14. Paper Prepared in the Policy Planning Council0
US POLICY IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
The problem is to assess over-all US policies in Southeast Asia to see if any better alternatives can be devised.
[Here follow almost 10 pages of discussion.][Page 32]
In view of the limitations, difficulties of realization and grave risks for the future involved in a continuation of present US policies for Southeast Asia, it is recommended that, without decreasing present efforts, explorations be begun to determine whether or not better alternative policies cannot be found. There is no assurance that there are acceptable alternatives; however, the line of exploration embodied in the following recommendations is believed to offer the best possibilities. It is, therefore, recommended that they be explored as a matter of urgency.
- Concurrent with efforts to maintain and where possible strengthen US capability of carrying out existing policies in Southeast Asia, exploration should be begun, as a matter of urgency, to determine whether or not there may be developed better alternative policies along the lines of the following recommendations.
- Every effort should be made, in the meantime, to normalize and improve the relations between the free states of Southeast Asia, particularly those between Cambodia and her neighbors. Progressively as it becomes a feasible objective, every effort should be made to stimulate increased unity and cooperation among the states of the area through the Mekong River development projects, ECAFE, increased trade and other constructive mutual involvements.
- The general concept embodied in the following recommendations should be discussed at an early date with the British, and with such other SEATO allies as seems desirable.
- At an early date Mr. Nehru should be sounded out on his general views as to the situation in Southeast Asia, what alternatives he would recommend and what role, if any, India is willing to play. Similar soundings-out should be made, as practicable, with the governments of Japan and the free Southeast Asian states. Although we might point out in these soundings the dilemma posed by the present situation, we should not indicate any lessened determination to assist the free Southeast Asian states to maintain their independence. We should not at this stage tip our hand as to any impending change in U.S. policies.
- If justified by preliminary soundings, discussions should be initiated, possibly by Thailand, among the free states of Southeast Asia, examining the possibility of creating there what might be termed a Southeast Asia Independent Nations Group. Members of such a group should, as a minimum, share the determination to preserve their independence and to undertake collective responsibilities to assist each other towards this end. As a minimum the group should include Burma, Thailand and Malaya; as a maximum there would be added Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. The Group would come into being only when a real [Page 33] basis for it existed. Its inauguration would be attended by the withdrawal of Thailand from SEATO, and conversion of SEATO to another form as indicated in 8.
- Pending the inauguration of a Southeast Asia Independent Nations Group, steps should be taken to stabilize SEATO, and no intimation should be given that SEATO is to be dissolved before something of comparable strength is created.
- If justified by previous soundings-out, an approach should be made to other free Asian nations, particularly Japan and India, with a view toward obtaining their agreement to sponsor a Southeast Asia Independent Nations Group, and underwrite it at least morally.
- The US should then enter into definitive discussions with the other SEATO members looking toward the conversion of SEATO, in accordance with a definite plan. This would involve change to another organization with another name, consisting entirely of states outside the area. These states would declare their willingness to assist the states of the area on request with military assistance and advisers, and, without any reciprocal obligations, would offer to assist them in case of aggression from the Communist states. The possibility exists that some of the existing SEATO states, i.e., France, would not undertake the new commitment and that others might be added.
- If there is general agreement on this proposal and the other necessary pre-conditions have been met, an announcement would be made that the Southeast Asia Independent Nations Group would be created and that SEATO would be converted as of a given date.
- The foregoing should be accomplished, at each stage, in accordance with a definite plan. No phase of the plan should be undertaken until positive evidence existed that it is likely to be successful. It is important that no impression be given at any point that there is any lessening of interest on the part of the United States or other SEATO members in assuring the continued independence of the free Southeast Asian states. Any change in the present SEATO arrangement, including any withdrawal of Thailand or conversion of SEATO to another form, must clearly be represented as part of a broad plan calculated to increase the security of the free Southeast Asian states.
- Source: Kennedy Library, Thomson Papers, Southeast Asia, 11/3/61. Secret. An attached transmittal memorandum from George C. McGhee, Counselor and Chairman of the Policy Planning Council, to Secretary Rusk proposed this paper for discussion at the Policy Planning meeting scheduled for November 16. The meeting was held from 12:04 to 1 p.m., but no substantive record has been found. (Johnson Library, Rusk’s Appointment Book) The memorandum and the paper were sent to all the principal officers of the Department as well as Fowler Hamilton, Administrator of AID, and Edward R. Murrow, Director of USIA.↩