74. Memorandum From Donald W. Ropa of the National Security Council Staff to the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • SEATO and Economic Development

SEATO Secretary General Vargas sees an urgent need for SEATO to expand its role in economic and social development. He cites Article III of the Manila Treaty2 calling for economic development measures, believes that initiatives in this direction to date have been inadequate and is asking for a clear decision from the Council meeting in Canberra next week whether he should press ahead with expanded activities.

The State and AID regionalists cannot agree on how we should respond to Vargas. Bill Bundy has forwarded their separate proposals (attached) to Secretary Rusk for policy decision without his own recommendation.3

This boils down to how narrowly to construe SEATOʼs short term future role in non-military project activity, but it also affects SEATOʼs raison dʼêtre for the foreseeable future and its relationship to other fresh Asian initiatives for regional cooperation.

Bob Barnett and the AID people believe that any new projects should clearly be security oriented. Others at State believe this is too narrow a construction, that non-security oriented projects of regional interest or which are multilaterally beneficial should also be encouraged.

At the inception of the Manila Treaty the objective of fostering economic cooperation in the Treaty area (Article III) made eminent good sense, [Page 189] since other regional cooperative initiatives were then lacking. Now, however, they are not, as a result of the momentum generated in the Far East by the Presidentʼs Johns Hopkins speech. It we press too far in economic development under SEATO auspices we may complicate what we hope to see evolve under ASA, ASPAC, the Asian Development Bank, etc., and further distract SEATO from what should be its primary security and counter-subversion concerns.

The best compromise, and one that considers our overall objectives in the region, might be to encourage only those SEATO development projects that either relate directly to security or can be accomplished better under SEATO than other auspices after considering available alternatives. The Barnett proposed response (Alternative 2 in the attached) comes closer to this.

SEATO, however, needs a boost if it is to play its primary role in security and counter-subversion. That boost could be our positive encouragement at Canberra of a more vigorous counter-subversion program to assist Treaty area states threatened with incipient Communist insurgency. The half-million dollars available as a concrete U.S. gesture could lay the foundation for a SEATO counter-subversion center where methods can be distilled and multilateral counter-subversion assistance programmed against specific threats of incipient insurgency. Neither Alternative 1 or 2 in the attached adequately copes with this.

The added advantage of giving SEATO this boost is that it would be responsive to Vargasʼ other main concern for SEATOʼs future; and both the Thais and Filipinos will be seeking an explicit U.S. gesture at Canberra which gives some substance to SEATO beyond its use to legitimize our effort in Vietnam.

State has come down to the wire the day before Rusk leaves for Canberra without adequately coming to agreement. It might be useful for you to contact Rusk and/or Bundy to review the bidding as set forth above.

Don Ropa
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, SEATO. Confidential.
  2. Text in American Foreign Policy, Basic Documents, 1950–1955, pp. 912–915.
  3. See Document 73.