12. Letter From the Ambassador to Thailand (Unger) to President Nixon 1

Dear Mr. President,

May I draw your attention to a matter of prime concern with regard to Thailand and our relations with that country.

As you well know Thailand and the United States are intimately associated in many of the security arrangements related to the protection of Southeast Asia, and the fighting in Viet-Nam in particular. It is essential for this reason that mutual confidence be maintained between us particularly at a time like the present when critical decisions and actions are being taken with far-reaching consequence for Southeast Asia’s future.

Now that the first step has been publicly taken with regard to the replacement of U.S. forces by South Vietnamese forces in South Viet-Nam and the initial need for absolute secrecy no longer applies so strongly, I deem it essential that we open a dialogue on this subject with the Royal Thai Government which has always held in strictest confidence the many highly sensitive matters we have discussed in the past. We have already reviewed with the Thai the considerations regarding withdrawal raised in your May 14 speech.2 At an early date we would like to resume these discussions along the following lines:

As indicated by the Midway announcement it is the judgment of the U.S. and South Vietnamese Governments that the expansion and strengthening of the forces of South Viet-Nam have reached a stage which makes it possible to begin the withdrawal from Southeast Asia of some of the U.S. forces there. The U.S. Government would like to discuss this process with the Royal Thai Government in general, as it relates to our further actions on the ground and in negotiations toward a satisfactory solution of the Viet-Nam problem, and in particular as it relates to the U.S. air and army support forces presently stationed in Thailand.
We would also like to solicit the views of the Royal Thai government concerning the continuing role of the division of the Thai Army now fighting in Viet-Nam.
These matters also suggest the desirability of our looking ahead to the situation following a Viet-Nam settlement and beginning to consider, in that context, such matters as the future of the Royal Thai Air Force bases now very heavily utilized by the U.S. Air Force, of the air defense radar and communications system, and of the U.S. logistic system based on Sattahip and Korat.

I am persuaded, Mr. President, that unless we undertake to consult with the Thai Government on their forces presently deployed to Viet-Nam they may reach a decision unilaterally to begin the withdrawal of these forces. Since this would detract from the multinational force fighting there now and providing an important political symbol, I believe our consultations should begin promptly to avoid this.

A source of continuing preoccupation in Thai-American relations is our massive presence there today, made up primarily of U.S. air forces engaged in the defense of Viet-Nam and, to a lesser extent, Laos. For this reason and also for sound budgetary reasons, I am seeking by every means to reduce the number of official Americans in Thailand whenever this can be done without a loss in our effectiveness. In particular, I believe we should plan to begin a modest withdrawal of such of our Air Force units as may no longer be essential to the fighting in Viet-Nam and are not needed for air support in Laos. However, I would strongly recommend against any move of this sort or any indication of our intention to take such action until after we have carried out with the Royal Thai Government the kind of consultation outlined above which will give the Thai the full context of any actions we plan to undertake. Without such consultation the Thai may misread a withdrawal as premature and signalling a weakening in our resolve to see the struggle through in Viet-Nam to an acceptable resolution.

With this in mind, we will be formulating an authorization for Embassy Bangkok to undertake these consultations with the Royal Thai Government as a matter of urgency in accordance with instructions to be provided from Washington.

Leonard Unger 3
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 560, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. I. Secret.
  2. In his May 14 address to the nation, Nixon proposed the withdrawal of all non-South Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam, thus initiating the process of U.S. troop withdrawals from that country. The overall idea implied in this address, and in subsequent remarks from Midway Island, June 8–10, was that Asian nations should determine their own destinies. (Public Papers: Nixon , 1969, pp. 369–375)
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.