17. Department of State Briefing Paper1
Scope and Objectives
With a prospering economy and remarkable social and political stability—in spite of military coups which have been bloodless and [Page 33] largely of the “palace” variety—Thailand’s problems are largely externally instigated, and as yet barely felt by the population as a whole. The insurgency is small, affecting the lives of relatively few and remote rural villagers. Thai leaders are concerned because they realize its Communist Chinese instigation and potential seriousness. Progress in government, by Western standards, is being demanded by Thailand’s educated elite, while the mass of Thai people still complacently accept Thai government in traditional terms, demanding little from the government. The leading opposition party is royalist, conservative, and urban, while the pro-government party was strongest in rural areas.
Thailand is approaching a cross roads in basic policy directions as Thai leaders anticipate an end to the Viet-Nam war and try to plot their post-Viet-Nam course. Since World War II Thailand has been increasingly committed to a pro-U.S. policy in reaction to the Chinese Communist threat. During the last five years—with our heavy involvement in Viet-Nam—Thailand’s commitment to this policy has been almost total. Foreign Minister Thanat has been one of the most outspoken of Asian champions of resistance to Communist aggression in South Viet-Nam. Now, with demands for peace and withdrawal being publicized in the United States, the Thai are beginning to wonder whether they have stuck their necks out too far by sending forces to South Viet-Nam and allowing our use of Thai air bases to bomb North Viet-Nam. Though still maintaining a pro-U.S. stance they are seeking to widen their policy options by strengthening regional ties and increasing contacts with other nations, such as the Communist countries of Eastern Europe.
Thai leaders have been basically reassured by your letters to Prime Minister Thanom and by Secretary Rogers’ statement at the SEATO Council meeting last May. However, contrary press reports and agitation in this country continue to disquiet them, making continuing reassurance necessary. Your visit, and re-affirmation of U.S. firmness in seeking a genuine peace in Viet-Nam without sacrificing the freedom of our allies, will help to maintain Thai confidence and stability.
The Thais have smarted under criticisms that their government is military and un-democratic. Their new Constitution, adopted June 20, 1968, and election of a House of Representatives on February 10, 1969, have reflected both a desire to improve Thailand’s image before the Free World and genuine democratic aspirations on the part of Thailand’s educated people generally. By low-key notice of this political liberalization your visit can encourage the Thais in these efforts.
We feel that by and large the Thai are meeting their present problems effectively. They are improving their counterinsurgency efforts— though encouragement to do still better in north Thailand is needed. They have responded helpfully to the peace talks in Paris and to our [Page 34] efforts to de-escalate the fighting. They have publicly maintained a posture of confidence in their pro-U.S. policy, in spite of underlying anxieties. They are supporting regional developments in the hope of someday building a foundation for a regional security system. They have taken modest but significant steps toward democratic rule. Your visit can dispel existing doubts on their part as to the constancy of U.S. friendship and the feasibility of their continued support to U.S. objectives as a means of ensuring their own security.
B. Outstanding Issues
- —Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Viet-Nam and its effect on the Paris negotiations;
- —The future of Thai forces in Viet-Nam;
- —Redeployment of U.S. forces from Thailand and what forces, if any, should remain post-Viet-Nam;
- —Thai concerns about Communist gains over the last year in Laos and the related Communist insurgency in north Thailand.
C. U.S. Objectives
Maintain Thai confidence in their policy of alignment with the United States.
By giving the Thai leaders assurance of our determination and continued support and an insight into our thinking on such subjects as Viet-Nam, the future of our forces in Thailand, and our shared concern about developments in Laos and the insurgency in north Thailand, you can help shape Thai policy in the direction of further support for U.S. objectives.
Help the Thai to improve their image as a Free World nation.
The Thai are proud of their long record of independence, and are very sensitive to insinuations that they are dominated by the United States. Communist propaganda harping on that theme accentuates their sensitivities. It is important therefore to emphasize the equal and independence status of Thailand in all possible ways.
It would also be helpful to use this visit to publicize Thai political liberalization as evidence of Thailand’s dynamic, progressive development.
(Caution: It should be borne in mind that the powers of the new Parliament are quite circumscribed. References to progress toward democracy in Thailand should therefore be in low key.)
Encourage Thai efforts promoting regional organization in Southeast Asia.
Your visit provides an opportunity to encourage Thai leadership in Southeast Asian regional development. Congratulatory remarks would be appropriate concerning the skillful and constructive role the [Page 35] Thai have played in mediating differences and stimulating cooperation between nations of the region.
D. Thai Objectives
To “size up” your Administration. While Thai leaders know you as a person from several private visits, and while they got an initial “feel” for your Administration from Secretary Rogers at the SEATO Council meeting, they will want to use the visit to form their own assessment of the directions you will take as President.
To assure themselves of U.S. policy in Southeast Asia. The Thai will seek continued assurances of U.S. determination to “stay the course” in Southeast Asia; this inquiry may well focus on Laos. They will also be seeking our forward thinking on the war in Viet-Nam and the Paris peace talks.
E. The Message
We want to initiate a dialogue with the Thai regarding the future of U.S. forces in Thailand, so that they will not misinterpret withdrawals when they occur. (We want to avoid initiating any proposal that our forces remain in Thailand after the Viet-Nam fighting is over. This proposal should come from the Thai side.)
We want to convey:
- —American respect for their status as an independent country, and our pleasure at their progress as reflected in their new Constitution and their recent Parliamentary elections.
- —Confidence that Thailand can rely on U.S. firmness in supporting the freedom and independence of its allies in Southeast Asia while seeking an enduring peace in Viet-Nam.
- —Recognition of the need for continued counterinsurgency efforts, particularly in northern Thailand.
- —Our admiration and approval of their efforts to promote regional organization and cooperative development in Southeast Asia.
- 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 Spear and Nelson (EA/TB) and approved by Green. Prepared for the President’s July around-the-world trip to Guam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and India, et al.; also see Document 16.↩