476. Memorandum from Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to President Kennedy0


For the past two weeks we have been making strenuous efforts to stimulate some military planning by State and the Pentagon for possible actions in Laos.

So far discussions have proceeded to the Assistant Secretary level in State and Defense, with participation by the Joint Staff of the JCS. [Page 1020] These discussions have produced a memorandum, a bootleg copy of which is attached.1 It has no official status and has been approved by no top official in either Department. JCS is considering it this afternoon.

The memorandum outlines a program of action which is not a contingency response to Communist tactics, but a program to influence the over-all situation so that events will move in the direction of the stabilization of Laos. The concept is a three-phase program which can be briefly described as follows:

Phase 1:

The objective of Phase 1 is to restore the Coalition Government under the Geneva Agreement and generally restore the situation to the status quo prior to April 1, 1963. Failing this, Phase 1 contemplates an informal or “soft” partition, and a de facto cease-fire without the re-establishment of the Coalition Government.

Military actions in this phase are all in the area of supply and intelligence, carried out in such a way as not to involve an overt breach of the Geneva Accords.

Phase 2:

The objective of Phase 2 is the same as Phase 1, but military action is envisaged which would constitute direct violation of the Geneva Accords, pre-positioning of U.S. air and naval forces in the area, and third country military support action in Laos. It also includes sabotage and harassment action directly against North Vietnam.

Phase 3:

Phase 3 is designed to achieve a “hard partition of Laos”, i.e. an enforced partition along a definite frontier. Partition would be along lines to ensure non-Communist control of the Mekong Valley area.

It is at this point that the State and Defense Departments disagree on the order in which the recommended military actions should be taken. Both agree, however, that in this phase the purpose is to use overt U.S. military air and land forces both in Laos and North Vietnam in order to persuade the enemy to accept a hard partition.

The disagreement turns on the time when U.S. forces would be introduced into Laos, State arguing that they should be put in before a direct attack in North Vietnam; Defense arguing that there should be air and other types of strikes against North Vietnam before U.S. troops are introduced into Laos. State reasons that an air strike against North Vietnam [Page 1021] escalates the situation politically to such a level that the Communists could not be certain whether our intentions went far beyond the stabilization of Laos. State feels we should preserve this type of escalation for use only after our own troops are engaged in Laos in order to prevent the enemy nibbling away at them. Defense argues that since the real enemy is in Hanoi, he should be hit there. Furthermore, Defense is worried that it might never get U.S. troops out of Laos once they were in, so that they should be used only as a last resort in conjunction with an all-out attack on North Vietnam.

I hope to be able to schedule a meeting for you with State and Defense next Wednesday.2 Although the final paper they present to you may not bear much resemblance to this one, I thought you might want to see how the planning has progressed.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 6/1/63–6/15/63. Top Secret. Drafted by Forrestal. A note on the source text indicates it was taken from the President’s weekend reading of June 15–16.
  2. Not printed. For a copy as it was formally presented to the President, see Tab A to Document 477.
  3. June 19. See Document 478.