19. Memorandum for the Record0

The Secretary’s Meeting on the State of SEATO 1

After much discussion in which INR contributed heavily to the discussion and had several of its recommendations adopted, it was decided that the United States would propose postponing the SEATO meeting, substituting a military briefing of the Military Committee of the SEATO at CINCPAC. The Secretary would also like to postpone the CENTO meeting.

The United States will make a written commitment to Thailand giving them bilateral assurances along the lines of those contained in the [Page 46] Military [Manila] Pact and similar to those in the Military Assistance Agreements with Pakistan.2

This will be delivered immediately so as to coincide with Bobby Kennedy’s visit.

The letter3 will end with an invitation to Thanat to come to the U.S. because the President wishes to make this new bilateral commitment to Thailand public and Thanat’s visit would provide a suitable occasion.

The letter will be delivered by the Ambassador, and Bobby Kennedy will then reiterate and strengthen the commitment by expressing the President’s wish that Thanat come to the U.S. so that the bilateral commitment can be made public with emphasis.

The letter will mention the postponement of the SEATO meeting; it will make commitments along the lines of the Pak Military Assistance Agreement (at INR’s suggestion), it will make the point that SEATO still has some utility and that the most effective way of deemphasizing SEATO and reemphasizing the U.S. bilateral commitment would be not to tamper at all with the voting procedure (at INR’s suggestion).

It is Harriman’s view to which all agreed that SEATO is important today as a device to get Asian people participating if real trouble comes in Asia. We will, however, reduce its political and economic role since it is not broad enough for these tasks. We will leave it with a military planning role in the event of a major war. All this was a result of a suggestion by Alexis Johnson that we might want to consider phasing SEATO out—i.e., this suggestion was rejected.

To implement the above, the following steps will be taken but without mentioning our phase-down intentions to any of our allies.

After Council Meeting, gradually decrease scale of Headquarters and other non-military activities.
But leave intact the Treaty itself. Continue, perhaps increase, military exercises.
Let Headquarters Bangkok eventually have only Military Planning Office, Countersubversive Section (Advisory Services Only) and perhaps a Secretary General.
After above steps have been taken British and French may find it easier to withdraw from SEATO without loss of face.(Such withdrawals would not materially weaken SEATO as a deterrent or an instrument for [Page 47] action; the repercussions, if any, would be largely within the Atlantic Community.)
To reduce Headquarters activity:
Council Representatives meet in Bangkok less frequently (now every 10 days).
Consider turning economic projects over to ASA, ECAFE or other regional auspices.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Chron File, 1/62–6/62. Secret. Prepared by Hilsman.
  2. Rusk’s Appointment Book indicates that the Secretary met at 5:35 p.m. on February 13 with Harriman, U. Alexis Johnson, Cleveland, Rice, Peters, Chayes, and Hilsman to discuss SEATO and Laos. Rusk’s next appointment was at 6:10 p.m. (Johnson Library)
  3. Apparent reference to the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement, signed at Karachi on May 19, 1954 (5 UST 852), and the Defense Support Assistance Agreement, signed at Karachi on January 11, 1955. (6 UST 501) The United States also committed to the defense of Pakistan by the terms of the Agreement of Cooperation, signed at Ankara on March 5, 1959. (10 UST 317)
  4. See footnote 3, Document 18.