178. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1
- Thai Volunteers and FY–73 Legislative Ceiling
Secretary Laird has written you (Tab B)2 expressing views about his intention to live within the $375 million Lao ceiling and specifically about his concern that U.S. support of the Thai volunteer battalions, beyond the present 25, will put us over the $375 million limitation. He mentions that the Thai volunteers provided valuable assistance in resisting the North Vietnamese dry season offensive in Laos, even though they were under their authorized strength, and that the Thai Government is now bringing these 25 battalions up to strength. Secretary Laird states, nevertheless, that we will incur a substantive overrun if assistance to Laos for FY–1973 continues at the present rate, and as a first step, unless you direct otherwise, he proposes preventing the expansion of the Thai volunteer force beyond the present 25 battalions—at least until fiscal pressure abates.
Although I fully agree with Secretary Laird that we must do all possible to live within the Laos ceiling, I feel our first priority must be to make available whatever is needed to defend Laos.
The Thai have done a creditable job, particularly in North Laos. The NVA are west of the Plaine des Jarres and on the Bolovens Plateau this year giving them a head start for a dry-season push if they want to mount one. The Lao forces, particularly Vang Pao’s irregulars, are weaker than in previous years. Thus 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 $410 to 415 million—$35 to 40 million over the ceiling (about 10%). The 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 already in the field at over [Page 382]80% strength, fill three new full strength battalions, 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, who have expected us to move gradually to support of up to 36 SGU battalions and deny us needed forces in the face of an uncertain NVA capabilities and intentions 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 Ambassador 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 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.
The memo at Tab A3 requests Secretary Laird not to 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.
That you sign the memorandum to Secretary Laird at Tab A.