284. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara1



  • Coups dʼEtat in Thailand (C)
Recent reports from Bangkok indicate that we cannot rule out the possibility that a coup dʼetat might be directed against the Thanom government in Thailand. While coups have been a means of political change in Thailand since 1932, such an occurrence, in light of the present Southeast Asia situation, could create serious political problems and be most damaging to the US military posture in that area.
In view of the above, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have examined the military implications for the United States of a coup in Thailand, together with alternative US courses of action with respect thereto.
A principal US objective for Thailand is to insure that it remains a stable nation, allied to the United States, and available as a forward base for the projection of US power into Southeast Asia. Militarily, Thailand is the only secure mainland base for US operations in that area at this time. We have extensive operating rights and base facilities available for our [Page 610] use in Thailand; these operating rights are for the most part informal and without the basis of a signed agreement. Their value is underlined by our operations in Laos and the recent deployments subsequent to Pierce Arrow.
The character of a Thai Government which might come into being as a result of a coup will probably be pro-United States unless the US position in Southeast Asia erodes seriously. In the latter event, we can expect the Thais to accommodate themselves to whatever new power situation exists in the area. Regardless of what the nature of the coup may be, the United States should take steps to insure continuance of the status quo ante insofar as US military forces and operations are concerned.
From their examination, the Joint Chiefs of Staff conclude that.
An anticommunist, pro-United States, cooperative, and stable Thailand is critical to maintenance of the US military posture in Southeast Asia.
The United States should strengthen and maintain the Thai Government to the above end.
If warned in advance, the United States should seek to avert an impending coup by appropriate actions.
If a pro-Western coup does take place, immediate steps should be taken by the United States to insure reaffirmation of US military operating rights in Thailand and continued Thai military cooperation and support.
If a neutralist or procommunist coup takes place, the United States should attempt to reinstate the Government or an acceptable substitute by supporting it or any prospective counter-coup group which would lead to that end. Where such measures fail against a procommunist coup, the United States should be prepared to take appropriate military action to protect specific US security interests in the area and/or to restore a pro-US Thai Government to power.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that:2
The above stated conclusions be used in formulating US policy with respect to any coup contingencies in Thailand.
The memorandum contained in the Appendix hereto be forwarded to the Secretary of State.3
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 69 A 7425, Thailand 381. Secret.
  2. Assistant Secretary of Defense McNaughton sent this memorandum to McNamara, October 3, recommending that he forward the views of the JCS to the Secretary of State. McNamara wrote the following note on the McNaughton memorandum: “Not necessary. RM.”
  3. The memorandum for Rusk, which was substantially the same as the memorandum to McNamara, is attached, but not printed.