210. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Parsons) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Murphy)1


  • The Situation in Laos

There follow my suggestions for your talk at the meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Friday. I shall be prepared to follow with a more detailed presentation on the situation in Laos.2

For the first time in years there is some reason to be encouraged by the trend of the situation in Laos. The principal problem in our relations with Laos since the cease-fire in the Indo-China war in 1954 has been assisting the Royal Government to overcome the internal Communist threat. Our basic policy has been to encourage and assist a strong non-Communist government to develop broad popular support which would enable it effectively to defend and strengthen its independence.

A related problem has involved encouraging and assisting the Royal Lao Government to resist external Communist pressure and enticements. Laos being a small and extremely weak country in both population and resources is naturally intimidated by the proximity of much more powerful Communist states, mainland China and North Viet-Nam, on its frontiers. It has been our policy by diplomatic means to try to sharpen the Lao Government’s awareness of Communist intentions and to continue to try to prevent increased contacts with the Communist bloc while reassuring the Lao on the subject of Free World support.

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The execution of our policy in Laos has involved a constant expenditure of diplomatic effort as well as mutual security funds. We have had numerous disappointments and setbacks including the visit of the Lao Prime Minister to Peking and Hanoi in 1956, the conclusion of military and political agreements with the Communist Pathet Lao, more or less on Communist terms, in 1957, and the fiasco of the May 1958 supplementary elections in which the non-Communist elements won a majority of the popular vote but wasted it by running an excessive number of candidates and permitting the Communists and fellow travelers to win strong representation in the Nationl Assembly.

Since the strong showing of the Communists in the May 4 elections, however, a somewhat encouraging trend has set in. The non-Communist elements pulled themselves together sufficiently to install a strong government excluding Communists from participation and to come to grips with the monetary problem which was the root of those abuses of our aid program which aroused so much public and congressional comment. On January 14 of this year this government, following more or less the “De Gaulle” pattern achieved a vote of confidence in advance in the National Assembly which will enable it to rule effectively until December. It has also pledged constitutional reform which should enable Laos better to cope with the problem of internal Communist subversion and the underlying problem of economic development.

From the Free World’s point of view events in Laos have taken a favorable turn but the problems remain enormous in relation to the ability of the Lao to cope with them and we continue to be confronted with formidable difficulties in the execution of our policy in Laos.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/1–2959. Secret. Drafted by Corcoran and cleared by Kocher.
  2. At the State–JCS meeting on January 30, Parsons summarized the situation in Laos, evaluated the current political prospects, and described U.S. proposals for action. In examining the Heintges plan, Parsons discussed proposals for removing the restrictions established by the 1954 Geneva Agreements by Lao Government renunciation of the agreements. He mentioned the difficulties with the French in this regard and the serious dangers inherent, but indicated that there appeared to be no alternative.

    The Joint Chiefs did not comment on Parsons’ presentation, but General Cabell added that CIA had a feeling of urgency on Laos. Cabell hoped that the United States could move ahead rapidly on the new proposals without administrative problems or delays. Parsons agreed and concluded by noting that the Indian Government was being difficult because of its interest as a member of the International Control Commission. Parsons said that the Canadian Government was being very helpful, but that the Canadians’ assistance could only be secured as a result of close consultation and constructive suggestions from both sides. (Ibid., State–JCS Meetings: Lot 61 D 417)