180. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs (Bundy) to the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Presidential Inquiry Regarding Emissary to Cambodia
We have examined the possibility of sending a Presidential emissary to reason with Sihanouk regarding Viet Cong/North Vietnamese use of Cambodian territory. We can see no hope of a successful mission, and a number of pitfalls.
Assuming the purpose is to persuade Sihanouk not to permit the VC/NVN to use his territory and to intern those who do cross the frontier in accordance with international law, the difficulties are these:
Cambodian forces are, in fact, incapable of patrolling, let alone controlling, the 600-mile Cambodian border. (In this respect they are far weaker than the ARVN whose inability to control the border from their side has been clearly demonstrated.)
We know that the Cambodian Army has secret orders to prevent VC/NVN incursions. We know of no case where the Cambodian Army has resisted a large intrusion, but they do occasionally drive back small numbers.
Any open action by Cambodia in support of the GVN, which this would be, is out of the question, if for no other reason than because it would alienate Peking, which Sihanouk regards as his last friend, save De Gaulle, in a hostile world. He remains confident of a Communist triumph in Southeast Asia, and sees China as his only hope of salvation against his ancient enemies, Vietnam and Thailand.
An approach to Sihanouk would most likely elicit the response, which he has made repeatedly, that the VC/NVN do not use his territory for any purpose. He would cite the visits by US newspapermen Topping and Karnow, who failed to turn up any evidence, his request for a visit by US congressmen to certify his neutrality, and, most importantly, his repeated requests for action by the ICC to control his frontiers. In the latter connection he can point to still outstanding requests to the ICC and to the Geneva Co-Chairmen beginning last December and repeated most recently in mid-March. Although the British and Canadians, with our encouragement, have reacted favorably to these requests, nothing has come of them because of the flat opposition of the Russians and Poles (and, in the background, the Chinese), and the inaction of the Indians. A genuinely effective control operation, it has been estimated by our military, would require some thousands of men with helicopters, bases and good communications, and a willingness to engage the VC/NVN. Apart from the problem of where these forces would come from, we see no prospect of the Russians and Poles agreeing, and the Indians have never been willing to press this issue. A somewhat enlarged ICC operation with a few more teams might conceivably be mounted, but would at most serve as a deterrent and inconvenience to the VC/NVN. Moreover, the procedures would have to be carefully designed to prevent a whitewash.
Finally, it must be expected that any discussion with Sihanouk would promptly be made public. This would be particularly important to bear in mind if the approach involved any express or implied change in our rules of engagement. It is our estimate that Sihanoukʼs only response to such an approach would be to publicize it, to appeal for Chinese assistance, and to invite international condemnation of the US for violating his borders.
At this stage the problem is not so much to get Sihanouk to act, but one of supporting his request to the ICC for more adequate patrolling and control of his frontier. The British have been urging this on the Russians with no success, and the Canadians and we have been trying to get the Indians to react favorably to Sihanoukʼs request.
Even if we could get the Indians to support and contribute more teams, the Russians or Poles would not contribute money or men, and would do everything they could to block any effective operations. The Indians have never shown any willingness to push positions in the Cambodian ICC in opposition to the Russians. (Attached is a memo on our efforts to reactivate the ICC.)2
Conceivably an emissary could be sent to Sihanouk to impress on him the seriousness with which we regard the crossing of his border and use of his territory, but he might well refuse to receive an emissary for such a mission. If he did he might well ask the emissary to inspect the borders himself or send others. Such inspections have so far produced scant evidence of incursion or use—the VC/NVN all vanish—and invariably produce a whitewash of the charges. (For an analysis of the extent of VC/NVN use of Cambodian territory, see Intelligence Memo No. 3183/65.)3
Conceivably we could send an emissary to indicate our support of Sihanoukʼs request for an enlargement of the ICC and make this a joint effort. The questions then arise:
Are we prepared to pay for it?
How do we overcome Polish sabotage of ICC operations and Indian reluctance to make them effective?
We would have to insist that the ICC could act by majority rule, in order to overcome the Polish veto.
We would have to insist that the ICC act on requests from the GVN and the US as well as Cambodia.
We would run the danger that an expanded ICC would not seriously inhibit the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese but would tie our hands.
The foregoing suggests that there is no prospect that a mission to Sihanouk would produce any useful result, and that our main effort has to be directed at the Indians.
If an emissary is sent, the names which come to mind are:
  • Senator Mansfield
  • Governor Harriman
  • Ambassador Bonsal
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Cambodia, Vol. IV, Memos, 10/65–9/67. Secret. Rostow sent this memorandum to Johnson on April 11 recommending that “we get Ruskʼs personal judgment on the matter” and noting that if the United States had to engage in cross-border operations into Cambodia, “our record would be better.” Johnson wrote the following note on Rostowʼs memorandum: “see me about this.”
  2. Not attached, but a copy can be found ibid., Memos to the President, W.W. Rostow, Vol. I, 4/1–30/66.
  3. For the summary, see Document 170.
  4. Berger signed for Bundy.