496. Memorandum of Discussion at the 287th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, June 7, 19561

[Here follow a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting and items 1 and 2.]

3. MDA Program for Thailand (NSC Action No. 1527–e;2 Memo for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated June 6, 19563)

Mr. Anderson reminded the Council of the circumstances under which the Departments of State and Defense had earlier been asked to re-examine the proposed shipment of jet aircraft to Thailand under the Fiscal 1957 Mutual Defense Assistance Program. Thereafter he proceeded to summarize the contents of the letter of Acting Secretary of Defense Robertson,4 indicating joint State–Defense agreement to the shipment of 31 jets to Thailand in fiscal 1957 as originally planned. (A copy of Mr. Anderson’s brief is filed in the minutes of the meeting.5)

Secretary Dulles commented that he personally had not yet seen the letter of Secretary Robertson indicating joint State–Defense agreement on this point, nor, so far as he knew, had Under Secretary of State Hoover been aware of its contents. In so far as Secretary [Page 883] Robertson’s letter indicated that the State Department concurred in the equipping of one Thai squadron with jet aircraft, Secretary Dulles had no objection whatever. If, on the other hand, Secretary Robertson’s letter was intended to imply State Department agreement to the replacing with jet aircraft of all six squadrons of the proposed Thai Air Force, he would not wish to agree to such an implication without further study of the problem. After all, we did not wish to have another problem on our hands in Thailand similar to that we now faced in Turkey. Accordingly, how much beyond one jet squadron for Thailand we could properly go, in his opinion, required further study.

The President turned to General Twining and inquired of him the additional costs which the maintenance of jet aircraft would have over propeller-driven aircraft. General Twining said that to maintain jet aircraft would certainly cost more than to maintain propeller-driven aircraft. On the other hand, if we had to keep replacing propeller-driven military aircraft, which were now becoming obsolescent, it might cost even more than to replace these aircraft with jets. Not only are we making very few propeller-driven military aircraft now, but in addition, the Thais don’t wish to receive planes which they regard as obsolescent. Ultimately, therefore, we would probably have to give the Thais the jet aircraft called for by this program.

The President indicated that, regardless of what might happen in the future, at the present moment the Council was concerned only with the problem of whether to provide jet aircraft for a single Thai squadron.

Admiral Radford said he felt obliged to warn the Council that if we propose to continue the program for building up six Thai squadrons, it would ultimately mean jet aircraft for all six of them. Secretary Dulles said that he had a somewhat different opinion. Would it not be possible to suggest that two or three squadrons of jet aircraft would be equivalent in effectiveness to six squadrons of propeller-driven aircraft? Admiral Radford agreed that it might be so, but that it would be very hard to convince the Thais on the validity of our argument. To withhold the jet aircraft might also raise the question in Thailand of the validity of U.S. assurances of armed intervention if aggression against Thailand should occur. Secretary Dulles replied that he couldn’t understand the force of that argument, since we had already made it plain in the SEATO Treaty that we would intervene to resist external aggression against Thailand. Admiral Radford appeared satisfied with Secretary Dulles’ point.

Secretary Dulles then observed that as a general rule we might well in the future find it best to put greater emphasis on our own U.S. strategic deterrent powers and less emphasis on the military build-up of allied states with meager economic resources, as a means [Page 884] of deterring external aggression against these allies. He repeated his suggestion for cutting the six squadrons of conventional aircraft to three squadrons of jet aircraft. He doubted if the Thais needed more or could use them if they got them. Admiral Radford confined himself to pointing out that the Thais were supposed to use these aircraft in close support of their ground forces in the event of hostilities.

Secretary Humphrey said it seemed to him that the problem now before the National Security Council was simply one more illustration of the danger of the United States getting itself committed piecemeal to some program of military assistance before we are in a position to grasp the whole picture of military and economic assistance that we are giving to foreign nations. If we make up our minds to say that we are going to buy just so many jet aircraft, and then let the Joint Chiefs of Staff decide where it was best to put these jet aircraft, that was OK, that was a proper decision for the Joint Chiefs. But we must not carry out these programs piecemeal, deciding to put some aircraft here or there at one time or another. … As he had said before, this seemed to Secretary Humphrey a terrible situation.

Acting Secretary of Defense Robertson said that the point that Secretary Dulles had made—that the Thais could count on U.S. assistance in terms of our obligations under the SEATO Treaty—was not wholly satisfactory as assurance to the Thais because, according to the terms of the Treaty, the member nations responded to an aggression against one of their number in terms of their “constitutional processes”. Suppose an aggression occurred and, thanks to our constitutional processes, the United States found it impossible to intervene militarily in support of the victim. It was because of such a possibility that the Thais felt that they needed to build up their own armed forces and not to rely completely on the deterrent power of the United States.

To this point Secretary Humphrey commented that there was no end to what we or our allies like the Thais would like to do if there were only someone else to pay for it. He again expressed strong opposition to any such argument as this in favor of what he called a piecemeal commitment to Thailand.

Admiral Radford pointed out that we would be facing an even more severe problem of this general nature in the coming summer, when the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be called upon to give their advice to the members of the Baghdad Pact.6 If we could give assurances [Page 885] to the member nations of the Baghdad Pact of specific U.S. assistance in the event that any one of them was attacked, we could then be in a position to argue with these states in favor of their maintaining a less elaborate military establishment of their own. If we could not specify such assured U.S. assistance, then we would have to “pick up the tab” for a large proportion of the cost of the military establishments of the Baghdad Pact powers.

Secretary Humphrey again insisted that what we must do is to determine on a certain amount of money which we have to spend for maintaining our national security, and then let the Joint Chiefs of Staff decide where were the best places in which to expend these resources.

Secretary Dulles said that, of course, we were in a position to go quite a long distance in the direction of giving assurances of armed support to Thailand, to Pakistan, and to Turkey, because we were bound to these nations by the NATO or SEATO Treaties. It was more difficult to give the necessary assurances in the case of Iran and Iraq, because we are not, like these two states, a member of the Baghdad Pact. Admiral Radford intervened to state that nevertheless we must be ready to comment on the wisdom of the military planning of the Baghdad Pact nations this coming summer.

. . . . . . .

The President said he was inclined to agree with Secretary Dulles, but that nevertheless the Secretary had not supplied an answer to Admiral Radford’s problem of what to say to the Baghdad Pact military planners this summer.

Governor Stassen said that he believed that we could neither, on the one hand, specifically guarantee what we would do by way of assisting against overt aggression all over Asia, nor, on the other hand, could we promise to assist in maintaining great build-ups of local military forces in the states all over Asia. To this Admiral Radford replied that whether we could do it in theory or not, we had actually made tremendous commitments to Korea, Japan, Formosa, and others. The President intervened to comment philosophically that this was one more instance of the familiar difficulties which confronted a nation which had to work with its allies. We were bound to encounter such difficulties in these dealings, and we might just as well become reconciled. However, Governor Stassen insisted that the economic situation in Thailand was serious enough, whether we supplied jet aircraft or not. If to an already difficult situation we add the additional costs involved in jet aircraft, we must cut down on some other part of the Thai military program, or else we should [Page 886] be confronting in Thailand a problem of the same proportions as we were facing in Turkey.

The President said that in a sense he agreed with Governor Stassen, but reminded Governor Stassen that our decision in the first instance to provide jet aircraft to Thailand was taken on the determination that it served the national interests of the United States. The President added to this a statement of his belief that it was best, in general, to encourage these small Asian states to build up their ground forces rather than their air force and navy. They could depend on the United States for air and naval support, and would be wise to concentrate on ground forces, which the United States would find it more difficult to provide in case of aggression. It might be possible, thought the President, to get some of these countries to revamp their military establishments to take account of a greater emphasis on the provision of ground forces. Governor Stassen said that he agreed heartily with the President’s point, and said that we could add a few jets for prestige purposes.

At this point Mr. Anderson inquired of the President as to the Council action on this matter. The President said the action should indicate that we would go ahead with the plan to provide Thailand with one squadron equipped with jet aircraft. We would thereafter try to get a limitation on the provision of jet aircraft for the remaining five squadrons through the means of conversations between our military authorities and those of Thailand.

Secretary Humphrey said that, in principle at least, he objected even to the provision of one squadron of jets to Thailand. If we gave them jet aircraft for one squadron, there would be no stopping until they had got five more squadrons of jets.

The Director of the Budget7 reminded the Council of the action (NSC Action No. 15508) taken at the May 3rd meeting by way of limitations on future promises or commitments involving expenditures of U.S. funds for foreign assistance. Had the Council not decided at that time to hold up further commitments until we got the report of the Prochnow Committee in the case of those countries whose economic resources were insufficient to maintain a large military establishment without very considerable U.S support?

Secretary Humphrey said that Thailand was certainly included in the schedule of Prochnow Committee reports, and he recommended that no action be taken to provide jet aircraft to Thailand until after [Page 887] receipt of the Prochnow Committee report on the economy of Thailand.

The Vice President pointed out that there was no implication in Acting Secretary of Defense Robertson’s letter that we would supply more than one squadron of jet aircraft. On the other hand, Admiral Radford said that as far as the Thais were concerned, they understood that this first squadron was only the beginning of a conversion program which would ultimately result in all six of these squadrons being re-equipped with jet aircraft. Accordingly, our only recourse was to try to convince the Thais that they did not need as many as six jet squadrons.

Secretary of the Air Force Quarles contradicted Admiral Radford, and stated that the Thais clearly understood that the United States had committed itself to one jet squadron and only one such squadron. If other squadrons were to be equipped with jet aircraft, this would be a new subject of negotiation and agreement with the Thai authorities.

The National Security Council:9

Noted and discussed the report, pursuant to NSC Action No. 1527–e, on the reexamination by the Departments of State and Defense of the proposed shipment of jet aircraft to Thailand under the FY 1957 MDA Program, contained in the enclosure to the reference memorandum of June 6.
Noted that the Department of Defense action to replace one Thai squadron of propeller-driven planes with jet aircraft is being taken pursuant to authorization granted in 1954.
Noted the President’s directive that:
No further commitment should be made to Thailand for jet aircraft beyond the one squadron, pending the review of the objectives of military assistance to Thailand as directed in NSC Action No. 1527–c.
In connection with such a review, the Department of Defense should explore the possibility of modifying the Thai Air Force program with a view to reducing future requirements for jet squadrons and to determining the most appropriate number and type of aircraft to fit Thailand’s needs and capabilities.

Note: The actions in b and c above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of Defense for appropriate implementation.

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Gleason on June 8.
  2. See footnote 8, Document 488.
  3. See footnote 1, supra.
  4. Supra.
  5. Not found.
  6. The Baghdad Pact was established on February 24, 1955, when Turkey and Iraq signed a Pact of Mutual Cooperation. The United Kingdom joined the alliance on April 5, Pakistan on September 23, and Iran on November 3, 1955. The United States did not become a formal member of the alliance. For text of the Baghdad Pact, see 233 UNTS 199.
  7. Percival F. Brundage.
  8. Entitled “Policy Regarding Future Commitments for Foreign Assistance.” (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council, 1956)
  9. The following paragraphs constitute NSC Action No. 1572. (Ibid.) It was approved by Eisenhower on July 9.