140. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)1


  • Contingency Planning for Southeast Asia

The President, in his speech to the United Nations on Monday,2 stated that:

“The very simple question confronting the world community is whether measures can be devised to protect the small and the weak from such tactics. For if they are successful in Laos and South Viet Nam, the gates will be open wide.”

As I indicated to you in a conversation immediately following the speech, I think that it is important that this element, as well as other elements of the speech, be followed up with specific action.

In this particular case, you may wish to embrace this problem within contingency planning for Southeast Asia. Our planning for both an overt break in the cease-fire and for continued ambiguous aggression ought to consider the need for making the case against the Communists in advance by forcing the international community to address itself to the problem of outside intervention in Laos and VietNam.

We tend to assume, perhaps, that a break in the cease-fire would present us with a nice clean-cut case for intervention. But, in view of the fact that Phoumi is regularly engaged in low-level actions against the PL/KL forces, it seems quite possible that the Communists will seize on one of these actions to break the cease-fire. In such a circumstance we [Page 315] will have difficulty convincing the world that the implementation of Plan 53 is really justified. In fact, we might have great difficulty in getting the British to agree to implement Plan 5 under these circumstances. We need to make as much of our case against the Communists as we can in advance of any such situation. To do so, we need to involve the international community before the Communists act.

Similarly, in anticipation of the possibility that the Communists may exploit for propaganda purposes the actions that we may take to deal with indirect aggression, we need to build the case that will justify those actions when they become known.

I am not prepared to suggest a detailed plan of action. But to illustrate what I have in mind, actions of the following kinds might be considered:

Publish a white paper written by Jorden which would describe: (1) covert Communist aggression under the cover of the cease-fire in Southern Laos; (2) infiltration by the DRV from Southern Laos into South Viet-Nam (making clear that the real DRV objective is South VietNam), and (3) DRV intervention in South VietNam.
Go to the UN on the basis of the white paper and the statement in the President’s speech and request an investigating commission to go to Laos and South Viet-Nam to look into our charges against North VietNam. Make clear that this commission is not a substitute for the ICC’s in Laos and Viet-Nam but is doing a job that is beyond the jurisdiction of either ICC.
If we felt that we could obtain such action by the UN, subsequently seek a resolution condemning North VietNam’s activities in Laos and South VietNam.
Use the ICC’s in Laos and Viet-Nam as secondary means of publicizing the case against North VietNam, as well as the final stage of the Geneva Conference.

We would have to consider carefully whether we would want to ask the investigating commission to develop, and the UN to implement, specific recommendations for dealing with the problem. Our primary objective should be to justify our own subsequent actions. UN actions which accomplish little, but tend to deter us from taking action we consider necessary, would be clearly undesirable. But we might very well want a UN presence if we worked out an effective border control system for inside Viet-Nam (for example, a system employing a combination of defoliation with small guard posts and local informers along the lines described by Thompson 4).

The object of all this, as I have indicated, would be to seize the international community of this problem, develop our case, and lay the basis for the actions that we ourselves may have to take.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAMs. Secret. Initialed by Rostow.
  2. See Document 137.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 104.
  4. Regarding Thompson’s conversations with U.S. officials in Washington earlier in the month, see Document 132.