13. Memorandum From the Ambassador to Thailand (Young) to the President’s Military Representative (Taylor)0


  • Defensibility of Southeast Asia and United States Commitments

I believe denial of Southeast Asia to Viet Cong, Chinese or Russian control is indispensable for United States interest and purposes in the whole world. I believe we can construct a strategy to make Southeast Asia defensible not just in the short run but for a decade or more. I am convinced that the United States must undertake this responsibility in terms of putting U.S. combat elements “on location” in Southeast Asia as well as putting more funds, technical assistance, and diplomatic effort into this area.

Southeast Asia will not be an area of additive strength like Western Europe for many years. It will take our resources rather than add to them. In terms of power, Southeast Asia is a deficit area for us. But equally, or more than Western Europe, Southeast Asia is the critical bottleneck stopping Sino-Soviet territorial and ideological expansion—territorial in Asia, ideological in the whole world. Southeast Asia is somewhat like the hub of a wheel; lose the hub and the wheel collapses. And Laos, plus South Vietnam, is the cotter-pin holding the hub. If we let Laos-South Vietnam go, the Viet Cong and Chinese Communists will soon dominate all of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia. The United States will be forced off the mainland of Asia, Australia will be surrounded and actually flanked, while India and Japan will be permanently separated. All of this is what the Communists are trying to do in Asia. Their success there will intensify their impact in Africa and South America.

Thailand is now an unofficial and disguised base of operations for the United States in Southeast Asia. The Thai Government is allowing us to carry on an increasing number of operations in and out of Thailand which we could not conduct from any other piece of real estate in Asia. If we lose this base of operations we will have to retreat to the island chain and depend solely on sea and air power. I will not repeat the long list of activities we are carrying on here, some of them of a highly sensitive nature. I just wish to stress that Thailand is a growing asset of great value strategically for United States interests and purposes. We have no treaty, formal agreement or any kind of institutional arrangements sanctioning [Page 29] these activities and operations except indirectly under SEATO. The self-interest of the Thai Government, its desire to cooperate with the United States, the goodwill we have here in Thailand, and the friendliness of the Thai people towards Americans are our guarantees for continuation of this base. But the sine qua non is continued economic and military assistance.

Therefore, our long-run problem is to devise a strategy to assure the defensibility of Southeast Asia against Communist small-scale, rural aggression. I do not feel that we now have such a strategy or that the organization and plans of SEATO provide for this. May I suggest to you the following elements for the regional defensibility of Southeast Asia.

Increased regionalization of United States operation. As you can see from your trip, the American agencies out here in the various countries have very little to do with each other, with the exception of Bangkok and Vientiane. Ever-since I took over responsibility for Southeast Asia in 1954 I have been trying—so far unsuccessfully—to encourage much closer liaison where it could accomplish something practical. So I now repeat the following suggestions:
Quarterly meetings of Chiefs of Mission and their principal officers in this area.
Separate meetings of MAAG Chiefs, USOM Directors, etc.
Establishment of a regional operations center as a clearing house to synthesize intelligence and information bearing on Country Programs. This would be a staff agency and not command, to give each Chief of Mission reports and suggestions provided from a regional viewpoint.
Establishment of an American Southeast Asian Unified Command under CINCPAC. What we need is a United States commander here in Thailand with small combat teams in upcountry Thailand, South Vietnam and Laos. This would be an outgrowth of MAAG operations, rotational training, and the command structure now being set up for the various SEATO plans.
A meeting of Southeast Asia Chiefs of State with the President out here. But for the difficulties of arranging such a meeting, I would put this first in importance on this list. If the President could schedule such a meeting during the next six months it would be the best single thing that could happen out here, assuming it were carefully prepared in advance. Calling for a Southeast Asia Summit Meeting on a casual basis will prevent it from happening.
Encouragement of Thai-Vietnamese collaboration. I wish the White House and the Department would help Ambassador Nolting and me try to get President Diem and Prime Minister Sarit together as well as help us bring the civilian and military officials of both countries to work together on specific projects, such as I have discussed with you.
A new strategy. Over and beyond the conventional military planning to counter overt aggression from China or North Vietnam we need a new strategy against “aggression by seepage”. Our activities and much of our planning are piecemeal in each little country. But the United [Page 30] States has to look at Southeast Asia as a region, from the northwest corner of Burma, across Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, to the south of South Vietnam.
I am very much given to a strategy that I call “honeycomb leapfrog belt”. It is social, economic and military. The essential elements are these:

The establishment of village strong points and development centers linked together in the frontier areas of these five countries. In five years we could fill villages and empty spaces like a honeycomb with vital roads, sod strips, schools, home workshops, new farms, all on a small scale that would provide the social defense against Communist seepage. I am convinced that defense against Communist pressure must go on in the villages and in the minds of the village people and the rural administrators. We concentrate so much effort in the capital area we forget where the battle really is going on.

We have begun here in Thailand to develop this kind of strategy of social defense. We call it an “Agrimetro” plan. The Thai Government has heartily approved this concept and has designated some centers in northeast Thailand for such development. USOM is preparing a feasible study for this. I am attaching a picture of what the agrimetro strategy would be like.1

A leap-frog strategy would be arranged under our control in Laos, North Vietnam and possibly Communist China by covert or other means, even through attack. Thus we could leap-frog from Thailand, Laos, South Vietnam, or even Taiwan, on a hit-and-run basis or to establish small areas of operation in the mountains or remote spots. This would give initiative and dynamism to the honeycomb strategy, which is more or less static once in place. I have discussed with you a plan for South Vietnam and Laos. I think we should consider extending it to North Vietnam, and possibly mainland China. The frontier of Thailand and Laos and the dangerous one of Vietnam and Laos might be guarded better if we had bases of operations with American combat trainers for security and local ranger units to do the patrolling and attacking of Communist guerillas outside of these bases. In other words, the local rangers would leap-frog in any direction, depending on their mobility.

[sic] Finally, our basic aim should be to promote as much consensus in the Asian area as possible in order to create a common view for dealing with the menace of Communist China. Never in history have these countries dealt with China on an equal or equitable basis: they have always been treated as tributaries. Now we should seek to boost what unites the other Asians and to muffle what divides them. Their acknowledgement of a common interest and their acceptance of a common action backed by American power should be our strategy in Asia for heading off neutralism, Communism, or chaos.

[Page 31]

I think a multilateral organization for economic and political purposes of the Asian nations would eventually be better than SEATO if we backed such an organization with our power and bilateral treaties with Thailand, etc.

The placing of small American combat training units in Thailand and Vietnam would reverse the trend of doubt, discouragement and despair in Southeast Asia. I know they would be welcome. I think we should beat the Communists at their own game by doing better in rural areas. We have opportunities in education, the technical fields, rural development, new military hardware and organization tailored for Southeast Asia, and our great production capacity which they cannot meet. China and North Vietnam are now weak, unpopular, hated and feared. We can seize the initiative and hold it if we adopt new tactics, techniques and equipment geared to Southeast Asia.
This is what the New Program in my memorandum to the Prime Minister of July 28 seeks to do.2
Kenneth T. Young, Jr. 3
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Regional Security Series, Southeast Asia, General, 10/11/61–12/31/61. Secret.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See Document 414.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.