96. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Laos Contingencies


  • My memorandum on same subject of 29 January 1972

In my earlier memorandum,2 I recommended that we explore courses of action open to us to replace the Taksin planning in the event of possible Laos contingencies. The current tactical situation in MR II suggests that enemy forces may retain their positions forward of the Plaine des Jarres throughout the rainy season, and initiate offensive operations at the beginning of next year’s dry season from a much more advanced position than has been the case in the past. The threat to the Vientiane plain will increase commensurately. In this situation, there are three courses of action available to the United States:

A. Reaffirm the Taksin concept.

Taksin contingency planning envisages joint Thai/US forward deployment in Laos to preempt NVA access to the Mekong. Since this planning was done in the mid-’60s, the Church Amendment prohibiting the introduction of US ground combat forces into Thailand or Laos has been endorsed by the Administration and enacted in each of the last three fiscal years. This endorsement was predicated on our perception of US objectives in SEA and appropriate courses of action in pursuing those objectives. To my mind, these perceptions remain valid today. To override this statutory restriction would require a Presidential Determination that US ground force deployments to Thailand or Laos are required as an emergency measure to cope with an enemy concentration which constituted a serious threat to American forces in SVN. Not only would this be a difficult proposition to sustain, but also it would be contrary to the thrust of our policy in SEA and provoke strong public disapproval.

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B. Renegotiate the Taksin concept.

This option would require renegotiation of Thai/US contingency planning for joint action in Laos. The new concept of joint action would envisage RTA forward deployment. US logistical support for the operations of regular Thai forces in Laos is now prohibited by the Fulbright Amendment, but given the deteriorating situation in Laos, the President might obtain relief from this statutory restriction. He could go to the Congress to seek relief, or alternatively, he could determine that Thai operations in Laos were essential to the safe withdrawal of US forces from SVN. The former approach might not succeed; the latter is not credible and would, therefore, entail a high political cost.

This option also presupposes from the Thai both an assessment of the situation and a choice of responses which are congruent with our own. While past actions by no means predetermine future choices, the RTG has, to date in this dry season, rejected various US suggestions to commit RTA regular units to Laos even with proffered US support under Lao MASF. The Thai position is based on a reluctance to downgrade further their CI efforts out of fear of the potential political price at home and abroad, and on a desire to avoid provoking direct confrontation with NVN. On the other hand, although they are well aware that their own logistic capability is inadequate to sustain a tactically significant deployment for longer than a few weeks, confronted with the possibility of an NVA advance to the Mekong, the Thai could determine unilaterally to commit regular forces without US logistic support forward of the Mekong to meet this threat.

C. Replace the Taksin concept with a more realistic basis for Thai/US security cooperation.

Option A would require an unlikely course of US action; Option B depends in the first instance on an improbable course of Thai action. We favor a third approach, aimed at a candid examination with the Thai of the possible threats and options for response which are more appropriate to the present situation than the Taksin planning of the mid-’60s. In our relations with the Thai the USG has often avoided talking frankly with them—apparently anticipating an adverse reaction on their part, that would affect our operating rights in Thailand, to changing US policy parameters. The Thai have been understandably upset by past actions such as our public endorsement of the Cooper–Church prohibition on US ground forces in Thailand and Laos, juxtaposed with private reassurances regarding the continued validity of the Taksin concept. The Thai leadership has a sophisticated grasp of the US political scene, which makes equivocation on issues fundamental to our cooperative relationship unnecessary as well as undesirable. A close look at Thai/US relations reveals the practical basis of this relationship and [Page 323] underscores the desirability of such a candid examination of issues and alternatives in Laos with the Thai.

The reduction of the US role in SEA in recent years has given impetus to a Thai reevaluation of their defense and foreign policy options. However, practical alternatives to continued close association with the US and reliance on US military power are limited at this time. Neutrality would only become practicable in the context of a broader agreement between the powers on the region as a whole. Accommodation (as opposed to capitulation) with Peking as a long-term basis for their continued national security cannot be accomplished in the short-term, and Thai leverage in bargaining with China will be greater if there is a US military presence in Thailand. The Thai expectation that the US will continue to play a major, though reduced, role in Southeast Asia for a few more years makes it unlikely that they will initiate a break in Thailand’s close relationship with the US and Thai cooperation with the US in SEA.

This dry season and next, Thailand and the US also have common objectives in Laos—to fight with what is available and hope that a combination of weather, friendly capabilities, terrain, and the limits of enemy interests and logistic capabilities will prevent him from moving in strength onto the Vientiane plan. To prevent the dissipation of their regular Army resources, the Thai rejected our suggestions last fall to deploy regular units. We have similarly begun to realize that, in North Laos, additional resources applied do not necessarily lead to increased military effectiveness, and that we have about reached the outer limit of US resources to be applied to the problem without unacceptable political risks and resource costs relating to our primary SEA objectives. Furthermore, notwithstanding the self-imposed limitation on our Laos commitment, US use of Thai bases for at least several more years is essential to our SEA objectives; similarly, continued intensive application of US airpower in SEA and continued US military presence in strength in Thailand is desirable to the Thai as evidence of US determination to continue to be an active ally in SEA security efforts. This commonality of national security objectives in SEA commends a more direct and positive dialogue with the RTG on alternatives for response to the changing tactical situation in Laos. A possible scenario for such discussions is appended for your consideration.3

I recommend that an interagency review of the above issues be undertaken to explore various courses of action and to develop a USG position.

Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–75–0155, 0000.1 Laos. Top Secret; Sensitive. A copy was sent to the Secretary of State. Drafted by M.A. Martin, Office of International Security Affairs (East Asia and Pacific Region), Department of Defense.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 11.
  3. Attached but not printed is an undated appendix containing the scenarios.