291. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Bundy) to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (McNaughton)1

Dear John:

The Department of State strongly supports the proposal for add-ons to the Thailand military assistance program for FY 1965 as modified and approved by CINCPAC and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Department recommends that the proposal as revised be approved and that it be funded out of the Section 510 drawdown authority.

Thailand has cooperated with us so totally in the past few months that we tend at times to assume that cooperation as a constant, and to overlook the possibility of its diminution or withdrawal. The readiness of the Thai to allow us to launch air attacks on Communist targets in Viet-Nam and Laos from Thai bases is essential. Thai pilots and artillerymen in Laos and the logistic base Thailand provides for operations there are of critical importance. The clear-cut commitment to us by the most stable country in the area is an asset of immeasurable importance.

Of course the Thai took this commitment for reasons of their own self-interest. They have our assurance that we will hold the enormous Communist land forces at bay. But this alone is not enough. Nor will “political payoffs” do the job. The Thai, and especially the Thai military, must feel that their partnership with the U.S. is of a permanent nature, consonant with the clearly increasing threat. This means greater emphasis on counter-insurgency in face of stepped up Communist activities in the northeast. It means gearing up for possible implementation of the plans drawn up in “Project 22” which envisages possible joint US-Thai action in the Mekong Valley.2 It means continuing effort to improve Thai capability to carry out their SEATO missions. The goal is maintenance of an atmosphere of growing capability and growing confidence in that capability.

Such an atmosphere cannot be maintained while continuing to slash MAP levels for Thailand. On the contrary, this can hardly fail to undermine the confidence of our friends in the Thai military and give strength [Page 626] to the arguments of those in Thailand who favor a policy of greater independence from the United States, who claim Thailand is becoming a puppet of the U.S. We know there is this sentiment in Thailand and that its proponents are prepared to seize upon any indication that we are hesitant or faltering. Foreign Minister Thanat has called it an “underground movement” of neutralism. If this should prevail, our access to Thai bases would go, our position in Laos would quickly become untenable, our whole strategic position in Southeast Asia would begin to crumble.

In addition, there is a subtle problem of political psychology involved in our sustained approaches to the Thai to permit and to give us authority to conduct US actions, while at the same time we do nothing even of a modest character to improve the capabilities of the Thai themselves. This relates to such efforts as we are now making on the pipeline problem and various other US projects. I grant that they have not been doing all they should for themselves, but the way to get them to do it is surely to add a little bit of carrot and not to give them the idea that Uncle Sam is going to do the guts of the job.

In sum, we cannot hope to succeed in Thailand by trying to come as close as possible to the margin beyond which the influence of our friends in the Thai military begins to wane or their confidence begins to be shaken. They must feel and be able to demonstrate clearly and decisively that the policy of total involvement with the United States is the correct one.

Obviously there is no magic MAP level which would assure this. But there is, I believe, a general order of magnitude which, carefully programmed by our military, can provide the necessary assurances. The present proposal in our judgment meets this criterion. To do anything less, at a time when the pressures on the Thai are so great, at a time when we are making added demands on them almost daily, would in our judgment pose an unacceptable risk.

“Reprogramming” within the present low ceiling strikes us as dubious. Telling ourselves we will make up the differences in FY 66 is impractical—we have no reason to believe the funding problem will have eased by then. Borrowing from other country programs offers little prospect. The Section 510 route proposed above seems clearly to be the best alternative.


William P. Bundy 3
  1. Source: Department of State, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Misc. Chron. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Pickering and Moore. A note on the source text indicates that the original was hand delivered to McNaughton.
  2. Project 22 was the codename for joint U.S.-Thai military planning initiated in June 1964 and authorized by President Johnson on June 22, 1964 (hence its name). See Documents 275 and 277. Project 22 dealt specifically with the U.S.-Thai military planning for the contingency of a North Vietnamese/Pathet Lao drive towards the Mekong lowlands of Laos and the U.S. and Thai response to it.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.