269. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to Foreign Secretary Brown 1
Washington, April 21, 1967.
- We are well aware of the United Kingdom’s economic, budgetary and foreign exchange difficulties which lie at the heart of the decision being considered to reduce your forces in Singapore-Malaysia by about one-half over the next four years. Nonetheless, we are deeply concerned at the idea of your making significant reductions in force unless and until there is a real change in the Vietnam situation.
- What concerns us even more gravely are the indications you gave us that a further and more far-reaching decision is in contemplation to withdraw entirely from the Singapore-Malaysia bases by the mid-1970’s, to have Minister Healey inform Singapore and Malaysia of this contemplated decision, and to announce it before Parliament rises in July in conjunction with new statement of your Defense policy.
- As I understand it the case for taking that much more fundamental
decision rests on several grounds:
- A reduction in your presence will not produce large financial savings, only a complete withdrawal will accomplish that.
- You are under great domestic pressures for this and other reasons to tell the country what your intentions are in the area.
- Your Forces must know clearly and precisely what your policy is in order to plan their programs over the next ten years.
- You believe that an indefinite continued presence in the area will prove unacceptable locally, and it will only complicate the problems of those in power. By announcing a timetable for withdrawal now, you believe the critics of your presence will be disarmed.
- It is essential that Malaysia and Singapore know what is in store so that you can together plan for an orderly withdrawal with a minimum of dislocation.
- While I appreciate the force of some of these arguments, I would argue against major reductions in the near future, more strongly against any decision now as to what you contemplate after 1971, and even more strongly against any announcement now of any intentions to withdraw from the area.
- My concerns arise from the consequent reactions—the chain
reactions—that would be set in motion in the US and elsewhere by
such an action.
- For the UK to announce that you will no longer carry this burden (even at a future date) at the very moment when we are deeply involved in Vietnam and when Thailand is under threat, would have the most serious effects here. Surely Britain shares our views that what we are doing in Vietnam is of vital strategic importance to us and to our Allies. But those articulate groups here who question our presence in Vietnam and our commitments to SEATO will argue even more forcefully that your withdrawal shows clearly that there are no vital national or international interests in this area for us to defend, that we should have never gone in, and that we too should withdraw.
- There are those here in important positions in the Senate who want us to reduce our commitment to Europe. Should you announce that you are withdrawing from Singapore and Malaysia on the grounds you cannot carry that burden, I foresee an increase in the intensity of their criticism, arguing that we too have a limit to our capacity to carry these burdens and we should cut further and heavily in Europe.
- The strength of our position in the US in assuming international commitments in these last twenty years is that we have always been able to say that we have Allies who share our views and share our burden, and not least the UK. The defection of De Gaulle has hurt us. If now there was a UK withdrawal from this area it would be regarded as a similar defection, encouraging the neoisolationists, and encouraging the critics of our policies both in Asia and in Europe.
- I am also concerned as to how your withdrawal would be viewed in Hanoi and Peking, where it would be treated as a victory for them, as a repudiation of your support of our position in the area, and as a further weakening of SEATO.
- I am particularly concerned as to the effect in the immediate area of an announcement of what you will do in the 1970’s. With the [Page 568] great change in Indonesia,2 there is now the prospect that something might be built in the next decade in the way of regional associations for economic and eventually defense purposes. We do not share the view that the people in Malaysia and Singapore long to see you leave. Lee has said again and again that he values your presence, and sees no hostility in Malaysia. The free Asian countries would prefer a friendly white presence to a hostile Chinese. Your continued presence and your experienced hand could do much to keep the situation stable and to foster and encourage these promising developments, whereas the announcement of your withdrawal could set in motion strains and ambitions that could keep this area in turmoil. If there is any thought that we might be able to take on your commitments when you left, as we did in Greece,3 I must say at once that there is no sentiment in this country to take on additional commitments in any area.
- In short, we understand your desire to reduce your forces and base structure in Malaysia and Singapore. We hope this can be done in a gradual and reasonable way without significant withdrawals before a Vietnam settlement, for we feel that your presence continues to play a major role in the security and stability of the area. But above all we hope you can avoid taking, or in any event making public in any way, basic decisions at this point on withdrawal by the mid-1970’s.4
- Source: Department of State, Bruce Diaries: Lot 64 D 327. Secret.↩
- Reference is to the abortive coup of October 1965 that resulted in the destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party and effective elimination of Sukarno as national leader.↩
- Reference is to 1947 events that led to the enunciation of the Truman Doctrine and major U.S. involvement in Greece.↩
- In a May 1 letter to Secretary Rusk, Brown responded: “I do feel that some of the reactions to the substance of our plans has been somewhat exaggerated. What we propose is based on an appreciation of what South East Asia will be like in the next decade that I believe to be realistic…. Our plans … amount to little more than a statement of what you … will in fact have done or be doing about the same period and for the same political and economic reasons.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL UK-US)↩