471. Memorandum From the Ambassador at Large (Thompson) to Secretary of State Rusk0


  • Conversation aboard the Patrick J on Saturday, May 18, 1963

During the boat trip which the Secretary arranged for Ambassador Dobrynin, the Soviet Embassy Counselor, Alexander Zinchuk, made two interesting statements about Laos. The first one was that the Soviets had little means of influencing developments there. The second was that one difficulty in Laos was that both the Right and Left Wings were strong, whereas the center was weak.

Information received today to the effect that the Soviets are apparently pulling out personnel that have remained with Laotian neutralist forces could have two explanations. The first is that the Soviets are now going to back the Pathet Lao, and probably work for partition. The second is that they may be wanting to disengage in order to put full responsibility for what happens upon the Viet-Minh and Chinese Communists. To the extent that the latter might be true, a strong United States reaction to any Pathet Lao resumption of hostilities, or attempt to [Page 1013] partition the country, would appear to be called for. I would suggest that we should have a contingency plan for consideration if it should develop that the Soviets in their quarrel with the ChiComs would like to demonstrate that the Chinese high-risk policy is too dangerous. One such action might be something along the following lines:

After the Pathet Lao had made some clear aggressive move, we could inform the Soviet Union that the Pathet Lao, backed or possibly instigated by the Viet-Minh and ChiComs seem determined to destroy the Geneva Accords. We would say that we had decided that the only way to re-establish the neutral Laos that we have agreed upon is to teach the Pathet Lao and the Viet-Minh a lesson, and that we have determined to do this. We would point out that our sole purpose is to restore the Geneva Accords and that while, as a precautionary measure, we are moving some forces into Thailand, we plan only a one-shot operation to demonstrate that the Geneva Accords must be upheld. This operation, which would take place simultaneously with the notification to the Soviets, would be a heavy bombing raid by United States planes, concentrated chiefly upon areas where Viet-Minh forces are believed to be, but the bombers would also attack bridges and other communication targets leading from North Viet-Nam into Laos.

There are, of course, a good many obvious disadvantages to such a course of action. Among others, it would be difficult for the American public to understand the use of American forces in Laos when we are unwilling to use them in Cuba. Unless the Pathet Lao aggressive action was flagrant, our action would hurt our standing in world opinion. It might have the opposite effect of that intended, and might bring about overt Soviet or ChiCom aid to the Pathet Lao, perhaps by a similar bombing raid on Phoumi strongpoints. Moreover, even if successful it might be impossible to reconstitute a neutralist government.

Finally, if the psychological effect were great enough, General Phoumi might get out of hand and refuse to be called off from attacks which he might undertake to exploit our action. On the other side of the coin, it is possible that such action would have a salutary effect not only in Laos and probably in South Viet-Nam, but might also be preferable to having American ground forces drawn into Laos in a situation in which it would be very difficult for them to be withdrawn. Moreover, it could very easily be a deciding factor in the Sino-Soviet dispute. I should think it would at least merit examination as a contingency plan.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 Laos. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Thompson.