16. Department of State Briefing Paper1
Background—Thailand’s Role in Viet-Nam
The Thai regard the Viet-Nam war as part of the defense of Southeast Asia. Therefore, the Paris talks, the status of Laos in a Viet-Nam settlement, the stability of the GVN, improvement of the South Vietnamese fighting effectiveness, withdrawal of U.S. forces, the post-Viet-Nam U.S. force structure in Southeast Asia, all are matters in which the Thai are vitally interested and wish to feel involved in decisions on them. It is highly desirable that the U.S. initiate a dialogue with the RTG on these matters as soon as U.S. thinking reaches a point at which it can be shared.
A. The Paris Talks
The Thai are very interested and concerned about the Paris talks. They will be alert to any indication that they are not being kept as fully briefed as other TCC’s, particularly since their record of maintaining security in sensitive matters is excellent. Thailand is less fully informed about the Paris talks than certain other TCC’s (GVN, Australia, NZ) and less regularly briefed than Korea and the Philippines; only Foreign Minister Thanat is kept informed, and he has been only partially briefed by Ambassador Unger.
Their special interest vis-à-vis Paris will be the inclusion of Laos in any settlement. (See background paper on importance of Laos to Thai security.)2 The Thai may also feel lingering anxiety about the possibility of unreciprocated U.S. withdrawal and its adverse effect on Asian security, and doubts about the viability of any government in South Viet-Nam that would include Communists. They understand that now is not the time to include TCC’s in the talks but they (like the other four participants) expect that the time will come.
B. U.S. Troop Withdrawal from South Viet-Nam
Although Thai leaders have commented favorably and helpfully in public on the results of the Midway meeting, they are watching very closely the developing pattern of U.S. actions for indications of U.S. intentions [Page 31] in Southeast Asia. In discussing the Midway meeting with RTG leaders, we have reviewed the progress in the expansion and modernization of the Vietnamese regular and territorial forces and the Midway agreements growing out of our collective assessment with the GVN of these situations. We have assured the RTG that our actions did not involve a diminution of Allied combat capability or a lessening in American determination for an equitable and honorable settlement, and have told them that there will be further review in August of troop replacement.
C. Thai Forces in South Viet-Nam
Thailand recognizes the intimate relationship of its security with that of Viet-Nam and Laos, and the dangers which would attend Communist successes among its Southeast Asian neighbors. Consequently, although indigenous Communist insurgency threatens many regions of the country, the Royal Thai Government (RTG) has sent approximately 11,500 men to South Viet-Nam, including an army light division, small naval units, and an air force transport contingent.
When queried about the status of these Thai forces in Viet-Nam following the Midway Conference developments, Prime Minister Thanom stated on June 12 to the press that Thai forces would be neither increased nor withdrawn at this time, that the subject of their withdrawal was being studied, and that when SVN strength was sufficient, Thai forces would be gradually withdrawn.
We have not yet sounded out the RTG’s views concerning the future of the Thai division in Viet-Nam. There are a number of factors which need to be considered: (a) the need for Thai forces in their own country to counter insurgency and provide a credible deterrent to Communist advances in Laos, (b) the capability of Vietnamese forces to replace the Thai, (c) the political importance of Thai forces participating in the defense of its Southeast Asian neighbor, and (d) the need to forestall a unilateral decision to withdraw on the RTG’s part which might adversely affect the political significance of the multinational and Asian support for South Viet-Nam.
D. Future of U.S. Forces in Thailand
Good behavior by U.S. servicemen and energetic efforts by the Embassy and military commanders have kept the incident rate low, but sheer numbers, language, and cultural and income differences have led to inevitable incidents affecting the Thai community. And as the atmosphere in Bangkok has become increasingly political with the advent of elections and a national assembly, the RTG has become increasingly sensitive to these incidents.
The large U.S. military presence in Thailand—primarily U.S. air forces engaged in the defense of Viet-Nam and Laos—now totals about 48,000, including 35,000 USAF personnel; 11,000 Army personnel [Page 32] involved in support of air operations, in construction work, and in maintenance of prepositioned equipment; and 1,200 in JUSMAG involved in training Thai forces. We have built about $400 million worth of military facilities, including major expansion of five of the six Thai air bases we are using, the new port-airbase complex at Sattahip/U Tapao, and improvements in roads, communications networks, supply depots, etc.
In April 1968 Prime Minister Thanom asked that “American Air Force personnel now stationed at Thai bases remain in country, even though in reduced numbers, following U.S. withdrawal from Viet-Nam and thereafter be taken out only gradually.” During his visit to Washington in May 1968 we agreed to consult on this matter.
Foreign Minister Thanat has several times stated (e.g. interview with Terrence Smith of New York Times, February 14, 1969; Foreign Ministry statement of February 20, 1969) that U.S. forces are in Thailand in connection with the war in Viet-Nam and will leave afterwards unless there is some compelling reason for them to stay. In that event, a new agreement would have to be drawn up between the two governments. On February 21, 1969, the Department’s spokesman affirmed that “the bulk of U.S. forces are in Thailand in connection with the war in Viet-Nam … that obviously large numbers of U.S. forces would not continue to be stationed in Thailand after a satisfactory settlement in Southeast Asia unless there were some compelling reason for them to stay. It is also quite clear that U.S. forces would remain only with the agreement of the two governments.”
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 454, President’s Trip Files, President Nixon’s Trip, July–Aug 1969, Country Briefing Book, Thailand. Secret. Drafted by Starbird and Martin (EA/TB) and cleared by Spear, Sullivan, and Devine (OASD). Prepared for the President’s July around-the-world trip to Guam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and India, et al.; also see Document 17.↩
- Not printed. (Ibid.)↩