112. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1
- Military Options in Laos
Attached is a coordinated State/Defense/CIA analysis of military actions which might be undertaken in support of the Royal Laotian Government.2
I find this a surprisingly negative and unhelpful paper. A number of possible actions are listed: initiation of B–52 reconnaissance and strike operations, improvement of Aerial Reconnaissance Direction Finding (ARDF) capability, deployment of two Thai infantry battalions [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], provision of additional Thai air support of Laos, provision of Thai artillery support, provision of additional equipment to Laotian forces, and increasing Lao salaries and good allowances. However, all of the major moves are in effect ruled out, since the “cons” are listed in such a way as to outweigh the “pros,” as follows:
- —B–52 operations might result in further NVA escalation, and diplomatic complexities. In addition, there is a lack of suitable targets, and an excessive risk factor.
- —Introduction of two Thai infantry battalions would provide a pretext for North Vietnamese escalation which Thai resources would be inadequate to meet. US air and logistical support would also be required.
- —Additional Thai air support might tip the Thai hand if F–5’s or F–86’s were used, and the Thai allegedly would be unwilling to turn over their T–28’s to the Lao unless higher-performance aircraft were provided them in return. The addition of these T–28’s would not increase the total air effort in Laos.
- —Provision of Thai artillery support in battery strength would not tactically be feasible and would invite NVA counteraction; anything less would be militarily unsound and would be opposed by the Thai.
What is left is provision of additional equipment to the Laotian forces, and increasing Lao salaries and food allowances. Even these [Page 354]measures are said to cause problems due to the need to cut into US programs elsewhere and the additional budgetary and foreign exchange expenditures which would be entailed.
The analysis ends with these words:
“However, we would recommend that serious consideration be given to the feasibility of introducing additional modern equipment, increasing the Royal Lao tactical air capability, raising salaries and food allowances, and providing greater ARDF support in Northern Laos.”
Cutting away the bureaucratese, this recommendation would provide for a limited military response to the critical situation in Laos. Psychologically, though, it hardly seems sufficiently tangible or responsive to the situation to please either the Thai or the Lao. It is even somewhat contradictory—in knocking down the possibility of turning over Thai T–28’s to the Lao, it was alleged that total Laotian air effort would not be increased, and in fact might be decreased, through use of lesser skilled Laotian crews; and yet a stepped-up Lao tactical air capability is called for. I suspect that what is really at work here is a DOD reluctance to disrupt programs which are under way in Vietnam and other parts of the world.
A. Immediate Action
- —Provide M–16s. Souvanna has again requested them and has underlined the favorable impact on morale which this step would have at this time.
- —Provide T–28s for the Lao by shifting them from the Thai and then replacing the Thai losses. [2 lines of source text not declassified] Check the number of qualified Lao pilots and see whether immediate input of more trainees is necessary. If so, initiate an expanded training program in Thailand or elsewhere.
- —Ascertain whether more C–47 and C–130 gunships could usefully be deployed. They have shown themselves a great morale factor for the Lao, and should be immediately introduced if they would bring good results. Provide more fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
- —See whether logistic and ammunition support to Lao army is adequate and effect improvements if not. If more pay and allowances would make the Lao fight better, this, too, should be provided.
- —Increase artillery support for key points in Laos. Reintroduce a Thai battery or single pieces where they would be able to provide training and also have military value, or institute immediate training for the Lao and prepare to turn over 105’s—whichever is better tactically, or even a mix of all. Some artillery support is obviously better than no artillery support, as is now the case.
- —Implement better reconnaissance capability and ARDF support on lines of communication into Northern Laos, if lack of information is a limiting factor in our ability to cope. (This may not be so important, with Meo spotters in much of the area.)
- —Direct the Department of Defense to undertake immediately a program to accomplish the above.3
B. Contingency Planning
The next crisis may come during the next dry season starting about November, or perhaps even earlier. If the Communists push hard to bring pressure on Souvanna Phouma, they may endanger the political balance in Vientiane.4 Or they may force Souvanna into a compromise which leaves our interests out (even recognizing our leverage over Souvanna). In order to avoid a recurrence of slow bureaucratic response to a need for action in Laos, we should:
- —Prepare a plan of retaliation for immediate execution if the Communists attack another Lao keypoint, e.g. B–52 anti-personnel raids on the Plaine de Jarres.
- —Orchestrate now a publicity campaign concerning Communist
pressures in Laos. This would:
- raise Communist nerves as to what we have in mind;
- prepare public opinion in the US if we have to do something else in Laos (e.g. B–52’s) and provide some protection against the charge of escalation.
- —Do a contingency paper as to what our behavior will be if the
Communists upset the present fragile stability in Laos.
- At what point do we decide that we no longer have any interest in preservation of the 1962 agreement?
- How can we keep from reaching that point? i.e. are there means within our current level of military involvement to persuade the Communists that it is too dangerous to upset the balance? Can we forewarn [Page 356]the Communists—possibly through the co-Chairmen and the ICC— that further aggression of the Muong Soui type will require us to take another look at the Geneva Accords and the question whether the Communists have not vitiated them?
- What do we do if the point is reached? Do we move into the Panhandle and deprive the Communists of the benefit which they principally sought? Do we encourage the Thai to move into areas of critical importance to them [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] if the Souvanna Government falls? Do we encourage them to do so directly, or to use the enclave for a Lao Government-in-half-exile? How much backing do we provide?
Or do we simply extract what propaganda advantage we can, via the UN and elsewhere?5
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1319, Unfiled Material, 1969, 3 of 19. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusive; Eyes Only. Sent for action.↩
- Dated August 19 and sent under Laird’s signature; attached but not printed.↩
- Nixon initialed the approve option.↩
- In a September 2 briefing memorandum to Nixon, Kissinger described the prospects for a North Vietnamese offensive in Laos: “The Communists appear to have contained the Royal Lao Government offensive in the Plaine des Jarres area, but have not counterattacked in significant force. Meanwhile, Ambassador Godley in conversations with Souvanna raised the problem of containing the anticipated Communist counter offensive. He started with the assumption that the Communists can take the offensive if Hanoi chooses to devote sufficient resources to the job. He recommended that Souvanna should talk with Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese representatives, to reassure them that he does not seek a military solution and that he does not intend to deny the Pathet Lao a role in Laos.” Nixon wrote the following marginal comments: “(My God!)” and “K—we must force them to divert resources to Laos.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 10, President’s Daily Briefs)↩
- Nixon initialed the approve option.↩