17. Memorandum From the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson) to Secretary of State Rusk 0


  • Attached Memorandum on SEATO Voting Procedures

The attached memorandum from FE is a good analysis of the present situation, technical and legal problems with respect to SEATO voting procedures. Insofar as Thailand is concerned, cutting through all the verbiage, I am confident that the following are the actual facts:

Thailand feels that, not only does the presence of the French and the U.K. in SEATO act as a brake upon the United States, but, very importantly [Page 38] from Thailand’s standpoint, Thailand’s association with the very unpopular former colonial power in the area, France, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the U.K., inhibits the development of closer relations with its Asian neighbors. Through SEATO, Thailand is identified with the former colonial powers of France and the U.K. and is not considered by its neighbors to be really an “Asian country”. Association with the United States does not, in Thailand’s view, carry with it any of the same onus and thus, in fact, what Thailand is really seeking is disassociation from France and the U.K. From Thailand’s point of view, this would most happily be accomplished by the withdrawal of France and the U.K. from SEATO. If this cannot be accomplished, the next best would be a “neutralization” of France and the U.K. through a voting procedure which would enable Thailand to say that France and the U.K. have really been divorced from SEATO.
Although Thailand is seeking a rectification of the situation as it perceives it within the framework of SEATO by a change in the voting procedure, in fact it would be happiest if a bilateral relationship with the United States, or a trilateral relationship with the United States and Australia, could be substituted for SEATO. In spite of the statements which he made in his formal talks while here, I know that Foreign Minister Thanat was deeply disappointed that we did not suggest a bilateral treaty with Thailand. This is what he was really seeking and what the Thais would eagerly welcome.
We have authorized Ken Young to give broad and categorical assurances to Thailand and have offered to confirm in writing that we would carry out our obligations under Article IV(1) (overt aggression) of SEATO without regard as to what the other members of SEATO may do.1 (This would be, in effect, an unconditional extension of the assurances that you gave privately to the Prime Minister at the time of the last SEATO meeting.) We have not yet heard whether Ken Young has done so. In any event, I am confident that the Thais will insist that, to have any value, these assurances must be formal and public. I am not clear on what problems this may present us here, but, in any event, it will probably require prior consultation with the Hill.
While such assurances may be of some help in reassuring the Thais that we will not permit our actions to be blocked by the French and the British, they do not meet one of the basic Thai concerns as set forth in paragraph 1 above; that is, our identification with the “colonial powers” of France and the U.K. There is also a certain amount of “theology” [Page 39] involved in this which no amount of logical argument is really able to overcome in the Thai mind. To the Thais, “SEATO” is not just the sum of the nations who are members, but an entity of its own. This entity is personified to them by the headquarters building on Rajadamnern Avenue there in Bangkok, with a Secretary General, civilian and military staffs. If the United States does something “pursuant to its SEATO obligations”, this emanates, in the Thai mind, from Washington rather than from Rajadamnern Avenue, and, rather than proving the value of “SEATO”, proves that “SEATO” is impotent and that they really have to depend on the United States.

The implications of the foregoing from the standpoint of our relations with Thailand are that:

In spite of the strains it would impose on our relations, we attempt to “write France and the U.K. out of” SEATO by pushing the Thai proposal for a change in the voting procedures;
Without pushing a change in the voting procedures, we publicly announce and place emphasis on our unilateral assurances to Thailand “pursuant to our SEATO obligations” while gradually deemphasizing the SEATO organization and its peripheral economic and other non-military activities, or;
Without formally dissolving SEATO, enter into a bilateral defense treaty with Thailand while keeping SEATO “on the books” for what value it may have in validating our activities elsewhere in the treaty area.

I suggest that we should have a thorough discussion of this with you at an early opportunity.


Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman) to Secretary of State Rusk


  • Voting Procedure in SEATO

The President desires that we come to a decision on our position regarding SEATO voting procedure as promptly as possible.

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During his visit to Washington last October, Thai Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman was assured by American officials, including the President, that we would give serious consideration to his proposal that the voting procedure be changed (Tab A).3 He has also been informed that we will need to consult Congressional leaders in reaching a decision on an issue of this kind. Thailand has since tabled a formal proposal to change the present rule of unanimity in favor of decision by three-fourths majority vote on all issues except procedural questions which would be decided by a simple majority (Tab B).4 Several SEATO Governments have expressed opposition to such a change. In the meantime, Australia has informally advanced an alternative proposal involving abstentions which appears to provide a basis for compromise (Tab C).5 It is particularly appealing because abstentions could be allowed without derogating from the principle of unanimity.

Thailand has not elaborated its proposal, and in view of opposition to it among other member countries its details and implications have not thus far been explored. It is entirely possible that Thailand itself has not considered the matter in all its details. A principal question is, however, whether Thailand would expect a country which had voted against an action approved by the majority to participate in and help finance the action. The United States would hold that no member country should be required to participate in an action it had voted against. The U.K., France, Australia and New Zealand would probably take a similar view. Since Thailand is heavily motivated by concern that the U.K. and France would veto military action by SEATO in defense of Thailand, and is seeking a means of assuring SEATO action despite negative votes, it probably would accept this view.

The rising volume of bitter criticism of SEATO by the Thai Foreign Minister and Prime Minister (Tab D)6 compels an immediate decision within the U.S. Government on this issue which has, in any event, been before us for several months. While demanding adoption of the Thai proposal, Thanat Khoman has threatened to withdraw from SEATO and not to go to the SEATO Council Meeting in April unless a decision to accept Thailand’s proposal is reached by early March.

It is entirely possible that the Thai proposal would not carry even if the United States should decide to support it. The U.K., France, Australia and New Zealand all take a negative view, though they have not rejected [Page 41] it. (See the British Ambassador’s letter at Tab E.)7 For this reason, because of the desirability of maintaining the principle of unanimity in our collective security arrangements wherever possible, and because of potential repercussions in CENTO and NATO, we should in the first instance seek a change along the lines of the Australian abstention formula in lieu of the change desired by Thailand, and seek to persuade the British to accept this view. Thanat Khoman called the Australian proposal “preposterous” in a recent outburst, and there are some reports from Bangkok that Thailand will oppose any solution which permits just one or two members to block an action. I believe that chances are good, however, that in a showdown Thailand would accept the abstention formula when confronted with firm opposition to its proposal from other members and with the full force of our argument that it would lose the U.S. commitment to defend Thailand which it now has if it should destroy SEATO. Prompt action before the Thai position hardens further is, however, essential.

Our course of action if Thailand should fail to accept the Australian formula, and if acceptance of the three-fourths majority proposal becomes the only alternative to Thailand’s withdrawal from SEATO, would depend heavily upon the attitude of Congress and our SEATO allies. It is unlikely, however, that we can obtain any reliable advance indication of the prospective reaction of our SEATO allies to that eventuality until an effort has been made to negotiate the Australian solution.

In the Rio Pact, the United States has a precedent for decision by majority vote on stipulated issues in an alliance. In the Legal Adviser’s judgment, so long as an abstaining member is not required to act pursuant to a decision it has voted against, a change to the three-fourths majority vote arrangement would not extend our treaty commitments and it would not, therefore, be necessary to amend the treaty and secure the advice and consent of the Senate. Final judgment on the Thai proposal should, however, be deferred and should take account of the views of Congress and our SEATO allies.

In a showdown, Australia and New Zealand would probably accept a change to the three-fourths majority vote if the United States accepted it. If the British and French should remain in opposition at that point, the decision would be between (1) dissolution of SEATO and (2) withdrawal of the British and the French. Our decision at that juncture could only be made in the light of the circumstances then prevailing.

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The Australian abstention formula would allow a proposal to carry if, by an agreed target date, there had been six affirmative votes and no vetos. Countries which had not registered an expression would be considered to have abstained. Abstaining countries could subsequently associate themselves with the action if they desired. On the other hand, no country would be obligated to participate unless it had voted affirmatively or subsequently associated itself with the action. Target dates would be agreed on the basis of a three-fourths majority. (This single exception to the rule of unanimity could be justified on the ground that it involves a procedural rather than a substantive matter.) The target date is considered necessary to assure that issues are brought to a vote and a decision. Without some such arrangement, decisions can be postponed indefinitely by the failure of governments to provide instructions for their Council Representatives, presently a common occurrence.

The abstention formula would apply only to important issues. An issue would be considered “important” whenever members agreed to the establishment of a target date for voting upon it.

A question again arises as to whether a member who had not voted affirmatively would be obligated to help finance an action approved by the majority, except perhaps for expenditures from a previously approved common budget. As a practical matter this probably would not pose insurmountable difficulties since most SEATO expenditures are financed from the common budget approved annually at the Council Meeting and under the Australian formula financing of extraordinary actions would be dealt with on an ad hoc basis. The United States would hold that it would not be obligated to make contributions toward the financing of such extraordinary actions when it had abstained. (See paragraph 3(e) of Tab C.)

Continuing freedom to vote against any proposal for SEATO action which we might oppose, and the stipulation that abstaining members are not bound to participate in proposed actions, appear to afford full protection to U.S. interests.

Current practice in the UN Security Council and in the OECD supports a conclusion that an abstention is not a veto and, therefore, that the proposed change would not derogate from the principle of unanimity.

There is no express provision in the Manila Pact requiring unanimity of decision. During the negotiation of the treaty, the United States rejected a Philippine proposal that decisions of the organization be taken by a three-fourths vote as wholly unacceptable without United States consent. We proposed instead that a unanimity requirement be written into the Terms of Reference of the SEATO Council and this was done. (Tab F)8

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As in the case of a change involving decision by majority vote, an abstention formula which did not extend our treaty commitments would not require amendment of the treaty and the advice and consent of the Senate. All canons of good Congressional relations, however, require that there be advance consultation with appropriate Congressional leaders.

It would, therefore, seem appropriate that this matter be discussed immediately on a confidential basis with the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While outlining both the Thai proposal and the abstention formula, we would explain our preference for abstentions and our belief, in view of the prevailing Thai attitude, that we must seek acceptance of this solution. We would, however, ascertain his reaction to the three-fourths majority proposal. If Senator Fulbright reacts favorably to the abstentions arrangement, his view may be sought as to what further steps, if any, may be desirable by way of informing the Congress of our proposed action. If his reaction is negative, we would have to reexamine our position in the light of his attitude.

Assuming a favorable reaction from Congressional leaders, further bilateral discussions with the British, and perhaps with the French, may be necessary in seeking their agreement to the abstention formula.

The change would be effected by amendment of the Terms of Reference. Details of the revision would be the subject of further negotiation among Council Representatives in Bangkok where the question is currently an active issue. The formal change could properly be made an item of business at the SEATO Council Meeting in April. The amendment would, of course, require the concurrence of all eight SEATO members.


That we accept an alteration of the voting procedure to allow for abstentions along the lines of the Australian proposal, subject to consultation with Congress, and seek to persuade the British to accept this solution.
That we ascertain the views of Congress and our SEATO allies on the three-fourths majority proposal of Thailand, but defer final judgment pending the outcome of attempts to negotiate the abstention formula, and in making a decision take account of the views of Congress and our SEATO allies.
That this matter be discussed promptly with Senator Fulbright.
That you authorize me, in consultation with the Legal Adviser and other interested bureaus, to approve any minor adjustments of the Australian proposal not having major effect on the substance thereof during further negotiation among the SEATO member countries (New Zealand, for example, presently prefers that target dates be fixed only on the basis of unanimous agreement).
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 790.5/2–1062. Secret. Initialed by Johnson. A note on the source text indicates that Rusk saw the memorandum.
  2. The assurances were authorized in telegram 1134 to Bangkok, February 4, Document 427. Article IV (1) of the Manila Pact stipulated that an attack on one party to the treaty constituted an attack on all parties and obligated them to act to meet the common danger.
  3. Secret. Drafted by Peters, Salans, and Jones and concurred in by Rice, Chayes, Czyzak, Cleveland, and John P. White of the Bureau of Congressional Relations; James D. Bell, Director of the Office of Southwest Pacific Affairs; James N. Cortada, Director of the Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Regional Affairs; and William C. Burdett, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs.
  4. Not attached, but Tab A is Document 420.
  5. Not attached, but Tab B was telegram 1124 from Bangkok, February 3. (Department of State, Central Files, 379/2–362)
  6. Not found.
  7. Not attached, but Tab D was telegram 1098 from Bangkok, January 31. (Department of State, Central Files, 379/1–3162)
  8. Not attached, but Tab E was a letter from the British Embassy, February 6. (Ibid., FE Files: Lot 65 D 25, SEATO)
  9. Not attached, but Tab F was the Terms of Reference for the SEATO Council. (Washington National Records Center, RG 59, FRC 71 A 6682 (Department of State, EA/RA/SEATO Files: Lot 67 D 143), SEATO Organization and Administration, 1954–1963)
  10. There is no indication of approval or disapproval of any of these recommendations.