337. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Bundy) to William J. Jorden of the National Security Council Staff1


  • Possible Use of Philippine Bases for B–52 Operations

You have asked for an assessment of political factors affecting this possibility,2 and I am providing this preliminary view.

From the legal standpoint, the 1959 Bohlen-Serrano Memorandum of Understanding, which we expect to make legally binding in the form of the Rusk-Ramos Agreement to be signed during the Marcos visit, obligates us to consult with the Philippine Government before we use U.S. bases for “combat launch” operations, unless these are directly related to the defense of the Philippines under our bilateral Treaty, or to our engagements under SEATO. While it could be argued that B–52 operations in South Viet-Nam fell under the latter heading, we have in fact consulted with Marcos, and Macapagal before him, on any operational base problem whatever, including even the overflight of the Philippines by B–52’s. Obviously, regardless of the precise legal obligation, we could not in this instance conduct the proposed operations, or even prepare visibly for them, without prior agreement with Marcos.
We are inclined to believe that Marcos personally would be favorable to conducting the proposed operations from the Philippines. However, there is no doubt that he would consider that he was taking a step involving possibly great political costs at home, and that he would require a very substantial quid pro quo in the form of additional assistance of some type. Almost certainly, he would feel that he had to obtain a formal resolution of approval by the Philippine Congress, particularly in the light of various public statements he has made that he would take no further steps in regard to Viet-Nam without thorough consultation with the Congress.
Marcos’ experience with the Viet-Nam aid bill does not lead to an optimistic forecast of how the Philippine Congress would react. In all probability, the same vocal elements, particularly in the Philippine Senate, would oppose the direct use of Philippine bases, stressing the argument that this would expose the Philippines to the possibility of swift and direct retaliation, and even questioning the validity of the U.S. commitment in the event of such retaliation. If the issue were introduced at the present moment, it would be our judgment that Marcos would have a long and bloody fight on his hands, and that he would sacrifice the possibility of successful action on at least some vitally needed domestic measures.
However, this rather gloomy prognosis would easily change markedly in the next month or two. If the Marcos visit is a success, and if the arrival of the Philippine contingent in September leads to favorable publicity and, above all, a sense of engagement in Viet-Nam by the Philippine people—which had really been lacking hitherto—the atmosphere could be quite different by early October. There is the further possibility, although it cannot by any means be counted upon, that we may by then be squared away on a much more realistic economic program that would furnish a reasonable vehicle for a quid pro quo that would really be constructive in terms of Philippine needs.
For all these reasons, it would be our firm judgment that the matter should not be raised with Marcos prior to his visit, and that at most it should be reserved for possible direct mention by the President when he is absolutely alone with Marcos at a relaxed moment during the visit, and when the basic terms of the assistance we will undertake during the visit have been already worked out. More tentatively, we would be hopeful that with proper timing we could eventually get an affirmative answer with a not too exorbitant price; in some ways, the problem is like that of getting the second Korean force contribution—which could not have been done last October or November, but turned out to be possible in January.

The above summarizes our present political judgment. We believe that an examination of alternatives throughout the Far East should be urgently pursued in any case, including comparative military and political assessments of the feasibility of Okinawa and Thailand as possible alternatives to the Philippines.

One further operational point. We understand the Air Force here has a preference for the Mactan base, and it should be noted that this base is now a joint-use base that is in effect controlled by the Philippine Air Force. Moreover, the runway would require substantial lengthening. Nonetheless, in our political judgment Mactan’s relatively isolated location near Cebu makes it a much better candidate than Clark, which [Page 743]is, of course, fully U.S. but also virtually saturated by various other supporting operations, and located in a much more visible, populated, and politically sensitive area. Any third choice, while conceivable, would involve construction virtually from scratch.

William P. Bundy 3
  1. Source: Department of State, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Philippines, eyes only. Top Secret. Drafted by Bundy and cleared by G/PM. This memorandum was originally drafted by Kattenburg and then was revised by Bundy. Kattenburg’s draft is ibid.
  2. In an undated memorandum, Jorden informed Bundy that the President asked for an informal study of the feasibility of shifting B–52 operations against targets in Vietnam from Guam to the Philippines since the President was “struck by the obvious geographic and logistic advantages.” Jorden asked Bundy to provide a political appraisal of the idea. (Ibid.)
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.