336. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Thailand 1

83260. For Ambassador from Secretary. SOFA Agreement.

I have reviewed this problem in the light of all the recent exchanges of messages, and have reached the clear conclusion that we should not put forward a draft agreement on this subject with Thailand that is fully reciprocal in the sense that it applies to Thai forces in the US or to anything other than US forces in Thailand. At the same time, we are prepared to put forward significant wording changes along the lines of some of your recent recommendations—for example specifically the use of the terms “sending state” and “receiving state” throughout the agreement—designed to give the agreement the appearance of reciprocity to the maximum possible degre.
Our basic problem with a SOFA that is reciprocal in substance is that such an agreement would have to be placed before the Senate for its advice and consent. Three elements would then be involved.
The agreement would be inconsistent with the entire previous pattern of SOFA agreements worldwide, in which they have been placed on a reciprocal basis solely where substantial forces of the other government would be present in the US on a continuing or recurrent basis. This aspect alone would almost certainly cause the Senate to question and quite possibly to reject the agreement.
In explaining why we had accorded the Thai a reciprocal agreement, we could hardly refrain from mentioning specific sensitivities on their part for which members of the Senate would have little or no sympathy. Arguments about the “multilateral” nature of our commitment in Thailand and about the precise legal ownership of the bases—whether or not persuasive to us—would have little or no effect on the views of these Senators, who are by no means limited to those habitually regarded as unfriendly to our Thai policy.
Quite possibly criticism of the agreement in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—which would have to be the one considering it—would expand into a Floor debate most damaging to US and RTG interests.
Moreover, all of our other SOFA agreements in Asia, which are now non-reciprocal, would immediately be reopened by the several governments, with almost unpredictable complications and results. In several of these cases, the matter might well become a political football, with really serious damage to the position of important governments. I can myself see no basis on which any of these governments would not feel that they had at least as strong a claim as the Thai to a reciprocal agreement.
I recognize that only 2a and 3 of the above arguments can readily be used with Thanat and other Thai. But they could be well amplified by one further factor, that a requirement of Senate ratification, in the nature of the upcoming Congress and its heavy load of business, would almost certainly mean that ratification and the coming into force of the agreement would be delayed until late next summer even if it could be achieved. I would go further and give at least a 50–50 bet that it simply would not reach the Floor or would be lost in some last-minute shuffle, as happened this year with the Thai tax treaty.
This position is my considered judgment. It could be changed only in the most extraordinary circumstances, which I believe you should be able to avoid. In the accompanying cable giving you textual changes in the current draft, the State and DOD staffs have gone as far as we now think we can. We would be prepared to consider further changes or adaptations, but categorically subject to the basic position stated earlier.
The draft you are hereby authorized to table (State 83098)2 will speak for itself, and I of course leave to you at what stage to make it clear to the Thai why we cannot accept a truly reciprocal agreement. However, I would see some advantage in facing the issue frontally at the outset, perhaps privately with Thanat.
I see one other problem with possible serious policy implications that may confront you in the course of this negotiation. This relates to descriptions of the nature and basis of our force presence in Thailand. On the one hand, the Thai from a political standpoint may see advantage in language indicating that the present US force presence in Thailand is temporary in nature. On the other hand, if this were baldly stated it might cause Thanat personally, and perhaps some elements in Thai political public opinion, to argue that we were excluding the possibility of US [Page 745] forces entering Thailand at some point under the SEATO Treaty obligations specifically as they relate to armed attack involving Thailand itself, or as in 1962 to meet a threat to Laos and hence a threat to Thailand. We do not here see the answer on this point, and I think it is one on which you will wish to sound Thanat out with some care. However, you must also recognize that any language referring to possible introduction of US forces at some future date will be scrutinized with the utmost care in the Congress here to see whether it involves any change in our Treaty commitment. Thus, if your soundings should indicate a clear and strong Thai desire that references to the presence of US forces be in the direction of the second alternative stated at the outset of this paragraph, you should in no circumstances table any language to cover this point without precise and full clearance here.
A further complicating element is that, if any situation should ever arise where our forces were engaged in actual combat on Thai soil, the SOFA agreement would probably be suspended in any event. In other words, we would probably be dealing under the second alternative with a preventive deployment. The complications on this aspect are obviously serious and difficult to foresee.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 15–3 THAI–US. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Bundy, cleared in substance by William E. Lang, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, and approved by Rusk.
  2. Telegram 83098 to Bangkok, November 10, contained revisions to the Embassyʼs draft SOFA and approval to table it once the revisions were made. (Ibid.)