21. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • US Commitments to Thailand

I attach a summary of US commitments to Thailand and statements regarding the defense of Thailand (Tab A).2 You may find this of use, given the current furor in the Senate. I would call your attention particularly to the Air Defense Operations Agreement described below.

In brief, these are the key points concerning our formal and Presidential commitments:

  • SEATO obligates “each party” to the Treaty to “act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes” in the [Page 45]event of an armed attack. We are obligated only to consult in the case of subversion, or of armed attack by others than Communists.
  • —The Rusk/Thanat communiqué of 1962 affirmed that our SEATO obligation is “individual as well as collective.” Secretary Rogers in May reaffirmed this interpretation of the SEATO Treaty.
  • SEATO contingency planning is under the SEATO Military Planning Office, and covers most contingencies, including Communist insurgency in Thailand or Communist aggression against it. This planning is intended to effectuate our SEATO commitment.
  • —The JohnsonThanom joint communiqué of May 9, 1968, included Thanom’s statement that “the Royal Thai Government regarded defeating the insurgency as a Thai responsibility to be carried out by its own forces.”
  • —You and your three predecessors have affirmed your intention to honor our SEATO (or “treaty”) obligations. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy spoke of “unswerving support in resisting Communist aggression and subversion.” You have spoken of US “support,” and have said that “the US will stand proudly with Thailand against those who might threaten it from abroad or from within.”

Project Taksin is a bilateral US/Thai military contingency plan to meet potential Communist moves in Laos. Its terms of reference provide specifically that it will be “implemented only upon mutual agreement and consent of both governments.”

We have specific bilateral arrangements with Thailand covering atomic detection systems, radio research activities, and the logistic support of Thai troops in South Vietnam. None of these involve US military commitments.

The USAF/RTAF Joint Use and Integrated Air Defense Operations Agreement. We have a technical agreement with Thailand governing detection of and protection against hostile aircraft. This involves elements of timing and decision-making which could, it might be argued, carry our commitment beyond the language of our SEATO commitment.

The Agreement states that the Thai Air Defense/Tactical Air Control System “has been integrated and incorporated into” the US Air Force’s Pacific Air Defense Network. It provides for the assignment of USAF personnel to units of the Thai system.

It provides that: “Hostile aircraft, including unidentified aircraft, will be destroyed when determined by the RTAF Air Operations Center and/or the USAF Tactical Air Command Center to pose a threat to forces and installations in Thailand … USAF rules (of engagement) will apply for all USAF fighter and interceptor aircraft.” The language does not distinguish between Thai and US “forces and installations” which will be protected by this Agreement.

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The Agreement states, somewhat ambiguously, that: “The air defense of Thailand is a sovereign responsibility of the Government of Thailand which has been vested in the RTAF. United States Forces deployed to, and at the request of, the Government of Thailand, will assist in the Thailand Air Defense/Tactical Air Control System”. It was perhaps this language which led Thai Air Chief Marshal Dawee to state publicly, shortly before the Agreement was formally signed, that US aircraft in Thailand could be called into action by the Prime Minister to defend Thailand.

Ambassador Unger transmitted this Agreement to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs (at the latter’s request), with a Note stating that the “Agreement will improve coordination between our respective air forces, in furtherance of our common commitments to the defense of Thailand under the Southeast Asia Defense Treaty.” The reference to SEATO was thus explicit, though the phrase concerning “common commitments” was apparently new.

So far as I know, Senator Fulbright is not yet aware of this agreement. Senator Symington’s investigating team (Messrs. Pincus and Paul) have listed this among the documents which they wish to receive. I have requested that State clear with the White House before replying to their request.

A copy of the Agreement with its covering Note is at Tab B.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 560, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. I. Secret; Exdis. Sent for information. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. According to a handwritten notation, the memorandum was returned from the President on September 16.
  2. Attached at Tab A but not printed is a Background Paper that the Department’s Executive Secretary Eliot forwarded to Kissinger under cover of an August 12 memorandum. It stated that while various bilateral agreements, including support of Thai troops fighting in South Vietnam and air defense agreements formalizing arrangements for defense against hostile aircraft, involved obligations on the part of the United States, “they do not extend our commitment to the defense of Thailand beyond that set forth in the SEATO treaty.”
  3. The Air Defense Operations Agreement is attached but not printed.