2. Brief Prepared in the Joint Staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff0


This National Intelligence Estimate was approved by the United States Intelligence Board on 28 March 1961. Salient points and significant judgments in the NIE are submitted in brief in the following paragraphs for your advance information.

Serious political crises arising out of foreign intervention, domestic strains and other factors will occur in most Southeast Asian countries in the next year or two. By far the most serious problems are the deteriorating situation in Laos and the mounting Communist threat and precarious governmental situation in South Vietnam.

There is deep awareness among the countries of Southeast Asia that developments in the Laotian crisis, and its outcome, have a profound [Page 3] impact on their future. The governments of the area tend to regard the Laotian crisis as a symbolic test of intentions, wills and strengths between the major powers of the West and the Communist Bloc.

Those countries in close alignment with the US favor stronger measures to assure at least a non-Communist and preferably an anti-Communist, Western-oriented regime in Laos. Burma and Cambodia, as well as Malaya, favor some form of international political agreement to end the crisis, and would be alarmed if Laos were lost to the Communists under conditions which indicated to them that the US position in the area had gravely weakened. They would prefer a neutralist but not a Communist-dominated government. The loss of Laos to the Communists, or even the division of the country, would almost certainly incline the Thai toward accommodation to Communist power in Southeast Asia. A Communist-controlled Laos would vitally threaten South Vietnam’s independence: it would greatly extend the Communist frontiers with South Vietnam; it would bring substantially greater Communist military power to bear on the crucial Saigon defense complex; and it would greatly facilitate Communist infiltration and subversion. In short, the loss of Laos would severely damage the US position and its influence in Thailand and South Vietnam.

The future course of the countries in Southeast Asia would be strongly influenced by the actual circumstance in which the loss or division of Laos had occurred and on local appraisal of attitudes and actions of the US in response to the situation. The extent these countries would go in resisting Bloc pressures and local threats would depend on whether they still believed the US could stem further Communist expansion in the area. They would be keenly tempted to take a neutral position even though they recognized the US is the only country with sufficient power to oppose the Communist Bloc in the area. Although they would be deeply disillusioned regarding US resolution, they would nonetheless welcome demonstrations of US firmness and might in response thereto, modify their appraisal of their own future in due course.

In South Vietnam, the situation of the Diem government seems likely to become increasingly difficult because of rising Communist guerrilla strength and of widening dissatisfaction with Diem’s government. Diem has reasserted his control of the government, made some cautious moves toward government reform, and proceeded with plans for the presidential election to be held in April. He has taken action to improve the anti-guerrilla capabilities of the army and has stepped up military action against the Viet Cong. Nonetheless, the factors which gave rise to the recent coup attempt still exist, and the odds favor another coup attempt by non-Communist elements in the next year or so. The Communists would attempt to exploit any new efforts to unseat the [Page 4] government, and there is some question as to the army’s ability to keep the situation from getting out of hand.

Although the Communist threat to South Vietnam has reached serious proportions, the chances of a Communist takeover in the next year or so are less than they are in Laos. Nevertheless, Peiping and Hanoi attach greater importance to their efforts in South Vietnam than they do to their efforts in Laos. Diem’s policy of close alignment with the US is on trial in the current crisis. If South Vietnam were to fall to the Communists or be forced to swing toward neutralism, the impact upon the other countries of Southeast Asia would be similar in kind but considerably more severe than that resulting from the loss or division of Laos.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 64 A 2382, Asia 000.1. Secret. Attached to a transmittal memorandum from Major General Robert A. Breitweiser, Director for Intelligence, the Joint Staff, to Secretary of Defense McNamara, which indicates that the U.S. Intelligence Board approved NIE 50–61 on March 28. A note on the memorandum indicates that Lieutenant General John A. Dabney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of ISA, saw it. The full text of NIE 50–61 is in Department of State, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 165, NIE 50–61.