23. Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Department of State1

12246. Please pass White House. Subject: Thai-US Contingency Planning.

The following background information describes the role played by bilateral planning in Thai-US relations over recent years. We have gone into this at some length because a full understanding of this role is important in assessing the impact the controversy over Project Taksin has had on the Thai and on their views of basic trends in US-Thai relations. We also believe this background of US-Thai planning may be useful in preparing for further Congressional scrutiny.2 We will address in immediately following telegram the effects of the recent contingency planning controversy on US-Thai relations.3
Project 22 now called Project Taksin sprang from US and Thai concerns over Communist failure to observe the 1962 Geneva Accords and what appeared to be a growing threat to Thailand developing through Laos. In July 1965 reacting to this Thai concern, the DCM called on Prime Minister Sarit under instructions to say “we intend to do whatever is necessary to meet the obligations of the US in Southeast Asia. The United States will not sit idly by and allow the Communists to become entrenched on the borders of Thailand. The United States considers the Communist advance in Laos as a threat to United States security as well as to that of Thailand. As we have publicly confirmed in the RuskThanat communiqué, “the United States considers Thailand’s integrity and independence as vital to its own.” (Bangkok 79, 7/15/63)4 A generalized version of this appeared in the Bangkok newspapers.
Two months later Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson consulted in Bangkok with Prime Minister [Page 50] Sarit, Foreign Minister Thanat and others. When Secretary Johnson suggested it might be a good idea to return US combat troops to Thailand if the PL continued their advance, the Thai said that bringing troops to Thailand without intending to do more than in 1962 would not be good enough; if troops were to come the US should give a clear indication that they would move further if necessary.
On May 30, 1964, with continued deterioration in Laos, Secretary Rusk called on PM Thanom. When asked what the United States would do if the Communists continued their advances, the Secretary replied that a specific concrete answer would have to come from the President and that one would be forthcoming shortly. He added, however, that there was no limit to what the US would do if necessary to defend Thailand. The Prime Minister said the Thai were undertaking defense measures and might be compelled to cross the Mekong. He expected that if such steps were necessary the US and Thailand would act together. The Secretary said he was encouraged by this Thai planning and suggested the desirability of advance consultation. (Secto 27 5/30/64)5
At a June 1964 high-level US planning meeting in Honolulu attended by the Secretaries McNamara and Rusk it was decided that the US should request urgent consultations with the RTG regarding measures to be taken in the event of a PL drive towards the Mekong. On June 8, 1964, Ambassador Martin called on Thanom, reviewed the Honolulu discussions, and said he was convinced of the “complete firmness of the US decision to do whatever was necessary to prevent Communist domination in Southeast Asia.” The Ambassador then referred to Rusk’s discussions in May and said that he had been instructed that the US desired to consult urgently about measures to be taken. He said that “our willingness to engage with the Thai in immediate planning was further evidence of the complete seriousness of our intentions.” He also pointed to the prepositioning of military equipment at Korat as further proof. (Bangkok 2106 6/8/64)6
On June 18, 1964, the first meeting took place with Dawee chairing the Thai side and with representatives from CINCPAC leading the US delegation. Dawee said he spoke for the Prime Minister. Thai policy was that they would hope to fight side-by-side with the United States, but would require substantial US logistical support should action be necessary against Communist advances in Laos. General Easterbrook, Chief, JUSMAG emphasized that this conference was a follow-on of the discussions held between Secretary Rusk and the [Page 51] Prime Minister. General Milton from CINCPAC said that he understood that Dawee was speaking for the Prime Minister but he was in a position only to transmit his views to CINCPAC and the JCS. Dawee said he understood how the United States Government works.
The US side pressed for Thai views on just what Communist acts would be required to trigger joint Thai-US actions. The Thai gave no definite answer but indicated that the situation would have to be judged against existing circumstances. Dawee also said that he assumed that this plan involving possible movement of forces to Laos would be implemented with the approval of the RLG but that we should be prepared to move without it.
In a letter to the Prime Minister from President Johnson transmitted on June 27, 1964,7 the President said “We regard Communist advances in Laos as a threat to the security of the United States as well as to that of Thailand. In accordance with this concept, I have authorized Ambassador Martin to open consultations with you looking toward joint Thai-US military planning of measures to be taken in the event of a Communist drive towards the borders of Thailand. I understand joint planning meetings will begin in Bangkok this week. We must be prepared to act promptly and effectively to check such a drive as necessary.”
On August 11, 1964, State concurred in the terms of reference (TOR) in a letter from Bundy to Solbert8 which said “We see the possibility of real political as well as military advantages arising from joint planning with the Thai and we hope that it can begin soon.”
The TOR called for planning to provide for the defense of Thailand to include military operations to hold the Mekong Valley, its principal cities, and its military facilities (in Laos as well as Thailand). The threat is defined as Communist operations in Laos as more than subversion but less than overt aggression. The defense of Thailand could require any of a combination of the following: definitive and punitive actions in the event of Communist border incursion into Thailand; counterinsurgency actions against Communist forces in Laos in the event of Communist border incursion into Thailand; counter-insurgency actions against Communist forces in Laos in the event of an insurgency in Thailand; and interdiction operations against North Viet-Nam. The TOR also stated that joint Thai-US consultations could be undertaken at any time to determine what portions of the plan should be implemented.
On October 26, 1964, the basic draft force level plan was submitted to the “national authorities” for approval. On August 23, 1965, [Page 52] the final force level plan was promulgated by Prime Minister Thanom at MOD. In November of 1965 a draft field force plan was submitted to the national authorities and on December 23, 1966 the final field force plan was promulgated by Thanom at MOD.
At the signing of the field force plan by Thanom and General Stilwell on December 23, 1966, Amb. Martin noted he was participating “on behalf of and as the personal representative of the President of the United States.” He traced the plan’s beginning at the President’s behest. He said the plan did not really deepen American determination to do whatever is necessary to carry out American commitments to insure the defense of Thailand and that “as the President pointed out in his recent visit to Thailand that commitment is full and complete and as the President reiterated then ‘America keeps its word.’” Ambassador Martin said, however, “that the act witnessed today does translate into effective operational terms the modalities of carrying out our joint commitments should events dictate that our respective governments would authorize the implementation of the plan. As such it is of tremendous political importance in this translation into effective operational planning for the use of our combined resources.” He then coupled the plan with the recent approval of SEATO Plan 8 and concluded by saying that he had been authorized by the President “to convey to your Excellency his personal gratification and congratulations on the completion of this exercise.” (A–498, 12/28/66)9
On January 5, 1966, Ambassador Martin sent a letter to PM Thanom. The PM was under criticism from Praphas and Thanat to the effect that recent American construction projects and deployments had no relevance to Thailand’s security needs and that America was “occupying” Thailand. To help the PM fend this off the letter linked these construction projects to existing agreements and to both SEATO and Project 22 contingency planning.
In June 1967, the draft air, naval and unconventional warfare component plans of the project were approved in draft form and in October of the same year the draft ground component plan was approved by MACT.
In early 1968 a top secret working paper which gave a fairly clear picture of the plan disappeared from the trunk of a car belonging to a Thai member of the Project 22 working group. We do not know whether or not the plan fell into unfriendly hands. Following this the name of the exercise was changed from Project 22 to Project Taksin.
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 64, Memoranda to the President, 1969 September. Top Secret; Priority; Exdis. Received at 1056Z. Repeated to SECDEF, JCS, and CINCPAC.
  2. Kissinger forwarded the telegram to the President under a September 26 covering memorandum in which he said that “Project Taksin itself originated as a Democratic effort to convince the Thai that we meant business when we said that we would do anything necessary to defend the Mekong, including the re-introduction of American troops.” Kissinger also summarized that the “history of negotiations shows clearly that the plans were developed at our initiative more than that of the Thai.” Attached but not printed.
  3. Dated September 9; not printed. (DEF 1 THAI–US)
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XXIII, Document 479, footnote 1.
  5. Secto 27 is printed ibid., 1964–1968, vol. XXVII, Document 272.
  6. Not printed. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 1 THAI–US)
  7. Dated June 18, 1964; the letter is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXVII, Document 277.
  8. Not found.
  9. Not printed. (DEF 1 THAI–US)