28. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0


  • Memorandum from Chester Bowles, dated April 4, 19621

I have read the above mentioned memorandum, copies of which were sent by Ambassador Bowles, both to you and to me.

[Page 60]

The bulk of the memorandum is a recitation of the recent history of our activities in the Far East. The tone is mildly critical of our past policy, especially vis-à-vis Taiwan and the Asian Neutrals.

Ambassador Bowles suggests a re-orientation of U.S. policy toward the area (beginning on page 33) but also recommends that it be accomplished step-by-step and without much fanfare. His major recommendations are as follows:

[Here follows a summary of Bowles’ recommendations on Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China.]

C. Southeast Asia

Strive to stabilize the military situation in Viet-Nam to produce at least a deadlock.
Make known through a third party our willingness to negotiate with the Russians or others on a political solution in South Viet-Nam.
Continue efforts on the Souvanna solution in Laos, but prepare contingency plan for de facto partition.
Step-by-step dissolution of SEATO to be replaced by U.S. bilateral guarantees.
Attempt to get Soviets and Chinese to join in guarantees (using grain shipments as leverage).

C. [sic] Regional Cooperation

Press for greater regional cooperation in the development of the Mekong River, the Asian Productivity Organization, and the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA).

Ambassador Bowles also discusses the political implications of these recommendations. Generally he believes that the domestic political impact will not be as great as one might expect. He cites the change of policy in Laos without much fuss and the domestic concern over our involvement in South Viet-Nam as indications of this. He stresses that if the position is properly explained by a united Administration, the logic of a “two China” policy could be conveyed to the American people.

The memorandum is persuasive and well organized. It would, of course, be political dynamite in certain quarters. For this reason, it is probably not wise to have it floating around. Many of the recommendations, however, can be supported on a purely pragmatic basis and quite independently of any overall philosophy. My own feeling is that it is not particularly helpful to cast our foreign policies in terms of a world view or overall political doctrine. Much more can be achieved, I think, if we simply take the position that each case will be judged on the basis of what appears to be the best interests of the United States at the time the decision is taken. One way of doing this is for the Administration quietly to support the view that the Communist enemy is not the unchanging [Page 61] monolith he is popularly believed to be. If the impression is conveyed that the changes within the Communist bloc require corresponding flexibility in our own attempts to deal with each local situation, the range of choices available to the President may hopefully be increased. There is one point in the Bowles memorandum with which I do not believe I agree: that is his suggestion that we should begin urging for a political solution in Viet-Nam at this time. I particularly doubt whether we should consider approaches to the Chinese or the Russians through third parties. It is too early to begin on this task. It is important, I think, both for domestic and foreign policy reasons, to maintain a rather strong position both in Thailand and in South Viet-Nam, especially if there is any hope of stabilizing the situation. It provides a counter-balance in the public mind to a more flexible policy in Laos and it also avoids misleading the Chinese and Viet Minh into thinking we might be preparing to disengage from the area. When the security situation shows definite signs of improving in South Viet-Nam, we would be in a better position to consider a negotiated settlement.

[Here follows a short paragraph on Ambassadorial appointments.]

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda, Staff Memorandum, Bowles, 4/5/62–6/62. Secret.
  2. In an April 5 covering memorandum transmitting this 54-page memorandum to U. Alexis Johnson, Bowles noted that “it contains recommendations that many will consider controversial. Because of this, I am strictly limiting the number of copies available.” (Department of State, Central Files, 790.00/4–562)