472. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Laos0

1136. Ref: Embtel 1719.1 Role of US and/or SEATO in case Lao situation should deteriorate further is again being studied in Washington along with general updating of contingency plans.2 However, as you point out, Reftel raises several questions which are unanswerable at this time. Therefore, this message can only provide general guidance on our policy objectives in respect to non-communist Lao military forces.

Objectives. Our efforts with non-communist forces should be directed at (a) maintaining non-communist forces at level of morale and equipment which can hold long enough against attack to focus international attention on situation and crystallize the elements out of which we must make decision as to what actions to take. It obvious whatever we choose to do would be immeasurably harder to achieve if non-communist Lao simply folded completely and at once. (b) Producing strongly enough motivated non-communist forces to resist communist nibbling tactics where non-communists and communists are in direct contact. (c) Supporting forces which could eliminate PL elements from areas generally dominated by FAR, particularly in South and vicinity of Vientiane. (d) Supporting forces which could attempt to extend FAR into areas which PL has not yet firmly occupied or where it is weak.
Support. We agree with Reftel that neutralists and FAR could not resist for long strong VM supported PL attacks. Further, we doubt [Page 1015] whether merely by increasing materiel support to non-communist forces we could overcome powerful psychological boost PL get from presence their North Vietnamese comrades. For these reasons it does not appear advisable for us to attempt build-up of non-communist forces either in numbers or in new equipment (aside from replacements worn-out items).
Morale. As we have implied chances of obtaining all or indeed any our objectives boils down to motivation of non-communist forces. Basic question which we again face is how can we improve morale of FAR and neutralists without openly committing US in advance to their immediate and direct support (i.e. by US forces) in case of showdown. Regrettably, we have nothing new to offer on this perennial sixty-four dollar question. However, would appreciate your thinking over this problem once again and forwarding your comments and recommendations as to any steps we might take now under present overall guidance to meet it, such as directly paying FAR and KL or increased airlift for Phoumi. Would also appreciate your considering possible removal some restraints now imposed, such as use of bombs by T–6’s or re-introducing US advisers particularly to regional commanders.
Kong Le. Our most immediate concern in military field is in connection present threat to Kong Le on PDJ and in trying to strengthen him to point where it will be necessary for PL/VM to mount major attack to wipe him out or drive him from PDJ. Believe exchanges of messages between us over past few weeks have established general guidelines this aspect our policy. For the moment support to Kong Le can be regarded as separate from problem of what to do with non-communist forces as a whole and over long run.
Meo. Our objectives with Meo is to maintain them much as they are now and to support their present type of operations. How we would use Meo assets in various contingencies which could face us cannot be determined at this stage. It is possible that they can somehow be used as bargaining lever to force communists to accept less satisfactory, to them, partition line if and when partition became subject of negotiation. In meantime, Meo prevent consolidation of communist control over much of PL held areas and they are of direct support to Kong Le.
French. We must continue try to engage French to extent they would actually contribute to above objectives. However, we fully realize that their motives and leverage quite different from ours. Moreover, in no other field concerning Laos have our (and Lao) relations with French been more difficult than that of military assistance. Would appreciate your latest thinking on French role in light objectives set forth above.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 Laos. Top Secret. Drafted by Cross, cleared in draft with Heinz and with Koren, and approved by Hilsman. Repeated to London, Bangkok, Paris, and CINCPAC.
  2. In telegram 1719, May 18, Unger asked a number of questions about U.S. military goals for Laos: should the United States build up conservative-neutralist forces so that they could hold their own against the Pathet Lao—supported by North Vietnamese cadres—or so they support the anti-Communist Laos forces to serve primarily as a trip-wire or plate glass window holding the Pathet Lao long enough for the West to make a decision how to react. Unger felt that the best the conservative and neutralists troops could do was act as a trip-wire. Unger also suggested that Washington policymakers consider the “old question” of working through the French in keeping with the Geneva Accords or seeking a more direct and effective relationship. (Ibid.)
  3. In a memorandum to Bundy, May 23, Legere provided background on the contingency planning for Laos. Legere informed Bundy that Forrestal, Harriman, and Hilsman wanted the JCS to come up with alternative contingency actions for Laos. The planning would examine, with pros and cons and an order of preference, U.S. support to Kong Le’s forces and, with the same format, the question of introduction of U.S. forces into Laos. Legere discovered that there might be some reluctance to undertake this task because “everyone who has been mixed up in this Laos in-fighting” was “nursing a lot of grudges and scar tissue.” Nevertheless, the JCS was prepared to initiate the contingency planning. (Memoranda from Legere to Bundy, May 21, 22, 23, and 23; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 5/21/63–5/30/63)