additional authority. On the other hand, he did not wish to specify the precise details of why he needed such extra authority.

In some anxiety, the Attorney General6 inquired whether the President intended to change his plan to seek additional authority from the Congress. The Attorney General thought it still highly desirable to seek this authority.

The President assured the Attorney General that he had not changed his ideas on this subject, and asked the Secretary of State to go on reading the draft statement to the Congress. However, the Vice [Page 93] President interrupted to state that he did not agree to the position taken by Speaker Rayburn as the President had earlier outlined it. Secretary Dulles added that he also thought it more desirable for the President to seek from Congress additional authority for the use of the armed forces of the United States. The President said he agreed, although he was opposed to any personal appearance before the Congress and preferred simply to send a written statement.

Continuing on the subject of the Rayburn view, the Vice President said he very much doubted any likelihood of a filibuster in the Senate. If, on the other hand, the President did not go before the Congress with a request for additional authority, and then “moved in” on the situation in the offshore islands, he would be drawing a parallel with the action in 1950 on Korea. “Some of the boys on our side” would be certain to pick this up and use it against the President by arguing in effect that he was doing precisely what President Truman did in June 1950. So, the Vice President concluded, even if the President found himself obliged to act before the joint resolution went through Congress, it would be better at least to have asked for Congressional authority. Moreover, the Vice President was sure that Congress would move promptly to pass the resolution.

Secretary Dulles then proceeded to read the remainder of the proposed statement by the President, concluding his reading amidst murmurs of approval. The President said that of course the document would need a little more editing. He hadn’t seen this version until last midnight. Words were extremely important in this cold war situation. The Presidential statement must be temperate and exact, but also it must reveal our firm intention. That’s the best kind of a notice before the world, and if it gets genuine support from the Congress, such support would be worth a lot of additional armed forces. Accordingly we must be very careful in our choice of words.

After the President and other members of the Council had discussed certain sentences in the proposed statement, Secretary Humphrey inquired of the President how long it would take the UN to reach a decision if the UN did undertake action to stabilize the situation. Would it be a matter of weeks or months?

Secretary Dulles said that such UN action would take at least a month. The President expressed the belief that a UN action would not have much influence on the course of action that the United States would have to undertake at once. On the other hand, such UN action would have great influence on world opinion.

Secretary Humphrey insisted that the Quemoy problem had got to be settled. That was the dagger point. The President replied that Secretary Humphrey made a mistake in assuming that Quemoy was the Chinese Communist objective. It was not; they were after Formosa. Secretary Humphrey denied this, and said that he was assuming, [Page 94] rather, that Quemoy was a point which the United States would find it impossible to defend for any great length of time. The President said that it would be OK with him if the UN succeeds in achieving a solution which will enable the United States to get out of Quemoy without risk to Formosa. Secretary Humphrey replied that it was still going to be hard to explain to the American people why we were finding it necessary to hold on to Quemoy. In some exasperation, the President said to Secretary Humphrey that he sat in this room time after time with the maps all around him, and a look at the geography of the area would explain why we have to hold Quemoy.

Dr. Flemming commented that no matter how the Presidential statement were worded, the action that the President proposed to take was of an extraordinary and momentous character. He was accordingly much concerned about the inflationary and similar influences which the President’s statement would set in motion in the country as soon as its text became public. Dr. Flemming therefore advised that language should be put into the statement to indicate that the proposed action would not involve any stepping up in the currently-approved level of the armed forces or in currently-approved mobilization measures. The President agreed heartily with Dr. Flemming’s suggestion.

After further discussion of various points made in the draft statement, Secretary Dulles turned to a draft,7 which had been prepared by Mr. Phleger, chief law officer of the State Department, and Assistant Attorney General Rankin,8 of the Congressional resolution.

The President thought the draft of the proposed joint resolution was a good one, although it contained no hint as to actions that had been taken hitherto in using our armed forces to defend Formosa since President Truman had decreed this in his order to the Seventh Fleet. The President, in the course of a discussion of the text of the joint resolution, said he favored keeping its text general enough to allow him the necessary freedom of action.

Governor Stassen said he was fearful lest there be any unnecessary limitation of the powers of the Commander-in-Chief, in view of the contingencies that the United States faced in the future. The President said he agreed with this, but reminded Governor Stassen that it was also essential, if possible, to avoid a split in Congressional and public opinion. The President said that all might be sure of one thing—namely, that he would do in an emergency whatever had to be done to protect the vital interests of the United States. He would do this even if his actions should be interpreted as acts of war. He would rather be impeached than fail to do his duty.

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The President then inquired when the statement to the Congress would be sent up. Secretary Dulles hoped that the final text might be ready to send up by Monday, and the President suggested that it be sent as soon as it was ready.

Mr. Allen Dulles then said that he was in a position to make a brief comment on the current situation on the main Tachen Islands. There was no action, and only a few junks in the harbor. The morale of the Chinese Nationalist soldiers was said to be good, but the commanding general, Liu Lien-I, was said to be in the depths of despair. There was some possibility that he might sell out to the Chinese Communists after our MAAG was out, and all our people have now been evacuated. Mr. Dulles then predicted that with good leadership the Nationalist garrison would put up a good fight. It might prove necessary, however, to get rid of this Nationalist commander in the Tachens. Since the weather was bad, Mr. Dulles thought no Chinese Communist attack likely over the next few days.

The National Security Council:

Noted an uncoordinated estimate by the Central Intelligence Agency on the consequences of certain U.S. actions regarding the Chinese Nationalist offshore islands, as read at the meeting by the Director of Central Intelligence.
Noted and discussed a proposed Presidential message to the Congress and a draft Congressional resolution requesting authority to use U.S. armed forces if necessary for the purpose of securing Formosa and the Pescadores against armed attack, as read at the meeting by the President and the Secretary of State.
Agreed that the President should request from Congress authority to use U.S. armed forces if necessary for the purpose of securing Formosa and the Pescadores against armed attack, this authority to include the securing and protection of such related positions now in friendly hands, and the taking of such other measures as the President might judge to be appropriate for the security and defense of Formosa and the Pescadores.
Reaffirmed the willingness of the U.S. to support in the United Nations action to bring to an end the active hostilities in the general area of Formosa and the Pescadores.
Agreed that, pending either evidence of de facto acquiescence by the Chinese Communists in the U.S. position regarding Formosa and the Pescadores or action by the United Nations restoring peace and security in the general area, the U.S. should, with appropriate use of U.S. armed forces:
Assist the Chinese Nationalists to withdraw from such offshore islands (including the Tachens) as may be mutually agreed with the Chinese Nationalists.
For the purpose of securing Formosa and the Pescadores against armed attack, assist the Chinese Nationalists to defend the Quemoy Islands and the Matsu Islands from Chinese Communist attacks so long as such attacks are presumptively [Page 96] made by the Chinese Communists as a prelude to attack upon Formosa and the Pescadores.
Noted that, unless circumstances arise as a result of future developments under the action in e above, no increase in the currently-approved level of U.S. armed forces (NSC Action No. 1286–b as amended by NSC Action No. 1293–d)9 or in currently-approved mobilization measures, is required at this time.10

Note: Documents to implement the action in c above, as approved by the President, have been filed as part of the official Minutes of this meeting.11 The action in d above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of State for appropriate action. The action in e above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretaries of State and Defense for appropriate implementation. The action in f above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of Defense and the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization.12

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Gleason on January 24. The time of the meeting is from Eisenhower’s appointment diary. (Ibid., President’s Daily Appointments)
  2. See Document 23.
  3. Not found in Department of State files or Eisenhower Library, but see Document 40. A memorandum of January 21 to Dulles from W. Park Armstrong, Jr., Special Assistant to the Secretary for Intelligence, referred to this estimate and reads:

    “Our people participated yesterday evening in the preparation of this estimate. We concur in general, but have the following reservation in regard to Paragraph 5:

    “We believe that it would be almost impossible under the circumstances assumed here to convince the Chinese Communists that the exercise of their capability to take Quemoy or their attack on Matsu would result in full-scale war with the US, and we therefore believe that such attacks would be likely over the longer run.” (Department of State, S/PNSC Files: Lot 61 D 167, Formosa)

  4. Described here is a telephone conversation that took place the previous afternoon between the President and Representative Martin and Speaker Rayburn. (Memorandum of telephone conversation at 2:40 p.m., January 20, 1955, not signed but probably prepared by the President’s personal secretary, Ann C. Whitman; Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DDE Diaries)
  5. It is not clear whether the reference is to the draft printed as Document 24, or to a revision thereof.
  6. Herbert Brownell, Jr.
  7. Not identified.
  8. J. Lee Rankin, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel.
  9. NSC Action No. 1293–d of January 6, provided a general target for personnel strength for U.S. armed forces.
  10. Lettered subparagraphs constitute NSC Action No. 1312. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95)
  11. Not attached to the source text.
  12. NSC Action Nos. 1312–c, –d, –e, and –f were transmitted in a memorandum of January 26 from Lay to Dulles. (Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5503 Series)