279. Memorandum on the Substance of Discussion at a Department of State–Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting0

[Here follow a list of 26 persons present, including Deputy Under Secretary Murphy, Generals Twining and White, Army Vice Chief of Staff General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James S. Russell, General Cabell, and NSC Deputy Executive Secretary Gleason, and discussion of the first two agenda items.]

3. U.S. Policy Toward Certain Off-Shore Islands

Mr. Robertson opened the discussion on this subject by referring to the special White House meeting of August 25, 19581 in which it was decided that U.S. interests related only to the GRC’s ability to hold the two Quemoys and the five larger islands in the Matsu group. The GRC held off-shore island positions excluded from United States interests as a result of this decision are 1) Ta-Tan (1,300 troops) and Ehr-Tan (250 troops); 2) two additional islets in the Kinmen group, Hu-tzu Hsu (70 troops); and Dodd Island (70 troops); 3) Tung-ting, 22 nautical miles southwest of Kinmen (60 troops); 4) the Wu-chiu group, midway between the Kinmen group and the Matsus (550 irregulars); 5) Lang Tao, about 12 nautical miles northeast of the Matsus (no troops) and 6) Tungyin Shan, 25 nautical miles east northeast of the Matsus (3,000 irregulars).

Mr. Robertson then pointed out that Ta-Tan and Ehr-Tan are the only two islands in the above group that are within communist artillery bombardment range from the mainland. He indicated that it was our belief, reflected in our talks with GRC officials, that the two Tan islands could be so interdicted by artillery fire as to be impossible to resupply. We have notified the GRC that the U.S. will not engage in, or assist the GRC in, a supply operation to these islands. The GRC, on the other hand, believes that it can supply the islands and it proposes to defend them vigorously. Apart from the Tans, the other small islands enumerated by Mr. Robertson were indicated as being beyond mainland artillery range. He pointed out that we have not discussed our attitude toward these islands with the GRC. The issue up for discussion with the JCS is the U.S. position in the event the Chinese communists try to capture these latter islands. Mr. Robertson Felt it was important we have no misunderstanding with the GRC as to whether we would become involved if our help were required, or requested, to repel such attacks.

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General Twining Felt we should make clear that we will defend the Quemoys and the Matsus and not the other islands. He Felt that our commitments were already so heavy that they should not be increased. General Lemnitzer commented that there are two different problems: (1) what the Chinese Nationalists think and (2) what the U.S. will do. He mentioned that he had just returned from Taiwan and he was impressed with the strength of feeling on the part of the Chinese Nationalist Government against giving up any more real estate. He Felt they disagreed with the U.S. violently on the issue of whether these small islands were worth fighting for. From the GRC point of view the loss of such outposts develops a sense of insecurity as well as psychological inferiority. He was inclined to agree with the Chinese position.

Mr. Robertson pointed out that in view of the GRC determination to defend the islands (which he recognized as a fact), the U.S. could inevitably become drawn in by the force of circumstance. Mr. Murphy concurred that this was the nub of the problem; that the GRC reaction to an invasion of these small off-shore islands would have to be maximum in nature, and we might find developments such as to involve the U.S. in the large-scale military activity which would ensue. Mr. Robertson added, in response to General Lemnitzer’s comments, that of course this was more than just a military problem and had to be considered in its political aspects as well.

General Twining responded that his reaction was limited to the military aspects of the situation. There is no military requirement for defending the small off-shore islands. If they are important politically, the State Department should so inform Defense in order that appropriate planning measures could take place and the GRC be advised of our decision. There followed a general discussion in which it was agreed that there should be no publicity of any sort, regardless of the decision taken.

Mr. Robertson responded to questioning by indicating that the U.S. has never discussed with the GRC our position with regard to any of the small off-shore islands except Ta-tan and Ehr-tan. He Felt that indications from the U.S. that we would not intervene in the event of attack on these islands would not change the GRC decision to stand and fight. He thought they would not evacuate. He pointed out that the White House decision of August 25, 1958 had not been focused on any of the small islands except the two Tans.

There followed a brief discussion about the current status of the implementation of the DoanWang agreement. General Lemnitzer described his unhappiness, on finding out on his recent arrival in Taiwan, that the U.S. had not fulfilled its part of the bargain to send 10 35 mm. guns to the Quemoys. He indicated that the decision to do this had been taken in the Pentagon without consultation with State and in order to develop a bargaining position which would force the desired troop reduction [Page 561] on the Quemoys. It had not had this desired effect and he was glad to report that the Pentagon decision had been reversed. In this conversation, General Twining said that latest reports indicated that only 2,000 of the scheduled 15,000 troops had been removed from the Quemoys to Taiwan.

The discussion ended with agreement that the JCS would study the problem and the matter would be discussed at a subsequent meeting. General White concluded that there were three variations to the problem: (1) complete non-involvement on the part of the U.S. on the defense of the islands; (2) U.S. help in resupplying the islands with sea and air support and (3) all-out U.S. assistance.

[Here follows agenda item 4.]

5. Tibet

General White had asked that the item on Tibet be put on the agenda. His question was whether the U.S. was doing all it can. He mentioned the capabilities of the Air Force for resupply of the Tibetan rebels as well as the possibility provided by the geography for the use of air power to deny access to Tibet from China. There was then a general discussion of the problem of overflight of other countries and of the general Asiatic reaction to the Tibetan uprising. It was agreed that General Cabell would provide a briefing at the following meeting as to what was being done in Tibet and the general line of approach being taken by the U.S. Government with respect to the Buddhist area.

  1. Source: Department of State, State–JCS Meetings: Lot 61 D 417, Volume VII. Top Secret. Drafted by Murphy’s special assistant Dwight J. Porter.
  2. See Document 43.