241. Memorandum From the Ambassador at Large (Bowles) to the Secretary of State 1
- Proposed Mission to Southeast Asia
Since our talk yesterday2 I have carefully considered the mission to Southeast Asia which you suggested I undertake. My conclusions are as follows:
- It is important that something of this kind be undertaken soon. Averell could do it well himself if he could be spared. However, if you, the President and Averell want me to make the tap, I will be happy to do so.
However, if the purpose of the mission is no more than a series of vague discussions with Southeast Asian leaders I doubt that it could be particularly productive. I have already made two taps to the area during the past nine months3 and have had extensive conversations with Sukarno, Sihanouk, Macapagal, and the Tunku.
We are well aware of their thinking on most major issues and they are aware of and sympathetic to my personal views. It would be a mistake for me to return so soon unless my visit is given a specific purpose which we and they understand.
My memorandum of June 13th4 on “The Need for a Definition of U.S. Political Objectives in Southeast Asia” may provide the solid terms of reference which would give the mission both purpose and promise.
In this memorandum I sketched the heavy cost, in time of an armed conflict (which can be graphically illustrated from our own history), of failing to develop an appealing and realistic set of political-economic objectives to define the purpose for which we are fighting.
I urged therefore that we publicly clarify our long-range objectives for Southeast Asia in terms that transcend our present military image in that area and which will appeal to the widest possible spectrum of non-Communist people and governments.[Page 517]
If we can reach agreement among ourselves and with the various Southeast Asian leaders on economic and political goals for the area and publicize these goals in every village and community we could expect three minimum results:
- We would secure the political initiative and therefore strengthen our basic position and influence.
- We would ease much of the criticism of our present alleged support for the status-quo
- We would undercut the Viet Cong-Communist claim that we are seeking to recapture the French colonial position.
As a maximum, we might begin to isolate Communist insurgents from political support in the region and thereby greatly ease our military problem in dealing with them.
For the longer haul such an effort could lay the basis for a politically viable, non-Communist Southeast Asia, able and willing to defend itself against internal subversion and protected against overt aggression by great power guarantees.
If you and the President accept the basic premises of my memorandum I would like to work out with FE and Policy Planning, on an urgent basis, an outline of an appealing set of political-economic objectives for the region in the form of a proposed “Charter for a Free and Independent Southeast Asia”.
I suggest that I then discuss the confidential draft outline on an off-the-record basis with the leaders of the seven Southeast Asian states (excluding Laos). On my return the “Charter” could be revamped in line with these discussions and our own views and launched in the form of a public statement by the President.
I believe that my first stop should be Manila, where I am confident these proposals will encounter a favorable response which will be helpful in some of the other capitals.
Going first to Manila on such a mission would also help improve our bilateral relations with the Philippines.
My last stop would be Burma. In order to avoid giving undue weight to our current uncertainties about Ne Win, it can be treated as only one of seven stops on the trip. While in Rangoon, I can perhaps also be of some assistance in other matters.
If you wish me to undertake this project, I would prefer to leave within ten days for two reasons: first, delay in preparations will risk leaks which might undercut the mission; and the second, I have some long standing important personal commitments between August 18 and September 8 which I am anxious to meet if it is possible.
If FE and S/P can work with me on the preparations on a crash basis, I could be ready to leave Washington no later than July 20. I would hope to take with me a qualified regional expert from FE as well as one of my own assistants.
Attached is a very rough preliminary draft outline of the concept which I might discuss with the Southeast Asian leaders. Obviously it requires careful study and refinement before my departure. It would also be improved by new ideas, deletions or additions that would be suggested by the various Southeast Asian leaders.
Although many of the points can be hedged so as not to commit us definitely to institutional arrangements, we need not try to foresee every reservation at this juncture. Wilsonʼs Fourteen Points, and Marshallʼs Harvard address were filled with what seemed at the time to be political utopias. However, they raised visions which in each case turned out to have a profound political impact. Here we have an opportunity to do the same.
May I add that such a mission, in my opinion, will be welcomed by Mike Mansfield, Bill Fulbright, Hubert Humphrey and others of our strongest supporters in Congress who are now deeply concerned by what appears to be our present open end commitment without clear indication of our long-range objectives for Southeast Asia.
This mission, in my opinion, could do much to dear the air here in the United States as well as abroad, and to give us the political initiative in an area where we have been on the defensive ever since the war.
- Source: Kennedy Library, Presidentʼs Office Files, Special Correspondence, Bowles. Confidential.↩
- No record of Bowles’ conversation with Rusk at 11 a.m. on July 11 has been found.↩
- On the first trip, November 7-19, 1961, Bowles visited Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia; on the second, February 8-March 19, 1962, he toured the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and the Far East.↩
- Document 214.↩
- On July 18, Bowles sent a 3-page memorandum to Rusk outlining the preparations that needed to be made for the trip and attaching a more detailed draft of principles. (Kennedy Library, Presidentʼs Office Files, Special Correspondence, Bowles)↩