341. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rusk1
- Thailand: Getting Concurrence for B–52 Operations and a Formal Understanding on Occupancy of U.S. Bases and Land Costs
Mr. McNaughton and I have reviewed these problems in detail with Ambassador Martin. We have agreed on two basic recommendations, more fully spelled out in the discussion below:
- That we instruct Ambassador Martin to seek Thai concurrence for B–52 operations from U Tapao at once, with the package defined below.
- That we await the outcome of this discussion before instructing Ambassador Martin to take up the question of a formal agreement on base occupancy and an undertaking by the Thai to handle land costs. As the discussion below indicates, this problem is inherently more complicated and difficult. We outline below possible avenues of approach, with an indicated course of action subject to judgment of the climate at the time.
Mr. McNaughton is presenting these recommendations separately and concurrently to Secretary McNamara.
I. Concurrence in U Tapao Operations
In December, Ambassador Martin believed that this could be obtained without any significant undertakings on our part. Unfortunately, subsequent publicity, which the Thai interpreted as a virtual U.S. decision assuming Thai concurrence which of course was not yet given, disturbed the atmosphere. Moreover, our request was finally submitted in late January on a contingency basis, which led the Thai to feel there was plenty of time to explore the issue. Hence, they came forward with a series of general requests, largely in the MAP area.
We believe we must now go in with a firm request to begin B–52 operations from U Tapao.
Ambassador Martin believes that a decision to do that and to give him authority described below and incorporated in a telegram of instruction attached2 would put us in a good posture for seeking Thai concurrence in B–52 operations from U Tapao. Essentially, he would be authorized to convey to the Thai some selected delivery times for already approved FY 1967 MAP items, to give general assurances for air defense, and to reveal to the Thai certain items already tentatively approved in the FY 1968 program. In addition, he would be authorized to indicate to the Thai that our FY 1968 MAP planning level stood at $60 million, subject to the congressional process in the terms described below. In essence, we would not be making any undertakings to the Thai that go beyond what we already propose to do under the FY 1967 MAP program and the hard core of the FY 1968 program; we would be revealing to the Thai earlier than usual elements of the 1968 program, and this is the crucial timing element.
Proposed Responses to Thai Requests
- Prompt Delivery of MAP Items—Ambassador Martin believes that it is essential that we do everything possible to ensure prompt delivery of key items in the FY 1967 program. This applies particularly to anti-aircraft guns, [Page 756] and he will work with Mr. Steadman to identify other categories, so that we can get good reading of what the possibilities are. In the proposed package for Ambassador Martinʼs use, the delivery date would be specified for the anti-aircraft weapons. Other delivery dates could probably be left to be handled through normal military assistance channels, but rapidly and concurrently with the Ambassadorʼs approach.
- Air Defense—The Thai express a general need for some assurance in this area, although their military authorities recognize that North Vietnamese air capabilities in fact constitute no present threat to Bangkok. Unfortunately, the Thai are aware of certain rather grandiose military plans worked out by General Stilwell in the fall of 1965 (in the Ambassadorʼs absence), which included substantial numbers of U.S. Hawk deployments and even Nike Hercules. The Ambassador has walked this one back as hard as possible with the Thai, and believes they clearly understand that there is no present threat. Nonetheless, he believes it would be of great assistance if he were authorized to tell the Thai that we would keep the air threat under continuing review, that there were available air defense units in U.S. reserve forces, and that we would consider the deployment of such units to Thailand if the need ever arose.
- Exact Statement of the FY 1968 $60 million MAP Planning Level—It is of course recognized that any statement on this subject would have to be subject to the appropriation process, and the Thai understand this. Ambassador Martin believes, however, that it would be of great importance to be able to say to the Thai that this was a firm plan unless there were a really disastrous cut in the DOD or MAP appropriations. All of us feel, as a practical matter, that unless there is such a disastrous cut, we would in fact wish to give Thailand a priority that would bring it up to that level.
- Additional FY 1968 Item—The attached instruction includes authority to disclose plans for helicopter and light aircraft deliveries in the FY 1968 program. In addition, Ambassador Martin believes it would be of great importance to be able to convey one additional item in the FY 1968 program. This item, already in the tentatively outlined program, calls for $.6 million for a logistic support facility in Korat. This is a very small item, and carries no future burdens or implications. Mr. McNaughton believes that it could be properly included.
- U.S. Public Statements—This is a more general matter, but Ambassador Martin has received repeated urging by the Thai that top U.S. officials say more in public about the Thai contribution and its importance. This is something we all agree should be done. In terms of what he is authorized to say, it would amount to no more than an assurance that we would seek appropriate occasions to do just this, taking advantage of the Thai relaxation of restrictions on news reporting.
- Helicopters—We discussed this thoroughly with Ambassador Martin. In response to our question, he stated his belief that it would help the atmosphere for the request to begin B–52 operations, but would not be essential, to return to Thailand four of the helicopters withdrawn in January and to authorize use of U.S. helicopters for the kinds of training missions envisaged in the original assignment of the 606th ACS to Thailand. He points out that deployment of the four helicopters had in fact been approved prior to, and apart from, subsequent discussions on the loan of the U.S. helicopters during 1966. On this basis, Ambassador Martin believes that the authority suggested would in fact be enormously helpful to the over-all Thai atmosphere. However, he notes that in August 1966 he carried out our instructions to inform the Thai that all the 25 helicopters then loaned would be withdrawn in January 1967, and he notes that he himself has nailed this down publicly in Thailand in January. Thus, while there has been some ill feeling among the Thai on this issue, he concludes that it is not an essential element in any package we may now present.
In sum, the package we recommend would cover points 1–5 above. It does not include the return of the four helicopters or any authorization to employ U.S. helicopters for Thai missions.
II. Formal Agreement for Base Occupancy and Base Land Costs
Going back to 1962, and at an accelerated pace from 1965 onward, we have operated—with full State and DOD concurrence—on the basis of informal oral acceptance by the Thai of our occupancy of bases in Thailand. Similarly, on the land question, we have accepted—again with full concurrence in both Departments—a practice under which the Thai furnished the land where it is already government-owned, but the U.S. pays the cost of land acquisition otherwise.
As a matter of practical fact, U.S. land acquisition for bases was never a major factor in construction costs in Thailand. Further, it now appears to be virtually at an end in terms of any needs presently foreseeable.
In Thailand, the practical fact is that the Thai view their whole base structure as Thai bases available for the use of SEATO members acting in conformity with their SEATO obligations. The Australians and British, for example, occupy Thai bases without formal understandings. In practice, the present arrangements are ideal; we have never had difficulty in getting Thai agreement to our proposed uses, while the lack of any formal understanding has made it equally possible for us to move or withdraw forces without going through further consultations with the Thai.
Nonetheless, the arrangements in Thailand have been less formal than the “life of NATO” agreements in force in Europe and the “term of [Page 758] years” arrangements in some other countries. A more formal arrangement with the Thai would probably not strengthen our tenure of the bases in fact, since this ultimately depends on basic Thai policy and on Thai belief in U.S. policy.
However, the lack of formal arrangements has now become a specific, and we gather acute, problem in Congress. Secretary McNamara and General Wheeler have been attacked on the subject in recent weeks by certain Members of Congress generally critical of our policies in the area, and these Congressmen have been using the issue against us. In view of this congressional factor, there is no doubt that it would be desirable to work out formal arrangements, and we have examined with care how this might be handled.
Possible Form of Understanding and Its Difficulties
The kind of understanding we might seek would be in essence a short piece of paper along the following lines:
“The Government of Thailand confirms that the facilities and areas in Thailand currently used by U.S. forces, as well as such additional facilities and areas as may be agreed, will be available to those forces so long as necessary as both parties carry out their responsibilities and obligations under SEATO.”
Such a formula is in effect comparable to the “life of NATO” formula in use in Europe. Its difficulty, in the Thai case, arises from the attitude of Thanat in particular. We have all experienced his intense feeling that we make our SEATO obligation more binding or even bilateral. If we open up this issue with him, it is almost certain in Ambassador Martinʼs judgment that he will press at the very least for a formal reaffirmation of our SEATO obligation in the same document. While we could give him this, we definitely could not go any further.
A second difficulty that might arise would be Thai insistence that, even as we ask their concurrence for the introduction of our forces, so must we also seek their concurrence for the withdrawal of forces from Thailand. The logic is clear, and the practical impossibility of such an undertaking equally so.
Hence, we all agree that any formula that met the need for a formal undertaking might well run into a hornetʼs nest. It would at the very least put additional temporary strain on our relations with Thailand and would take very careful handling. Hence, our basic recommendation is that the issue be deferred in any event until after we have handled the Thai concurrence, which is a matter of operational necessity.
Possible Course of Action
In the light of this analysis, we see three possible courses of action that might be followed once we have obtained the U Tapao concurrence [Page 759] and in the light of further analysis and an assessment of the climate at the time.
- We might go back to the Hill and explain frankly that we believe a formal understanding is undesirable since it would almost certainly lead to pressures to call for Thai concurrence on withdrawal of our forces. However we decide to move, if the heat is great, mention of these factors should be made in key quarters to explain why we are not able to act at once.
- We might try to handle the matter in the context of the pending SOFA negotiations. The situation here is that we have tabled Article 10 of the basic SOFA, which would cover land costs, and we have prepared an agreed minute to this article that would cover base occupancy in very downright and possibly unacceptable terms going beyond the form of agreement set forth above. We could theoretically proceed to raise this issue and try to push it to conclusion as part of the SOFA. However, we all agree that it is basically in our interest that the SOFA negotiations be allowed to continue in their present idle state. Hence, we believe that in any circumstances this theoretical option should not be pursued.
- A separate formal document. This would be along the lines set forth above, but presented separately from the SOFA negotiations. Its major difficulties are made clear above. In addition, we cannot exclude the possibility that it would in fact re-kindle the dormant SOFA negotiations which we wish to see remain dormant. However, it seems to us clear that—if we decide the congressional need is overriding—this is the way to move. If Thanat does insist on our strengthening our SEATO obligation, or on Thai concurrence for withdrawal of our forces, we see no alternative to our standing firm and rejecting these demands even if it means we fail to get the piece of paper.
In sum, our basic recommendation is that we hold on this issue until we have obtained the concurrence on U Tapao, work on the Hill as effectively as we can, and make up our minds in the two weeks-one month it may take to handle the U Tapao matter. If we then feel we have to act, option c seems the right approach.
In assessing the over-all Thai attitude, it is important to note the Thai decision of late December to send combat forces to Vietnam. Present indications are that the Thai will send a force of 2500 men rather than the 1100 men originally envisaged. This action will require only U.S. equipment support such as was given for the first Korean division, without any additional quid pro quo. It of course represents a major forward step in Thai thinking, and does lie beneath their feeling that they should have some degree of assurance from us as they undertake the U Tapao base agreement. We must reckon that, as a practical matter, both the Thai contribution [Page 760] of forces and the U Tapao agreement are already exposing, and will increasingly expose, the Thai to major propaganda attack by the Communist nations. Hence, their feeling about some degree of advance assurance of future plans is not in the circumstances unreasonable.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 15 THAI–US. Secret. Drafted by Bundy.↩
- Attached, but not printed.↩
- Rusk approved the draft telegram, which was sent to Bangkok as 145114, February 27. (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 15 THAI–US)↩
- Rusk initialed his approval on February 27. In a February 10 letter to Rusk, McNamara suggested that it was important to obtain more formal arrangements than then existed. McNamara added the following handwritten postscript: “I do not believe we can continue to buy Thai land for our bases. Nor can we continue to operate without written ʼoccupancyʼ agreements.” (Ibid.)↩