206. Telegram From the Commander in Chief, Pacific’s Political Adviser (Steeves) to the Department of State 1

Polad 45. Personal for Robertson and Ambassador Smith from Steeves. Perplexing status of our actions and policies for Laos make it increasingly difficult to provide political guidance to CINCPAC. Question of continued adherence to Geneva Accords by Laos (and to their spirit by U.S.) is key to our future posture and realistic planning in that country. I believe, therefore, time has come when we must seriously study whether continue our seeming adherence to spirit agreements or whether adopt official position setting aside Geneva Accords in their [Page 497] application to Laos, reach understanding with Laos to this effect, organize argumentation in support such decision and agree on program and policies pursuant such action.

For what it is worth, I have, after careful reflection, concluded that U.S. interests best served by unequivocal stance by RLG (backed by U.S. taking same stand) that Geneva Accords no longer applicable to Laos. This conclusion is based on belief that true nature our military assistance in Laos already known to all concerned (will be better known as program expands in near future), and that seeming acceptance spirit of Accords on one hand but violation on other does more violence our relations with friend and foe alike than setting Accords aside altogether. Pertinent to observe that there is some juridical basis for setting Accords aside but no defense for allegedly covert military assistance programs so long as we seemingly adhere to Accords. I wish also to note that present program, while indefensible in terms of Accords, at same time operates under restraints which seriously inhibit achievement essential goals.

Following suggested procedural approach to problem may provide basis for discussion Washington:

Laos officially adopt position:
That country has been integrated pursuant to Armistice Agreement thus finally and completely terminating all applicability Geneva Accords to Laos;
That regardless views of other nations this is Laos juridical determination.
That Laos not prepared to accept interpretations or actions of other nations if they inconsistent RLG interpretations and Laos sovereignty.
Laos officially request U.S. military assistance.
U.S. take position that it is willing to comply with Lao request and, with respect Geneva Accords, feels obliged to accept decision and interpretation of Laos in matter affecting its own territory and touching so closely upon its sovereignty.
After making decision, play it in low key [as] possible making no announcements until international developments or confrontations so require. (First confrontation might well be ICC decision to visit Laos for investigation and RLG refusal permit entry for such purpose.)
U.S., as appropriate, also to clarify that (a) U.S. not a signatory of Geneva Accords, (b) U.S. assistance is only for the defense of Laos, (c) such assistance is clearly consistent with U.S. declaration following Geneva Accords that U.S. would refrain from threat or use of force to disturb the agreements, and (d) U.S. attitudes toward application Accords in Cambodia and Viet-Nam are unchanged but subject to review in light of the views of those nations.
U.S. and RLG clarify as appropriate extent of DRV violation of Accords in terms of military buildup for aggressive purposes.
Merely inform Canada and other friendly countries of our decision rather than seek acquiescence in step to which they would probably have great difficulty agreeing in advance.
Despite above decisions U.S. to move slowly in changing programs in Laos, initially continuing “civilian” status military mission and operating military assistance programs quietly until expected furor has died down and world has grown accustomed to new position and arrangements.

I am fully aware of provisions of voluntary declaration by Laos (Geneva Conference Document 1C/47)2 and RLG reaffirmation in May 1958.3 Believe, however, we could support RLG on position that main objective Accords for Laos was political reintegration, that achievement that political settlement invalidates all documents in Geneva Accords in their application to Laos and that sovereign nation always free to alter its unilateral declarations in light changing conditions epecially in the face of danger.

Possible that RLG will be reluctant agree proposed action for fear resumption armed subversion by NLHX. My view of this is that continued adherence Geneva Accords won’t prevent it and that NLHX will expand underground operations at moment of its choosing in any event. RLG may, on the other hand, agree enthusiastically. Complete coordination between U.S. and RLG Governments obviously essential.

In view imminence and scale expansion U.S. military assistance I would hope that serious study this entire subject could be instituted on priority basis. Possible OICC investigation reported Saigon’s 1361 (218 to Vientiane)4 will provide convenient (perhaps essential) occasion make known new stance on Geneva Accords.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751H.5–MSP/1–1659. Secret; Limited Distribution. Repeated to Vientiane.
  2. This declaration, July 21, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xvi, p. 1543.
  3. See Document 180.
  4. Not found.