293. Telegram From the Department of State to the Legation in Laos1

480. Vientiane 5672 repeated Phnom Penh Unnumbered Bangkok Unnumbered Paris 117. Reference telegram and USARMA letter March 153 on reorganization and training Lao Army call for recapitulation [Page 647] development U.S. military assistance Laos. Legation telegram 193 repeated Saigon 279 contained MAAG/Saigon recommendations, in which Legation concurred Legation telegram 195 repeated Saigon 282 Phnom Penh Unnumbered,4 for Laos force basis 23,650 organized as light divisions. Secretary Defense letter February 16 indicated JCS would not reverse original position, i.e. from military viewpoint they could not recommend force levels and military assistance owing Geneva Agreement provision prohibiting installation MAAG. However NSC policy is that U.S. will support Lao military establishment. Consequently, Defense letter, stating political considerations might be overriding, set forth view, not to be considered recommendation, that Lao forces as recommended by Legation would be effective maintenance internal security Laos.

There is therefore no formal “Defense-approved” force basis or organization for Laos. Further, Lao acceptance U.S. concepts not made condition by U.S. when original offer made subsequent Geneva Conference for continued American aid, since militarily U.S. does not possess necessary degree control for execution changes. Defense view is that development Lao Army essentially depends upon French and that organization and strength will depend on their views regardless of U.S. recommendation. This will remain true even when qualified civilian personnel for supervision of U.S. military aid assigned Laos, since smallness group will permit only nominal supervision. Nevertheless such group would be in some position, however, imperfect, to comment on adequacy French development and training Lao armed forces.

Although U.S. at time original offer aid following Geneva Conference did not make Lao acceptance U.S. concepts force level and reorganization condition for continued U.S. aid, Department and FOA chose regard Defense views as binding and so instructed Yost in negotiations DFS exchange notes (Department telegram 304 to Vientiane repeated 3703 Saigon 399 Phnom Penh 3001 Paris5), in order achieve rational basis for extending large sums dollar assistance not economically justified.

Pressure has been mounting past six weeks cut Lao military assistance program owing small population and low absorptive capacity. Reductions staved off at least for present by argument political decision taken support Lao force goal 23,650, which presupposed military aid in order 40 million dollars. Figure not sacrosanct, but comprehensive cost study could only be undertaken in field by qualified personnel to be assigned Legation or USOM; it anticipated cost study results might well call for downward revision aid figure.

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View imminent Congressional hearings and fact supervisory group will not arrive several weeks, Legation and USOM requested begin feasible aspects review magnitude program, giving due consideration absorptive capacity.

Imperative conclude DFS exchange notes soonest since funds must be obligated by June 30.6 Failure end negotiations considerably before that date might provide grounds transfer portion funds now allocated Laos to other country where basis U.S. aid already agreed.

In interests concluding agreement without delay, Department desires owing political considerations modify instruction to Yost penultimate paragraph Department telegram 304 concerning Lao acceptance “U.S.-approved 23,650 force level with division organization ‘to Lao acceptance’; force level and organization determined by U.S. representatives in consultation Lao Government to be most effective for maintaining internal security Laos.”

With respect structure Lao Army, Defense will not reexamine position set out February 16 (Department telegram 304) and Department and FOA clearly unqualified decide whether divisions regiments battalions most suitable Laos. Civilian supervisory personnel to be furnished for Lao program will, however, be so qualified. They will, therefore, be asked comment on adequacy development French organization plan outlined USARMA letter. Ascertainment by this group that Laos forces clearly not effectively absorbing U.S. military aid and that training under French not progressing satisfactorily could be basis U.S. reconsideration aid program Laos.

Regarding proposed delay reduction forces to 23,650, Department not convinced new element has been introduced justify maintenance 28,000 strength throughout Calendar 1955. In theory possibility military action against Pathets continues exist, but view Lao Army inability do it alone, changed Lao Government attitude toward use force, and imminence rainy season, military operation unlikely near future. In addition, as you have pointed out to Lao, smaller Army would be better force than present larger poorly led, inadequately trained troops.

Need of internal security force for upcoming elections would be stronger argument than Pathet danger if Government really intends hold elections even though Royal authority not restored two provinces. Department considers it would be foolhardy hold elections in present circumstances and believes citing continued Pathet violation Geneva Accords through defiance central authority would be valid counter to Communist and possibly ICC charges failure hold elections constituted flagrant violation letter spirit agreement.

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Further point seeming argue in favor reduction armed strength is startling statement USARMA letter that 66 percent officers and 78 percent NCOs French Military Mission occupy command positions, removing them from training function. With smaller Lao Army, would appear greater percentage French mission could be used in training, problem about which U.S. long concerned and which will likely be discussed Paris talks this week.

Solution problem reduction forces seems lie in implementing soonest Engle recommendations Lao police services.7 Interested Washington agencies approved your proceeding along lines paragraph 6 Vientiane Tousfo 173 repeated Bangkok USOM 71.8 Combining police and gendarmérie will, as Vientiane 567 states, remove 1,500 from Legation-proposed 25,000 budget basis, but will not at moment cover additional 3,000 troops which Lao Government wishes maintain until after elections.

FOA will not commit funds until Engle full report received. General thinking, however, is U.S. cannot finance both oversize loosely organized Army and greatly expanded police force. View obvious value effective police services and fact such force could be trained by American experts rather than French, financing this project has far greater merit than continued maintenance troops above figure previously recommendation by Legation.

Summary Department position follows: 1) DFS agreement should be concluded soonest, Lao to accept U.S. concept of forces and organization considered necessary for internal security without mentioning specific number of structure; 2) concurs your urging Lao plan annual military budget basis 25,000 including gendarmérie in order obligate funds before June 30; 3) Legation and USOM requested review aid program with respect absorptive capacity; detailed study cost Lao Army to await arrival civilian supervisory group which will assist USOM this matter; 4) unless political factors not now clear Department overriding, reduction to 23,650 should begin following completion military budget, and transfer gendarmérie to police, build-up of which approved in principle, should be effected near future.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.5–MSP/4–2255. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Byrne and cleared by PSA, FE, S/MSA and in draft by FOA and Defense. Pouched to Saigon, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, and Paris.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 290.
  3. Not found in Department of State files.
  4. Neither printed. (Both in Department of State, Central Files, 751J.5/12–2154)
  5. See footnote 4, Document 275.
  6. End of fiscal year 1955.
  7. See footnote 3, Document 290.
  8. In paragraph 6 of Tousfo 173, April 22, FOA authorized USOM in Vientiane to proceed with exploration of implementing the Engle–Page recommendations for Lao police services. (Washington National Records Center, FOA Message Files: FRC 56 A 632, Box 102, Vientiane)