183. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to President Kennedy0


  • Southeast Asia

General Taylor and I were briefed this morning by General Craig who toured Southeast Asia at the instruction of General Lemnitzer to make an evaluation on the ground.1 They did a thorough job. There was nothing new in their presentation2 of the facts except, perhaps, their emphasis on the build-up of Pathet Lao-Viet-Minh forces in Southern Laos and the beginnings of additional pressure on Central Vietnam from that area. They concluded by recommending the implementation of SEATO Plan 5 now—or if that is not possible, the execution of preparatory measures such as laying the command and logistic base and moving closer to Laos the foreign troops who would take part.

Diem believes that Hanoi takes the view that the end of Stage 2—in Mao’s theory of warfare—has arrived; that is, the end of guerrilla warfare and the beginning of open warfare.

Their recommendations are now being studied by the JCS and we should receive them, as modified, next week. They underline our own anxiety by emphasizing that the rainy season will be over by 30 September.

One operational thought arises from this briefing; namely, that you use the occasion of the UN speech3 to talk about Southeast Asia in some such terms as these:

“At this time we confront not merely a major crisis over Berlin but a situation equally dangerous to the peace in Southeast Asia. It has been my objective since assuming Presidential responsibility to seek by diplomatic [Page 418] means the negotiation of a truly independent and neutral Laos. This is clearly desirable in the interests of the Lao people, the peoples of Southeast Asia and of world peace itself. The situation as it now stands is dangerous not merely because we have only a precarious cease-fire in Laos; it is also dangerous because the territory of Laos is being used systematically to introduce external forces into South Vietnam. Only recently, moreover, the government of Cambodia announced a substantial engagement with Viet-minh forces operating from within its territory against the government of South Vietnam.

The United States is committed in Laos and in Southeast Asia generally to assist the governments of this region to maintain their independence. It intends to honor those commitments.

I was heartened when I spoke with Chairman Khrushchev in Vienna at our agreement that Laos should become an independent neutral nation on the model of Burma and Cambodia.4 This would be a step forward. But the whole world community should understand that there is a danger to the peace in Southeast Asia to which it must devote constructive attention in coming days and months despite the more dramatic danger surrounding the Berlin question.”

Note: It is important to nail Khrushchev on his Burma and Cambodia analogy. At one point a Soviet ambassador slid over to using Poland as a model. In the latest Harriman talk with Pushkin,5 Finland was referred to, which would be O.K.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Regional Security Series, Southeast Asia: General, 9/1/61–9/20/61. Secret.
  2. See footnote 5, Document 159.
  3. The text of the briefing by Craig for Taylor and Rostow, September 15, is in National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Laos 7, T–028–69. In a memorandum to Rostow, September 18, Robert Johnson suggested that Rostow give the text of the Craig briefing to the President and Johnson prepared a summary of it. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Regional Security Series, Southeast Asia: General, 9/1/61–9/20/61) See Document 188.
  4. Reference is to the President’s upcoming address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on September 25; for text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 618–626. The President did mention Southeast Asia and Laos in his speech; see ibid., p. 624.
  5. See Documents 107 and 108.
  6. See Document 180.
  7. Rostow added the following handwritten postscript: “Gen Taylor and I will meet on Saturday [September 16] with Alexis J. and Lemnitzer on Southeast Asia.” Taylor met at noon on September 16 with Johnson and Lemnitzer, but no other record of the conversation has been found. (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Taylor Appointment Book)