6. Editorial Note

The Kennedy administration’s examination of policy in Vietnam led to an overall consideration of the related situation in Southeast Asia. Much of the documentation on this policy formulation is printed in Volume I. On July 18, 1961, General Maxwell Taylor, Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson, and Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Walt Rostow discussed the “interconnection between various elements in Southeast Asia,” and Johnson agreed to design a “general set of guidelines for policy in Southeast Asia.” (Ibid., pages 231–233) On July 26, Taylor reported to President Kennedy that he was becoming aware of the need for a “rational analysis” of military forces not just for South Vietnam, but for Laos and Thailand and the need for a “strategic plan for the entire Southeast Asia area.” (Ibid., pages 243–244) Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs John M. Steeves prepared papers for the President prior to his meeting with his principal advisers on Southeast Asia. (Ibid., pages 248–251)

The meeting was held on July 28 at the White House. The participants discussed the situation at length and raised the possibility of a new alternative military strategy of holding southern Laos with joint U.S.-South Vietnamese-Thai-Royal Lao Government forces. No decisions were taken at the meeting, but the President expressed reluctance to go into Laos at the time. He favored pressing forward with negotiations at Geneva and suggested that someone close to him should go to Vietnam to look at the Southeast Asia situation. (Ibid., pages 252–256) On July 29, Rostow and Taylor suggested to the President the terms of reference for a military mission to Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. They stated, however, [Page 13] that until the administration was further along in its planning, it would be premature to send such a mission to Southeast Asia. (Ibid., pages 256–257)