26. Department of State Policy Directive0
- Future of SEATO
Asian member confidence in the protection afforded them by SEATO has been badly shaken by its failure to bring SEATO military action to bear in seeking a solution for the Laos situation. This problem of confidence has been particularly acute in the case of Thailand. However, the affirmation in the March 6 Rusk–Thanat communiqué1 of the individual as well as collective defense obligations under the Manila Pact has reassured the Thais and thereby reduced the threat of Thai withdrawal or other deep splits within the organization. SEATO difficulties are, however, broader than this single issue.
SEATO has not experienced the accession of other Asian states expected by its founders, and has not had notable success as a political association. The geographic separation and disparate interests of the membership does not provide a firm basis for collective action in nonmilitary activities. At the same time, Thailand has displayed unease with [Page 56] close association in SEATO with France and the U.K., former colonial powers, and is restive in the knowledge that closer relations with its neighbors are made more difficult by membership in SEATO. As a military alliance, however, SEATO has been successful in deterring overt Communist aggression, and the Manila Pact is important as the legal basis for military action by the U.S., individually or collectively, to meet Communist aggression should that be necessary. Because disappointments and frustrations on the civil side obscure the continuing military value of the pact, U.S. policy is gradually to de-emphasize the organization’s non-military activities.
- To maintain the military alliance as a deterrent to overt Communist aggression, and to continue military planning and SEATO exercises.
- Gradually to de-emphasize the non-military aspects of the organization including reduction of the large staff and extensive functions of the SEATO Headquarters in Bangkok.
- To support a SEATO countersubversion effort if agreement can be reached on SEATO activities in this field which will complement rather than conflict with our bilateral activities or multilateral programs having broader than SEATO participation which we might support in Southeast Asia.
- To expedite decision making and to reduce the great number of petty issues coming before the Council Representatives.
- To minimize SEATO as an impediment to the development of closer relations among Southeast Asian nations.
Plan of Action
- No sudden or dramatic actions are proposed. Changes should be made gradually. The Asian members will be sensitive about giving up the leverage they feel the civil activities give them for obtaining increased economic assistance. Excessive U.S. pressure for change might also give rise to doubts about our continued reliance on SEATO, and thus jeopardize the Manila Pact which we desire to retain.
- First steps, for which agreement among SEATO members can probably be reached fairly promptly, will be (a) reduction in the frequency of Council Representatives meetings and (b) elimination of the expert committees. This subject was discussed during his recent visit to Washington with Ambassador Young who, as opportunity affords, will take the necessary steps or make appropriate recommendations to the Department.
- We will encourage assignment of increased administrative responsibility to the Secretary-General, and will agree to the fixing of non-mandatory target dates to assure that proposals are brought to a vote within a reasonable period of time.
- Embassy Bangkok will make recommendations regarding reduction in Headquarters staff and functions. In the early stages, this can probably best be achieved by attrition as current appointments expire.
- Embassy Bangkok will make recommendations regarding a SEATO Countersubversion Office as a basis for further consideration of the question. The problem is to ascertain whether functions could be established for such an office which would assure that it has enough constructive activity to justify its existence without impinging upon activities better supported bilaterally or inhibiting broader multilateral programs in Southeast Asia. Since Thailand will be the principal beneficiary of a SEATO program, we must also assure that Thailand is willing to accept the kind of assistance SEATO will be able to provide.
- No new economic or cultural projects will be initiated, except possibly in the countersubversion field. Ultimately the present SEATO projects should be transferred to other auspices, not only to reduce nonmilitary activities, but also to broaden the benefits of these projects to other Southeast Asian nations. Ambassador Young is authorized to discuss discreetly with the Thai Foreign Minister possible transfer of appropriate projects to the Association of Southeast Asia or other Asian sponsorship.
- Areas of interest previously assigned to the expert committees should be dealt with by ad hoc expert study groups.
- Military planning at Bangkok and military exercises will be continued.
- The semi-annual meetings of the Military Advisers should continue but with less emphasis on expensive and time-consuming protocol aspects of the sessions.
- Annual meetings of the Council of Foreign Ministers are desirable but not essential. The meetings should be shorter than the three-day sessions held in the past and should be held with less emphasis on protocol and public display.
- Embassy Bangkok (paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7).
- Department of Defense (paragraphs 8 and 9).
- Department (paragraphs 1, 5, 6, 7 and 10).
July 1, 1964