66. Circular Airgram From the Department of State to Certain Diplomatic and Other Posts1


  • Assessment of SEATO Council Meeting, London, May 3–5, 1965

Summary. At the SEATO Council Meeting the US received firm support for its Viet-Nam policy from five other individual members of SEATO (Thailand, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and the UK). Two individual members refused to endorse US policy—France openly and pointedly and Pakistan in an ambiguous manner. Because of UK [Page 167] opposition SEATO as an entity did not take any action on the Viet-Nam crisis, either collectively as an organization or through its individual members acting collectively under the Treaty, pursuant to their treaty obligations. This latter course is available, however, whenever the US and any of the other members care to use it.

SEATO moved to new ground by specific mention in the communiqué2 of Indonesiaʼs confrontation with Malaysia. Although within the Treaty Area, this is the first time that a non-SEATO or non-protocol state or a non-Communist threat has been dealt with directly in a Council communiqué. The reason in this instance was the fairly heavy involvement of three SEATO member nations (UK, Australia, New Zealand) in this conflict.

Viet-Nam. The US was able to obtain a strong section in the communiqué on Viet-Nam. As a tactic for obtaining support, particularly from the UK, this yearʼs communiqué reiterated several points made in the 1964 Council communiqué at Manila.3 The most important of these was that the Council members had agreed at Manila to take steps to assist Viet-Nam “in fulfillment of their obligations under the Treaty,” which had represented specific association of the SEATO Treaty with the Viet-Nam conflict insofar as individual action by members was concerned. This yearʼs communiqué was stronger in some respects than last yearʼs, the most important of these being the commitment of member governments to increase their assistance to South Viet-Nam and the specific statement that “resolute defensive action” should be continued until Communist aggression is ended. With these additions the Viet-Nam section appears to have made a good impression on the press.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Bhutto took the line in his first closed session address that the conflict in Viet-Nam represents a “national awakening” of the people against outside domination. This was, of course, a clear adoption by Bhutto of the Communist line on Viet-Nam. He subsequently receded quite considerably from his initial position on Viet-Nam, and agreed to communiqué language which left Pakistanʼs position fuzzy and open to varying public interpretations. An approach at a critical stage by a US representative to a Pakistani representative asking whether it was really worth it to Pakistan to oppose the US on what is now the most important issue confronting the US was doubtless a major element in moderating Bhuttoʼs position.

New ground was plowed in terms of the Councilʼs treatment of the Vietnamese observer. For the first time in Council history he was invited to speak to the Council, to sit at the table with the Ministers during all of [Page 168] the closed sessions, and given the opportunity to reply to the statement by the Pakistani delegate. We did not press our earlier effort to have him address the opening public session (where he sat in the audience), but, as it turned out, this did not particularly matter in view of his decision to circulate to the press his statement at closed session and the opportunity afforded the US Delegation at background press briefings to call the attention of the press to the treatment of the Vietnamese observer. Thanat was the chief instrument in seeing that the Vietnamese observer was permitted to remain throughout the closed sessions.

We were also unsuccessful in our attempt to have those members of SEATO supporting us in Viet-Nam agree to label their activities as collective action under SEATO in response to a request by the GVN. The UK stood adamantly against this proposal, probably mainly because of the precarious domestic position of the Wilson Government. Thus SEATO has still never, in a collective sense, been identified or associated clearly and unequivocally with any crisis in the area that it covers.

Laos. For the first time in a Council communiqué, SEATO specifically stated its support for Prime Minister Souvannaʼs efforts to preserve the sovereignty, territorial integrity and neutrality of Laos.

Thailand. We achieved what we wanted with respect to a strong section on Thailand in the communiqué. The Thai Delegation was very happy with the language and with the way the question was handled. Pakistan originally proposed bland, noncommittal language on Thailand, but eventually agreed to our language even though it specifically cites statements by the Chinese Communist Foreign Minister about Thailand as a guerrilla target.

Malaysia. The US was unable to hold its original intention to prevent any mention of Indonesiaʼs confrontation of Malaysia in the communiqué. The UK, backed by Australia and New Zealand, considered this so important in view of the extent of its commitment in this conflict that we felt it necessary to go along. We sought to limit repercussions on US interests in Indonesia by making it clear that the language about the provision of military forces and other aid in defense of Malaysia pertained to actions by the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Pakistan-India. Pakistan originally proposed language on Indian “aggression”, but later withdrew it, evidently being persuaded that inclusion might upset talks in another forum aimed toward a settlement of the Rann of Kutch dispute.

Legally, of course, Pakistan has a clearer case for demanding SEATO consultation on its dispute with India than the UK does with respect to Malaysia. The fact that the Council agreed to inclusion of Malaysia in the communiqué means that future efforts by SEATO members to bring up non-Communist threats in various SEATO bodies will probably have to be met by the proposal that such threats can be discussed in the political [Page 169] bodies (the Council and the Council Representatives), but should not be discussed in other technical bodies of SEATO.

Cambodia. Sihanoukʼs communication requesting disassociaton of Cambodia from its protocol status under the Treaty was treated along the lines that we had proposed—by drawing Sihanoukʼs attention to the Treaty provision that SEATO will act in the protocol states only at their invitation or with their consent. This method of handling Sihanoukʼs message went beyond Thanatʼs position since he favored no reply at all to such an insulting letter, but did not go as far as the UK would have liked since it was concerned with the possible effect of a reply on Sihanoukʼs attitude toward a Geneva Conference on Cambodia.

Press Attention. The Council Meeting received moderate coverage in the US, but fairly slim coverage in the UK. As usual the press manifested greater interest in what might be worked up into dramatic adverse news: Pakistanʼs attitude and to a lesser extent Franceʼs position,4 though the latter had already been pretty well played out in the press before the meeting. There was unfortunately little or no coverage of some of the points important to the US, such as support of the US in Viet-Nam by those allies most directly concerned and Thanatʼs insistent view that the Viet-Nam conflict is not a white manʼs war, but resistance of aggression similar to that of Hitlerʼs in the 1930ʼs.

Comments on Delegations

Australia. Hasluck was strong, vigorous, direct, and almost blunt. He showed no equivocation on any important issue.
New Zealand. Eyre was not very effective and did not contribute extensively to the meeting. His statements showed a tendency towards caution.
United Kingdom. Stewart was effective as Chairman, skilled as a speaker and active in promoting UK interests. He was cooperative with the US, but only up to a degree. The limitations on his cooperation evidently stemmed from the domestic political situation in the UK and the primacy the UK attaches to the Cambodia Conference and to its possible role, as Geneva Co-Chairman, in any future Viet-Nam discussions. The UKʼs actions on Malaysia have posed future problems to SEATO as to how to ward off consideration of a whole series of non-Communist threats.
Thailand. Thanat was quietly effective and a pillar of strength. His was an Asian voice willing to speak up.
Philippines. Unfortunately Cayco proved to be a fairly weak delegate. When he was absent, General Santos who replaced him in the Filipino chair was ineffectual. Madame Soriano proved helpful in the corridors.
Pakistan. Bhutto was smooth, intelligent and arrogant. He was obviously out for what would enhance Bhutto and Pakistan politically—in that order. His actions were understandable to a degree in balance of power terms, but he had to be reminded from time to time of other factors to be considered in drawing this balance.

France. Clarac, French Ambassador to Thailand, intervened only twice—to state Franceʼs basic position at the Council Meeting at the beginning of the closed sessions and to insert the French dissenting paragraph to the communiqué.

Claracʼs conduct thus fitted our tactical purposes precisely, and we lost nothing politically since French views are already well known on Viet-Nam.

Viet-Nam. Vu Van Mau, GVN Ambassador to the UK, played his role of observer discreetly and well. He mixed with others in the corridors and did not overplay his hand at the Council table. He showed good common sense and judgment.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, SEATO 3. Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Mendenhall; cleared in draft with Salans, Martin, Special Assistant Frank A. Sieverts of P, and with Admiral Blouin of DOD/ISA; and approved by Bundy. Sent to Bangkok, Canberra, Djakarta, Karachi, Kuala Lumpur, London, Manila, New Delhi, Paris, Saigon, Vientiane, Wellington, and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. The text of the communiqué is in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1965, pp. 709–712.
  3. For text, see ibid., 1964, pp. 835–839.
  4. On May 28 France announced that it was withdrawing its delegation to the military staff of SEATO. The announcement indicated that Franceʼs civilian representation to SEATO would not be affected, and that France would continue as a member of SEATO. (New York Times, May 29, 1965)