176. Memorandum From Richard T. Kennedy of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
- Your Breakfast Meeting with Secretary Laird, September 202
Phil Odeen has already given you Talking Points. There is one additional subject which you might wish to raise—Thai volunteers and the Laos FY 1973 ceiling.
Secretary Laird in a memo to the President dated September 16 (Tab A)3 expressed concern that we could not live with the $375 million ceiling for Laos unless programs were tightly controlled. To this end he intends to limit the Thai SGU program to 25 battalions unless the President directs otherwise.
- —Mr. Laird will argue that we cannot live within the ceiling unless the Thai SGU program is held at 25 battalions; the Thai are not all that good or necessary; and the threat of NVA activity is less this year than last.
- —The Thai have done a creditable job, particularly in North Laos. The NVA are west of the PDJ and on the Bolovens this year giving them a head start for their dry-season push. The Lao forces are weaker now and we will probably need all the Thai forces we can get to hold this year.
- —Early estimates suggest that total expenditures with 30 Thai SGU battalions would be about $409 million—$34 million over the ceiling (less than 10%). The significant effects of weather alone on levels of combat and thus on consumption of weapons, ammunition, and air support can result in significant variation from early estimates as our experience of the past two years has shown. Thus it is simply too early to assume that we will be significantly over the ceiling.
The Thai have finally produced recruits for the training program enabling us to man the existing 22 battalions at 80% strength, deploy an additional 3 battalions at full strength, and still permit us to move toward forming an additional 5 battalions. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] is geared up to get the training done and the battalions deployed. To cut back the program now could cause problems in our relations with the Thai, and deny us needed forces in the face of an uncertain NVA capability and intention for the coming dry season.
The Senate committee in reporting out the Defense Procurement Authorization Bill stated: “It is possible that adjustments will be required in the ceiling, depending on future events. Nevertheless, the committee believes a limitation should again be imposed to continue activities in Laos at approximately their present level.”
Thus we believe we should not foreclose, now, the possibility of going to the 30 battalion level. Meanwhile, we should caution Godley to keep a careful watch on expenditures as the situation develops over the next few months. We are continuing our efforts to refine our estimates, identify trade-offs and determine more precisely the effects of the ceiling on essential operations. If it appears by January that we have [Page 379]no alternative we should then be prepared to request an increase in the ceiling. Meanwhile, we should not impose artificial restrictions which may have the effect of giving the NVA the victory in Laos we have thus far denied them.
You might tell Mr. Laird:
- —We need to continue our efforts to refine estimates and all agencies have been requested to do so.
- —We should not foreclose now the possibility of moving to 30 Thai SGU battalions when the 25 existing units are filled out and replacements to keep them up to 80% strength are assured.
- —We want to be sure that we make available whatever is needed to defend Laos; if that means a request for a ceiling increase later, we will have to consider it.