203. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Southeast Asian Affairs (Kocher) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson)1


  • PEO’s New Plan for Supporting Lao National Army


General Heintges, new chief of the PEO in Laos, has prepared a plan2 for support of the Lao National Army which involves a complete reorganization of the PEO and a marked increase in the number of American active duty personnel in Laos.

This plan includes strengthening of the PEO, improvement of the ANL logistical condition and U.S. participation in the training of the ANL. General Heintges’ plan has the general approval of Ambassador Smith and of the French Ambassador in Vientiane as well as the chief of the French military mission. We understand it is currently being considered by the French authorities in Paris. It envisages close Franco-American cooperation and utilization of existing French assets in the way of personnel, bases and political position.

[Page 492]

Briefly, the plan envisages increasing the total strength of PEO from 96, including 56 Americans, to 128, including 66 Americans.

Officer EM Civilian Local Total
Current Authorization 10 1 45 40 96
Proposed 18 10 38 62 128

The plan also calls for the assignment of a total of 96 American military personnel in 12 mobile training teams for a period of 6 months. These teams would operate ostensibly as a ramification of the French military mission. The plan also calls for 5 military mobile teams totaling 15 American enlisted men to supervise the work of Filipino technicians. In other words, it is envisaged that 128 additional American military be sent to Laos over and above these now authorized, a net increase of over ten fold (1000 per cent) for a minimum period of 6 months. The time phasing of the entry of the proposed additional personnel is not yet clear.

OSD estimates the execution of the various aspects of General Heintges’ plan will require some three to three and one-half million dollars in additional funds. However, reconciliation of the elements of this plan with the elements of existing programs for FY 1959 and FY 1960 may reduce this figure considerably and Defense is now working on the problem.

I believe that General Heintges’ analysis of the situation of the ANL is a sound one in view of his professional competence and the endorsement of Ambassador Smith. The principal problem it presents for a Department decision is represented by the proposed introduction of 128 additional personnel resulting in a total of some 139 active duty American military personnel in Laos. We have already asked Ambassador Smith’s views on the political acceptability of the introduction of such personnel in the light of the interest of the ICC powers, the current political trend in Laos, and probable Chicom and Vietnamese Communist reaction.

Assuming that Ambassador Smith’s views favor introduction of this large number of active military personnel, our problem will be to minimize adverse reactions from the Chicoms and Vietnamese Communists as well as from the ICC powers, notably the Canadians. The problem is complicated by the fact that the RLG although insisting on the departure of the ICC nevertheless, at Canadian suggestion, unilaterally reiterated its declaration at Geneva concerning articles 4 and 5 of the Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference:

“During the period between the cessation of hostilities in Viet-Nam and the final settlement of that country’s political problems, the Royal Government of Laos will not request foreign aid, whether in war [Page 493] material, in personnel or in instructors, except for the purpose of its effective territorial defence and to the extent defined by the agreement on the cessation of hostilities.”

Since Chapter 2 of the Geneva Agreement on Laos which concerns the prohibition of the introduction of fresh troops, makes an exception only in the case of French military personnel and French military establishments, it would be difficult to make a legal interpretation permitting the introduction of American military personnel under this Chapter. However, the U.S. as a non-signatory of the Geneva Accords views the questions of actions to be taken by Laos relating to the Geneva Accords almost entirely from a political rather than legal point of view. We have felt that the sovereign RLG’s views as to the Accords being terminated and its wishes as to future action should be respected and this continues to be our feeling. I believe that we could as a practical matter carry out the new PEO plan either by assuming that no Geneva Accords question arises, or by consulting in advance with the Geneva powers. Our best chance of carrying out the new plan without provoking an unacceptable political reaction might be by taking the following steps and informing other powers after the event:

The Lao and French Governments should request U.S. assistance to augment the French military mission and the French military establishments provided for under articles 6 and 8 of the Geneva Agreement on Laos, pleading French inability to meet commitments for training the ANL without such assistance.
The RLG should make a statement to all neighboring countries to the effect it desires to increase the ANL’s efficiency in discharging its internal responsibilities for internal security, police action, disaster relief, and civic action. It should point out it has no intention of increasing the ANL’s capacity with reference to external security and that each neighboring country already possesses clearly superior armed forces. The RLG statement should point out that Laos which has already reduced its army by almost one-third since Geneva and its war potential in an even greater proportion intends to reduce the size of its army even further when its internal problems have become sufficiently mastered. The Laos statement should declare that there has been no change in Lao foreign policy and express a desire for continued peaceful relations with all its neighbors. It should state that Laos sees no need for military alliances or the establishment of bases other than those provided for in the Geneva Accords.
The U.S. should inform the UK, the USSR, India, Canada, and Poland, not in the context of the Geneva machinery but simply as Governments interested in Laos, that:
We are seeking to increase the effectiveness and reduce the cost of our military assistance to Laos.
We are responding to a request for assistance from the Lao and French Governments. (As of the moment, the French reaction to the Heintges plan is not clear. If French concern re the introduction of so many additional military personnel into Laos precludes their asking the U.S. for assistance, we may have to act solely on a unilateral Lao request.)
We do not intend to increase the external war potential of Laos and we will not in any event permit our military aid to Laos to be used for aggressive purposes.

Note: It is, of course, likely that if we introduce American military personnel into Laos we will find it much more difficult, if not impossible, to persuade the Canadians and the Indians to acquiesce in the raising of the MAAG ceiling in Viet-Nam. The termination of the ICC’s activities in Laos creates a different situation in that country from the one existing in Viet-Nam. Nevertheless, the Indians and Canadians are likely to take an overall view of our actions and to fear that North Viet-Nam will read aggressive intentions into them and perhaps react strongly. In other words, we may be forced to choose between increasing the MAAG ceiling in Viet-Nam or General Heintges’ plan in Laos if we wish to get the concurrence of the Canadians and the Indians. If we should decide that concurrence of these countries is not necessary, then of course we will be able to push ahead with both programs in Laos and Viet-Nam.


That, if we decide to choose between our programs in Laos and Viet-Nam, we choose the former as being the most urgent.
That, subject to Ambassador Smith’s favorable views, we inform Defense: We approve the new PEO plan and authorize the staggered admission of the additional U.S. military personnel specifically described therein with the understanding that they will wear civilian clothing and conduct themselves as members of the Civilian Supervisory Group (PEO) and that they may be withdrawn if political circumstances so require.

  1. Source: Department of State, FE/SEA (Laos) Files: Lot 65 D 169, Memoranda concerning increase in PEO Staff Laos. Secret. Drafted by Corcoran and cleared in draft with L/FE.
  2. Dated December 13. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD/ISA Files: FRC 63 A 1672, 091.3 Laos; included in the microfiche supplement)