1. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Steeves) to Secretary of State-Designate Rusk’s Liaison (McGhee)0
In short SEATO is facing a test which if not met in a way considered satisfactory to its most concerned beneficiaries could mean its collapse.
SEATO was formed to serve as an instrument of collective security in situations similar to that which now exists in Southeast Asia. It provides for response to identifiable aggression as well as that which is tantamount to external aggression.
For nearly a year we have been engaged in a near futile exercise of trying to get some of the diffident members, chiefly UK, France and New Zealand, to face up to the possibility of the situation we now face in Laos. They have been unwilling to do so and have attempted to adopt language in the planning concept which would always give them the out by claiming that a condition tantamount to aggression was not taking place. During this process Australia was a stalwart supporter of our view as, of course, were Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan. New Zealand under Nash was adamant; the French almost as extreme; the British more diplomatic but took approximately the same position. There was almost extreme resistance in these same quarters to the acceptance of Thailand in the appointed-nation position, as well as opposition to the setting up of a standby military command.
During the period of these discussions Thailand has become more and more disillusioned and annoyed at the French and British position. Although she holds France to be the worst offender, even to the extent of believing that she has cooperated with the insurgents, her attitude is only slightly less negative so far as the UK is concerned. With this build-up and the developing of this attitude during the planning conversations, the attitude of Thailand can well be imagined under present circumstances when Laos is actually under communist aggression, including [Page 2] the Soviet airlift. Some of the major members of SEATO refuse to act on the basis that what is happening in Laos is primarily internal fratricidal conflict and does not qualify for action under any type of aggression. The French have gone so far as to say that SEATO is only an organization for the exchange of views in the Lao situation and is not competent to act as a collective security instrument. The recent meetings of the Council Representatives in Bangkok have been very sterile, unproductive and discouraging.
The estimate on the above brief analysis may be severe, but nonetheless realistic. If SEATO fails to act in any helpful capacity in situations such as it now faces in its treaty area, we may well be faced within the next few months either with its dissolution or at least with the threat to withdraw by Thailand.
- Source: Department of State, FE/SEA/Laos Files: Lot 65 D 169, 320.1 SEATO, Jan.–Feb. 1961. Secret.↩