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216. Memorandum From Phil Odeen of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • U.S. Forces on Taiwan

Secretary Laird had forwarded to the President (Tab B) a summary of current and planned FY 73 forces deployed on Taiwan.2

Laird reports that authorized U.S. personnel on Taiwan for FY 73 will total 1,139 spaces more than the 6,000 indicated on the deployment plan jointly recommended by State and DOD and approved by the President in February. The increase results from an error in the original plan and does not represent a change in the major unit deployments.

The new end FY 73 figure of 7,139 men compares with 8,735 in end FY 72 and about 9,000 in FY 71. Instead of the 2,700 man reduction in FY 73 approved by the President, the reduction will only be about 1,600.

Laird also separates Taiwan based personnel into three categories: (a) those primarily engaged in supporting the SEA conflict, (b) those with a broader post-war theater mission, and (c) those needed for the defense of Taiwan itself. You will recall that prior to the China trip DOD stated that about two-thirds of our Taiwan deployments were SEA related while one- third were needed for defense of the island. In his memo, however. Laird objects to recent statements by Secretary Rogers and others at State based on this two-third–one-third formula that about 6,000 of the current 8,735 personnel on Taiwan are engaged in SEA support (see State Transcript, Tab A).3

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The Laird Position

Laird’s position regarding the number of personnel needed for defense of Taiwan (about 2,400) has not changed. However, the figures on the personnel supporting the SEA conflict change markedly:

  • —only 3,100 rather than 6,000 personnel are primarily engaged in support of SEA operations.
  • —only half of these can be withdrawn after the SEA conflict ends, the others must remain to meet theater needs.
  • —the others (about 3,000 troops) are also required for theater missions and are scheduled to remain on Taiwan under current DOD planning.

The reason for the wide divergence between the current and past DOD positions is that previous DOD estimates assumed that all personnel deployed to Taiwan during the Vietnam build up are SEA related. However, although these forces moved to Taiwan in support of Vietnam operations, most of them now have a theater mission and no longer are directly involved in SEA support. Laird’s current position narrows the definition to include only those forces currently engaged in support of SEA activity.

History of Taiwan Deployments

During the Vietnam build up, U.S. deployments in Taiwan nearly tripled rising from 3,700 personnel in 1964 to 9,800 in 1968. These increases were caused by growth of Taiwan based airlift, communications, maintenance and other Vietnam support operations.

Some forces came to Taiwan from elsewhere in Asia (principally Japan) to make room for forces arriving from the U.S. Others came from CONUS and will return home once the war winds down.

In an attempt to clarify the situation I had my staff do an analysis of current Taiwan military deployments. Based on data supplied by DOD, we divided them into three categories. The calculations are rough because many personnel are involved in support and maintenance activities which are difficult to break down by the missions they perform.

Personnel directly linked to SEA who would be withdrawn as the conflict ends include about 2,060 in FY 72 and 480 in FY 73. This is about 500 greater than Laird’s estimate. These include:

  • —two C–130 airlift squadrons, one scheduled for return to CONUS and the second scheduled for redeployment to Okinawa by end FY 73. Total personnel 1,540.
  • —about 520 persons providing communications support, equipment repair and other general support for the airlift squadrons and general SEA activity.

On the other hand about 2,250 personnel are linked directly to the defense of Taiwan or have theater missions (e.g., intelligence) which [Page 862]probably can not be accomplished from elsewhere in Asia. The Laird estimates are the same and include:

  • —about 450 persons in the Military Assistance Group, Taiwan Defense and Communications Command and the embassy.
  • —about 1,100 persons involved with intelligence operations that could not be accomplished from other locations in the Pacific.
  • —about 700 men involved with the maintenance of the air strip on Taiwan to provide rapid access for tactical air reinforcements.

The remaining 4,400 men have a a theater role and could be relocated (at a cost) to other Asian countries if political considerations dictate (Laird’s estimate is 4,900). These 4,400 men include:

  • —about 3,060 personnel associated with two C–130 airlift squadrons including support.
  • —about 430 personnel associated with [1 line of source text not declassified] material on Taiwan.
  • —about 570 personnel manning regional communications facilities on Taiwan and about 390 material and general support personnel.

Tables summarizing these general categories and giving a more detailed description of the units involved are at Tab C.

Based on this analysis, therefore, the 6,000 man figure used by Secretary Rogers is an over estimation of our Taiwan deployments directly related to SEA activity. On the other hand, Laird’s most recent position that only about 1,540 personnel are directly involved in SEA support and scheduled for return to CONUS or other redeployment understates the President’s flexibility.

If necessary we could shift some units having a regional defense mission to other locations. For example, if the two C–130 airlift squadrons were relocated along with their maintenance and other support, Taiwan deployments could be reduced about 3,100 men to near pre-war levels (4,000 men). Moreover, about 1,300 communications support and maintenance personnel could probably be relocated without degrading the ROC defensive capabilities. This would reduce deployments below pre-war levels.

Next Steps

If you want to consider FY 73 deployments below the 7,135 currently planned by DOD I could prepare a memorandum to DOD requesting analysis of lower deployment postures. This would cause concern within DOD however, and I doubt we would get an objective analysis at this stage.

Alternatively, you could ask me to do an analysis of existing deployments and the implications of lower levels. This would avoid DOD concern and the possibility of a leak, but it would be difficult to obtain data. A thorough job might even require traveling to Taiwan itself.

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Finally, you could wait for the preparation of the ongoing study of Asian deployments. This is part of our NSSM 69 work on overall Asian deployments and will be ready for DPRC consideration sometime late this spring.

In my opinion there is very little to be gained from further consideration of the exact number of Taiwan personnel related to SEA activity versus those personnel needed for other purposes. Moreover, I believe further public discussion of our Taiwan deployments and the number related to SEA activity will only increase ROC uncertainty regarding our future intentions and should be avoided.

I therefore recommend you call Secretary Laird and explain that:

  • —the 6,000 man figure mentioned by Secretary Rogers and others at State originated from DOD and refers to those deployments that are both SEA related and related to the overall defense of Asia, but that
  • —in the future, statements should avoid numerical estimates and reflect the uncertainty in our current plans. The overall question of our post-war Asian deployments will be addressed in the DPRC this spring.

In addition, Secretary Rogers should also be cautioned to avoid making numerical estimates of SEA related Taiwan deployments. In view of the joint memorandum you received from Secretary Laird and Rogers recommending FY 73 deployments, it would also be useful to remind State that our future Asian deployments will be addressed in the DPRC this spring.

Alternatively you could ask Al Haig to call both DOD and State or ask me to prepare a memorandum.

I will call.

Prepare a memorandum, to State and DOD.4

Other, see me.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. X. Secret. Sent for action. Concurred in by Holdridge and Kennedy. Attached was a March 31 covering note from Kennedy to Kissinger, which reads in its entirety: “Henry: This all adds up to a suggestion that we need to cool off all comment on Taiwan force levels and stop further pronouncements. It would be best handled by a call from you to Secretaries Laird and Rogers or a call from Haig to Eliot and Pursley, if you agreed that this is the course to be followed.” Kissinger’s handwritten comment on this note read: “I want no reductions made on Taiwan until end of VN war under any pretext.”
  2. Tabs B and C, attached but not printed, are two memoranda with summary tables from Laird to Nixon, both dated March 18.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Kissinger initialed his approval of this option. On April 7 Odeen forwarded to Kissinger a draft memorandum intended for Laird and Rogers. Kissinger did not sign it but wrote on Odeen’s covering memorandum: “Let me do by phone. I don’t want this to leak.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. X)