179. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Status Reports on Cambodia—Secretary Rogers and Prince Sihanouk

Secretary Rogers has sent you a report on progress in our relations with Cambodia (Tab A),2 in which he summarizes developments, trouble points, and actions in progress.

Favorable Developments: Our Chargé has been cordially treated. The Cambodian armed forces have begun to accept information from our Attachés as to details of the VC/NVA presence in Cambodia, have used this information in their operations, and have forewarned us of their aerial reconnaissance plans, to avoid encounters. (The report also cites several other favorable trends which are less clear and not demonstrably related to our reestablishment of diplomatic relations.)

Trouble Points: Secretary Rogers lists continued arms supply via Cambodia to the Communists, a rise in incidents involving US forces in Cambodia, and the Cambodian defoliation claims. Sihanouk has handled these last two points of irritation very circumspectly.

Action in Progress: The Secretary lists these actions planned or underway:

  • —Visible US participation in cross-border reconnaissance patrols into Cambodia is being reduced.
  • DOD is studying a pull-back of Special Forces camps near the border, to reduce the likelihood of incidents on Cambodian soil.3
  • —We are developing better procedures to alert the Cambodians to VC/NVA activities in Cambodia.
  • —Secretary Rogers expressed regret for the November 16 incident, and we are making solatium payments when Cambodians are killed or wounded.
  • —Arrangements are being made to compensate for defoliation damage in such a way as to avoid an acrimonious debate in Congress.4 (This is responsive to a suggestion by Senator Mansfield.)
  • —Espionage activities against Cambodia are being cut back, and no CIA personnel are assigned to our Embassy in Phnom Penh. (Also a suggestion by Senator Mansfield.)

Perhaps the most telling evidence of the improvement of our relations with Cambodia is contained, not in the status report, but in an article which Prince Sihanouk himself wrote for the December issue of the official journal Sangkum (Tab B).5

Prince Sihanouk, in that article:

  • —briefly disposes of the suggestion that he should be grateful for the US presence in Asia, but
  • —argues that “in all honesty and objectivity” the US presence “permits us to be respected, if not courted, by the European and even Asian Socialist camps.” Mocking his own role, he observes that “The prospect of an early retreat of the Americans from South Vietnam plunges all the friends of the US into fear—except Cambodia, of course, which will know how to fall before Communism with its customary poise and dignity.”6
  • —sets forth a somewhat overdrawn rationale to prove that America cannot afford to withdraw from Asia, and that in a sense the “hawks” in the US are more correct than the “doves.” (In the process, he makes the telling point that America’s Asian allies cannot compensate for a withdrawal of American power by turning toward the Communists, because—like a bird before a serpent—”the bird, gentle or not, always ends by being swallowed up.”)

Sihanouk concludes, in effect, with a ringing endorsement of the Nixon Doctrine. His language is worth quoting at length: “It is possible and even probable that the new Nixon Doctrine which foresees not having American troops intervene …7 may enter into effect… But, they (the Americans) will be obliged in their own interest to support the popular nationalists in their resistance against the new imperialism, that of Asiatic Communism… If the US brings aid without conditions and without physical intervention, … they will certainly have more [Page 565] hope of seeing the flood of Communism contained than if they assume this task with their own soldiers. In effect, they would thus contribute to cutting the wings from the subversive propaganda of Communism, which calls the nation to rebellion, and to the ‘liberation of the nation’ when the region is ‘occupied’ by foreign forces…. Independence is the dearest thing to the hearts of Asians…. The physical assistance of the US to the non-Communist nations only hastens their Communization. On the contrary, an unconditional material aid without the physical presence of the USA would multiply the efficacy of the resistance of those peoples… One does not conquer Communism with bayonets, but one can conquer it with those weapons which are the well-being of the people and with social justice.”

This is not only an endorsement of your policy, it is an unabashed pitch for aid.

We may or may not find it in our interest to find means to aid Cambodia at this juncture—and the prospect of a Congressional debate on such aid is not attractive. However, the mere fact that Sihanouk had sought a resumption of American aid, and that we had accommodated him, would have considerable impact in Southeast Asia.

I have asked State to provide an evaluation of the pros and cons of discreetly sounding out the Cambodians as to their interest in limited US economic or military assistance.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 506, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. II, September 1969–9 April 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Holdridge sent this memorandum to Kissinger recommending that he ask the President to instruct the Department of State to evaluate the pros and cons of resuming a limited aid program to Cambodia. (Ibid.)
  2. Tab A is attached but not printed.
  3. Nixon wrote next to this paragraph: “K, no if it in any way reduces our capabilities to combat V.C. in Cambodia.”
  4. Nixon wrote next to this paragraph: “OK. Do anything like this—which may give us more running room there.”
  5. Tab B is an attached copy of airgram A–10 from Phnom Penh, January 20, which contained a translation of Sihanouk’s editorial, “Cambodia After the War in Vietnam,” published in the December 1969 edition of Sangkum.
  6. Nixon wrote on the summary of the Sihanouk editorial: “K—I wonder whether Mansfield has seen this? If not see that he does.” On February 23 Kissinger sent Mansfield a translation of Sihanouk’s article. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 506, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. II, September 1969–9 April 1970)
  7. Nixon underlined this phrase and wrote: “K—I favor this strongly on an urgent basis. We need some leverage on him [Sihanouk]—even Mansfield would support it.”