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127. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

SUBJECT

  • Planning for Laos and the Sino-Soviet Hostilities Paper (Revision of September 25, 1969)

PARTICIPATION

  • Henry A. Kissinger, Chairman
  • State
  • Marshall Green
  • William Cargo
  • Defense
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • CIA
  • Thomas H. Karamessines
  • JCS
  • Vice Admiral Nels C. Johnson
  • NSC Staff
  • John Holdridge
  • William G. Hyland
  • Colonel Robert M. Behr
[Page 414]

Summary of Decisions

1.
Two papers will be developed on Laos:
a.
The WSAG will produce on a priority basis a short-term contingency plan to deal with an anticipated Communist offensive in Laos.
b.
The appropriate NSC/IG will produce a report which develops a longer term view of where the U.S. wishes to go in Laos. (This paper can be delayed for a few weeks.)
3.
The WSAG will review the short-term contingency plan before October 5, 1969.

The meeting began at 5:23 P.M. Kissinger outlined the purpose of the meeting. The President, he said, is restive about the situation in Laos and is seeking ideas on how to stabilize the situation. What occurs in Laos has a direct bearing on the negotiations in Paris and the security of Thailand. A collapse of the situation in Laos will present him with serious problems—roughly parallel to a similar situation were it to develop in Thailand but without a diplomatic agreement to underpin a U.S. response. The solutions proposed to date have not been particularly useful. Moreover, within the Government there has arisen a reluctance to deal with the problem. While this reluctance may be understandable, it does not provide the President meaningful alternative courses of action.

As a consequence of recent NVN troop movements into Laos and the imminence of the dry season, a short-term contingency plan is needed. This, Kissinger said, should be done on a priority basis by the WSAG. Green was asked to chair this working group. Another, longer term paper setting out where we wish to go in Laos should be developed by the appropriate NSC/IG. This paper can be delayed for a few weeks.

The Group then reviewed the tactical situation in Laos, noting that recent inactivity on the part of NVN/Pathet Lao troops is somewhat anomalous when viewed against a history of years of military pressure predictable both in time and intensity. A number of salient observations were made:

1.
The Communist forces were taken aback by unusually effective military operations conducted by the RLG. Particularly damaging was the interdiction and destruction of quantities of matériel.
2.
Despite recent RLG successes, the long-term military situation is not good. Any prognosis would have to favor the Communists. They probably have the capability to take Laos but have not done so because they:
a.
have generally had free use of the Ho Chi-Minh trail,
b.
are unwilling to tempt U.S. retaliation,
c.
consider that anti-war sentiment in the U.S. can work toward their objective thereby reducing their incentives to seek a military solution.
3.
The Communists will, however, conduct an offensive in the Plain of Jars during the forthcoming dry season. They wish to secure Muong Soui and threaten but not move against Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Green observed that, while the situation in Laos is serious, it is not altogether gloomy. There have been indications of low morale among NVN forces and there are political options open to Souvanna which might be effective. While he is in the U.S. he can call for serious negotiations with Hanoi, working through UN channels and with the Russians and French. If effective, such moves could inhibit a NVN counter-attack.

Kissinger said that part of the WSAG contingency plan should be an outline of the U.S. approach to Souvanna when he is in the country. He noted that other U.S. courses of action, which represent the current inclinations of the President, have been reported to the departments. These should also be noted in the plan. What needs to be done now is to add new and imaginative political/military options which tend toward a tougher approach than has been suggested heretofore. If the NSC Review Group or the WSAG find that the cons of a harder line outweigh the pros, they are at liberty to so report to the President. But in all fairness, a full range of possibilities must be considered. In that context, and recognizing the President's repeated interest in increased air activity, the option of B–52 strikes in Laos has to be evaluated.

Green then asked Kissinger about the form of the Laos contingency paper.

Kissinger outlined a four-step approach:

1.
A brief history of the past few months to serve as point of departure—from a platform of facts.
2.
An identification of probable flash points.
3.
A catalog of integrated political/military actions (including those now underway) that would tend to deter NVN adventurism.
4.
An identification and evaluation of suitable U.S. courses of action, should deterrence fail.

The paper as outlined above should be prepared before Souvanna's arrival on October 7th. Kissinger wondered if the paper could be ready for review by the WSAG toward the end of the week. Green said that his working group would work toward a deadline of October 2nd.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Sino-Soviet hostilities study.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Meeting Minutes, Originals, 1969 and 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. Colonel Behr sent these minutes to Kissinger under cover of a September 30 memorandum.