270. Paper Prepared by Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Bundy)1


Present Situation

We have not formally approached any government on this subject, but have indicated that we might consider such action to the Thai, British, [Page 582] Australians, and New Zealanders. This subject was raised by the Thai themselves, in conversations between Prime Minister Thanom and Ambassador Martin, reported in Bangkok 1971 and 1976.2 This conversation took place on Wednesday, May 20. The gist of the Thai position was that they did not feel deployment at this time was required as an additional deterrent to further Communist moves in Laos and indeed felt that it might actually “act as a magnet” for some ChiCom counter-move and in any case lead to increased pressures on Thailand.

As Ambassador Martin puts it: “Thai obviously have no appetite for inviting this by agreeing to casual attempts at deterrents until they can see clearly that we have made decision not just continue on present scale assistance to others to resist Communist aggression in Southeast Asia but also to use directly and overtly such small precise elements of force available to us to insure reversal Communist advances. Thai are not convinced we are really so engaged now and until they are they do not want to risk being left exposed if we decide to withdraw.”

On the other hand, the Thai have cooperated in digging up Thai pilots for the T–28ʼs and have agreed that if it became necessary Udorn could be used for the direct basing of T–28 operations. In essence, the Thai applaud what we have done to this point but clearly do not think it is enough to form a pattern into which deployment to Thailand would make sense.

None of the other governments with which we have explored the matter has expressed a strong view. However, the British did indicate some sympathy with additional military actions to stabilize the situation in Laos, and referred in this connection to the introduction of forces into Thailand. The New Zealanders have also made somewhat forthcoming noises.

Possible Objectives and Conditions of Such Action

In the light of the above Thai reaction, we would clearly have a considerable job of persuasion in any event to get them to go along, much less to make the affirmative request that would be a much better framework of action.

However, if we decide on overflights of North Vietnam and if we actually start to use US civilian pilots in Laos (for which we have given Unger authority) our case with the Thai that we are in fact acting seriously in other respects would be improved, even though we might not have decided to go still further against North Vietnam.

As to our objectives in introducing forces into Thailand, we have hitherto thought of such action primarily in terms of deterring further Communist moves in Laos. At the present time, there is no strong indication [Page 583] that such moves are imminent, although there is enough general military activity so that the possibility cannot be excluded. The Thai themselves do not believe the Communists are going to drive further, but have indicated that if additional actions were to take place, they would be prepared to go along with us on virtually anything.

However, even though this basis of action may not appear, there may be a second important objective that would in itself make the deployment of forces into Thailand important from a political standpoint. This is the fact that we are trying to forestall a Geneva Conference on Laos by making maximum use of Article 4 consultations in Vientiane. Souvannaʼs weak military position is one element making it difficult to conduct these consultations effectively. Visible military back-up on the Thai side of the border could be a major factor in stiffening Souvanna and enabling him to carry out these consultations in a worthwhile fashion. This would be particularly true when he and we come to the gut issue of whether the Pathet Lao/VM will accept any withdrawal from former neutralist positions in the Plaine des Jarres. The presence of US forces in Thailand would at least carry a threat of military action within Laos that might considerably improve the bargaining position in Laos.

In addition, US (and, of course SEATO) forces in Thailand are an essential military move preceding or accompanying any stronger actions against the north.


That we not make a firm proposal to the Thai but direct Ambassador Martin to discuss the matter further with them, pointing out:

Additional actions (e.g., reconnaissance over North Vietnam) that we may then be taking.
Discussing the necessity for steadying Souvanna during the consultation period and particularly the importance of visible force when it comes to the issue of some Communist withdrawal.

This proposition may have considerable appeal to the Thai, because they above all would not take kindly to the idea of any Geneva Conference on Laos, and it is clear that some success in the consultations will help enormously to cut down the pressures for such a conference.

  1. Source: Department of State, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Special Papers, April/June 1964. Secret. Bundy prepared this paper for an Executive Committee meeting of the National Security Council to be held on May 24. For a record of the discussion at the EXCOM meeting, during which the issue of troops to Thailand was not raised, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Document 172.
  2. Both dated May 21. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 LAOS)