373. Memorandum of Discussion at the 456th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, August 18, 19601

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

3. Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security

[Here follows discussion of subjects unrelated to Laos.]

Turning finally to Laos, Mr. Dulles indicated that the situation was still confused. He said that there were three foci of activity in Laos—Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Savannakhet. He pointed out that the government of Souvanna Phouma had been installed in Vientiane.2 There was some difference of view within the U.S. Government, [Page 809] he indicated, as to how legal the government was. Initially the King had accepted the government but he may now be having second thoughts. The Assembly vote for the new government was unanimous but the Assembly members were under pressure. They had lived for some days in the Assembly chamber and would have done almost anything to go out.

We believed that the French are quite happy with Souvanna Phouma, but we were not nearly so happy. Mr. Dulles noted Souvanna Phouma’s earlier dealings with the Pathet Lao and said it was his personal view that this was the first step of a possible Communist take-over of Laos. Souvanna Phouma, he said, was not a strong political leader. He might be used by the Pathet Lao. There were some differences of view within the U.S. Government on this matter, however. Mr. Dulles pointed out that we were in a better position in Washington to know what was going on in Laos than the Laotians were themselves. We were in communication with all three areas but Vientiane could only send messages to the outside and not to Luang Prabang and Savannakhet. Efforts were underway to provide improved communications within Laos.

Turning next to Savannakhet, Mr. Dulles noted that Phoumi was in control. He was in touch with all the military commanders in the provinces except for Vientiane. Phoumi claimed, and he may have, the loyalty of all these commanders. One of the important problems in Laos was the possibility of the breakdown of the military forces of the central government which constituted the most important bulwark to a Communist take-over. Mr. Dulles noted that Phoumi had no money and that he needed money to pay his troops so that they could get food. [2 lines of source text not declassified] Speaking finally of Luang Prabang, Mr. Dulles said that we understood that the King was wavering on whether he likes the government that had just been installed in Vientiane.

Mr. Dulles pointed out that Phoumi wished to send troops against Vientiane and that we had strongly urged him not to do so . He could not do much at the moment anyway because his troops were scattered around the country. He had sent some troops down the Mekong River. It was our hope that he would not attack Vientiane; he did not have the necessary forces there. It would be difficult to get them in overland and he had only one C–47. He had had three C–47’s but two were out of commission. He had appealed to us for more.

Secretary Gates asked why we hoped that Phoumi would not attack Vientiane. He pointed out that Vientiane was being held by one man (Kong Le) and 800 people. He thought that the sooner we knocked off Kong Le the better. In response Mr. Dulles pointed out that the Lao are not much given to fighting. Mr. Dillon said that it was State’s feeling that our first objective should be to get rid of Kong Le. [Page 810] The more we hear of him, the more he sounds like a very bad actor. He sounds like a Castro Communist-type individual. It was State’s feeling that he completely dominated the situation in Vientiane and that the present government, whether legal or not, was controlled by him. We could not rely on it as a government until we got rid of Kong Le. State thought that if we could get rid of Kong Le, it would be possible to make an arrangement between Souvanna Phouma, the King, and Phoumi to establish a government of which Souvanna Phouma and Phoumi would both be members and which would be anti-Pathet Lao and anti-Communist.

Mr. Dillon pointed out that the only way that Phoumi’s military forces could get to Vientiane would be if the U.S. took them there. Everyone knew this and if Phoumi got back by a bloody attack made possible by U.S. overt help, the reaction would be highly adverse. The U.S. would be strongly opposed by its allies outside the region; by Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand. The Australians, who had taken a strong line generally on Laos, had strongly advised us against any such action the day before.

It was State’s view, Mr. Dillon indicated, that we could get the same results by other means. We should keep Phoumi strong and let him move toward Vientiane with adequate forces. We should have him in touch with Souvanna Phouma and the King on the the basis that he could not deal with Souvanna Phouma until Kong Le was out of Vientiane. It was possible that Kong Le’s forces were not behind him and that if faced by overwhelming force, they would cave in.

Secretary Gates stated that he would not argue the matter in the Council, but that Defense disagreed with the State position. The President asked why planes should not be sent over Vientiane every night with pamphlets. Mr. Dulles indicated that this had been done and that we could help do it again. It was important, the President suggested, that disaffection be stimulated in Vientiane. He agreed that it would be undesirable to cause a bloody fight which would be recognizably supported by U.S. help. The President asked whether the Thais should not be encouraged to blockade Laos on the South. Mr. Dulles indicated that they had already done so and that eventually this action would cause Vientiane to be starved out.

Mr. Dillon noted that the day before Phoumi had sent a message to Souvanna Phouma indicating his (Phoumi’s) loyalty to the King and asking for talks with Souvanna Phouma away from Kong Le.3 This action fit in with our own line of getting rid of Kong Le, but not through bloodshed. The Lao had a long tradition of not liking bloodshed. General Lemnitzer inquired how it would be possible to accomplish [Page 811] this as long as Kong Le was in Vientiane and could prevent it. General Lemnitzer felt that Phoumi should be brought toward Vientiane as rapidly as possible. Phoumi had a good plan for military operations against Vientiane, General Lemnitzer indicated. [2 lines of source text not declassified] Secretary Dillon pointed out that Phoumi’s plan provided for a drop of 500 paratroopers and that it would be evident, if these paratroopers were dropped, that the aircraft were not Phoumi’s. Secretary Gates argued, however, that if we took such action we would be acting in support of a freely elected government. The President pointed out, however, that there was now a new government in Laos. He went on to ask whether the U.S. could not bring Phoumi’s forces part of the way toward Vientiane. In response, Secretary Dillon pointed out that there were no airports between Savannakhet and Vientiane. The President then asked whether an air drop would not be possible. Mr. Dulles said that this was the issue; whether further aircraft should be supplied to Phoumi. Secretary Dillon said it would be all right to supply aircraft as long as we continued to control them. General Lemnitzer asked whether immediate help did not need to be given to Phoumi on communications. Mr. Dulles said that Phoumi had good secret communications but he could not get on the air himself to broadcast to the Laotian people. He said that Sarit might provide some help. The President concluded the discussion by saying that help should be provided right away on communications.

The National Security Council:

Noted and discussed an oral briefing by the Director of Central Intelligence on the subject, with specific reference to recent evidences of friction between the USSR and Communist China; recent developments in the Soviet space and ballistic missiles program; and the situation in Laos.

Robert H. Johnson
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Robert Johnson on August 25.
  2. On the morning of August 17, the provisional Souvanna Phouma government was invested by all of the 38 Deputies present at the National Assembly. (Joint Situation Report, August 17. ([document number not declassified]; ibid., White House Office Files, Staff Secretary Records, International Series, Laos Situation Reports)
  3. Reported in telegram 320 from Vientiane, August 17. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/8–1760; included in the microfiche supplement)