446. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State0

1311. Deptel 888,1 ARMA CX–422 and Embtel 1265.3

Accumulated experience of past eight months when analyzed against background of our general understanding of Communist tactics and intentions suggests that for present and probably for some time to come, Pathet Lao will not permit any significant moves toward integration or reunification of Laos. I find this assumption being ever more widely held among Lao of conservative and neutralist tendencies as well as foreign observers. Virtually no one expects a sudden aggressive bid for power by Pathet Lao but rather an effort on their part to maintain all their assets intact and free of any outside influences so that they can thoroughly organize and control their own zone, while they seek through propaganda, infiltration, pressure, bribery, etc., to expand their influence.

Not possible to guess when this Communist strategy will change and what will be its new look but for present they appear ready tacitly to accept autonomy of each tendency within its zone (always hoping to expand their zone at expense of other two) under umbrella of internationally sanctioned and supported Government of National Union and giving lip service to Geneva Accords. Since Communists, in my view, want Laos to be example of successful “neutral” international solution which they can cite in urging same approach for So. Viet Nam, I do not foresee their upsetting present situation now. We should of course not assume that gradual freezing status quo would be distasteful to General Phoumi or for that matter that it would even be actively opposed by [Page 946] Souvanna Phouma. Phoumi probably sees same advantages for himself as Pathet Lao see for themselves while Souvanna may well already have concluded, in spite of his optimistic statements, that he must live for long time with present situation; he is not likely be attracted by rigorous struggle he would have to lead if real unification were to be achieved. Generally speaking, Lao tend feel they have been treated as international pawns and Government National Union with Troika and Geneva Accords have had to be accepted by them for peace among the nations. They maintain, however, that solution has no relation to political realities within Laos. Instead of trying to make impossible Troika work for internal affairs there are undoubtedly many who would prefer retain what would be in effect a partition of country for purposes of internal administration.

Partition is not only a dirty word but does not in fact express clearly what Laos may well be drifting toward. Some kind of loose federalism in which two or three divisions within country manage their own affairs and in which a central institution under the King provides for indispensable communication between the zones and for the conduct of, at least, foreign affairs is not too different from today’s situation.

Acceptance of this situation realistically, however much we would continue to pay lip service to unification, Geneva Accords, etc., would appear to have following values in relation to U.S. objectives.

The more developed and populous part of Laos would remain more securely in friendly hands.
Thailand would be protected to extent of having buffer along its entire Mekong frontier.
The U.S. could deal much more directly and effectively with the conservative and neutralist administrations than it now must deal under the intolerable complications of the Patroika and strict application of Geneva Accords.
There need be no serious disturbance of the international facade and the neutral posture of Laos.
Puts less of a premium on person of Souvanna Phouma who, after all, may resign on short notice. Under Lao “federal” arrangement Souvanna no longer indispensable man and PL and Phoumi would probably find it easier compromise on other figures for what would have become essentially figurehead position.

Acceptance of Lao federal solution, however, would have the following drawbacks:

The Ho Chi Minh corridor would not be interdicted.
Internal security under a Lao Federal arrangement would continue to be as precarious as today and indefinite division of the country might keep it always as a Southeast Asian tinderbox. Removal of restraints within Pathet Lao area might also make military and insurgency threat more acute from that quarter. Thus the cost to U.S. to help maintain Lao forces necessary for security of conservative-neutralist areas would be sizeable.
Long-run economic viability in the remote future for a longitudinally divided Laos would probably be even less likely than under a unified country. Nonetheless it is probable that the Mekong Valley area could make out by itself in the years just ahead at least as well as it has in combination, if not better.
It is hard to imagine a division, de facto or, especially, if arranged, which would not threaten to deliver substantial number of friendly hill tribesmen into Pathet Lao hands.

If a de facto federal arrangement emerges as an accomplished and accepted fact it appears likely that the neutralists will be prepared to work closely with the conservatives even though they might well insist on maintaining their identity and their separate zone. This would mean that from the point of view of international opinion it could be maintained that the obstacle to a unified Laos was the policy of the PL and not of the conservatives. If we can safely assume, as I do, that “true” neutralists of today are friends of West, it is preferable that they have their own zone since otherwise two-way division would inevitably yield more geography to PL; assuming as I do that it would involve split up of neutralist territory.

I see absolutely no possibility extending non-Communist control into Tchepone area if we do not wish run risk of real fighting or of escalating violations of cease-fire (see ref Deptel). Tchepone is probably key point in PL zone as far as Viet Minh are concerned and I cannot conceive of its being yielded without a fight of such proportions as to upset entire settlement. Complete cleaning out of Pakse-Attopeu-Saravane triangle also difficult to imagine although certain areas can be made more secure by such projects as road building already underway as demobilization project.

Foregoing discussion seeks do little more than identify trend toward acceptance of internal division Laos and stimulate thought on implications for U.S. policy. We could in first place seek to arrest trend and push hard for unification and full implementation Geneva Accords. Alternatively we could simply let matters drift toward ever wider acceptance of division of country until this becomes accomplished fact, losing any of the advantages which we might gain from taking some initiatives and shaping developments in desired direction. Finally, we could seek maximize possible advantages (relative, of course) of Lao federal arrangement and take initiative to guide events in useful direction. This would of course risk condemnation by some of our Allies, friends, for betraying Geneva Accords, criticism by many Lao for seeking divide their country, strong reaction from PL and Communists, possibly even including military action. There may be in-between course, as for example discreetly encouraging General Phoumi to pursue Souphanouvong’s opening (if in fact latter really spoke as Phoumi reported) and draw out PL intentions. First time, however, we indicate [Page 948] readiness listen seriously to or discuss division of country we may have set in motion developments which in effect could assure that unified Laos will never be achieved.

We will continue give this question our thought and try soon to provide concrete recommendations. Meanwhile would appreciate Washington views.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 Laos. Secret; Priority. Repeated to Bangkok, CINCPAC for POLAD, Moscow, London, Paris, Saigon, Phnom Penh, New Delhi, and Ottawa.
  2. In telegram 888, March 15, the Department suggested that the United States should not so tie itself down with technicalities of the 1962 Geneva Accords that it failed to support adequately non-Communist elements in Laos. The Department suggested that the Embassy consider “means whereby non-Communist sections of Laos could be geographically consolidated” if a partition became a likelihood or a stalemate continued. In this connection, the Department asked for the Embassy’s assessment of extending non-Communist control into the Tchepone area and clearing up the Pakse, Attopeu, and Saravane triangle. (Ibid.)
  3. Not found.
  4. In telegram 1265, March 13, Unger reported a conversation with Phoumi in which Phoumi mentioned, inter alia, that Souphanouvong had stated to him in an off-hand manner that perhaps the best solution for Laos would be division into two zones along the lines of Vietnam in 1954. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 Laos)