43. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Parsons) to Secretary of State Rusk0


  • Burma: Use of New Military Sales Program to Influence the Dispute in the Burma Army

At your staff meeting on Monday, February 61 you asked FE to consider the possibility of using the new military sales program for Burma in some way to influence events to our advantage during the present difficulties among the high command of the Burma Army.2 After careful consideration we have concluded that the circumstances do not seem to indicate that anything very useful along this line could be done at present.

The new military sales program could possibly be used as a bargaining counter in an attempt to halt a reduction in the present overt forms of US-Burmese military cooperation. We could withhold or threaten to withhold further military assistance until matters were adjusted more to our satisfaction. The success of such a tactic would, of course, depend upon the existence of a strong faction within the Burma Army so determined to obtain more American military assistance that it would be willing to act to reverse the present trend. No group holding such sentiments has yet appeared.

On the other hand, when the Burmese receive formal notification that we are prepared to negotiate another military sales agreement, they will then be faced with the necessity of making a clear decision for or against further American cooperation on the military side. This should tend to crystallize opinion in the Burma Army and give those elements favorable to further cooperation a concrete objective to work toward. Since recent events have badly disorganized the upper levels of the Burmese armed forces, it will take time for them to sort themselves out and to [Page 89] make any kind of decision. However, in the course of notifying the GUB about the sales program and during the negotiations themselves, if they occur, we will undoubtedly find opportunities to give some quiet encouragement to those Burmese officers who favor our interests in Burma. The sooner we can notify the Burmese the earlier we can commence this process. We are sending a think-piece cable to the Embassy expressing this idea and asking for their comments. (Cable attached)3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 790B.5–MSP/2–1061. Secret. Drafted by Cross and cleared by Anderson, Cleveland, and Steeves.
  2. Notes of the meeting are ibid., S/S Files: Lot 66 D 147, Secretary’s Staff Meetings, January to March 1961.
  3. Telegram 546 from Rangoon, February 8, provided a wrap-up of recent resignations, transfers, and dismissals in the Burmese military. The most notable were Brigadier Maung Maung, whose resignation was announced by General Ne Win on February 3, and Brigadier Aung Shwe who had also reportedly resigned. The Embassy reported that all except Maung Maung were planning to depose Ne Win, but he acted first. Maung Maung was not a coup plotter; his opposition was over policy and his personality conflict with Ne Win. (Ibid., Central Files, 790B.551/2–861)
  4. Telegram 472 to Rangoon, February 10. (Ibid., 790B.00/2–1061) In telegram 556 from Rangoon, February 10, the Embassy commented on the “shakeup in the Burma Army” and concluded: “In summary, Ne Win has acted with apparent success to quell incipient challenge to his leadership and to prevent possible attempt by army to take over government. In the process he has considerably reduced its future ability to challenge the U Nu government, and possibly also its capability as a national security force, which capability was not too high before. Witness the beatings administered by KMTs and KNDOs recently. The changes he has made also seem to prepare way for some readjustment in anti-Communist, pro-West reputation that army had previously, in direction of more neutralist attitude which is in line with policy of U Nu government, although we should not rush to conclusions on this score. We still have friends in the army.” (Ibid.)