32. Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Department of State 1

14764. Subject: Symington Sub-committee Hearings (Thai Role in Viet-Nam). Ref: State 178591.2

1. This message contains all of the material we have been able to gather in response to the sub-committee’s question.3 We have found several gaps, particularly concerning the onset of negotiations with the Thai about the possibility of their sending ground troops to SVN. What follows should serve as a solid basis for a prepared statement:

2. The Thai arrived at their present force level in SVN in four stages. In 1964 they sent a small air force contingent, in 1966 a naval unit, in 1967 an infantry regiment and in 1968 they increased the regiment to a division. We began supporting their effort in 1966. This support evolved through several stages and for a time varied from unit to unit. There is consequently some overlap in the following account of the various Thai contributions.

[Omitted here are paragraphs 3–10 describing details of the Thai military involvement in Vietnam.]

11. Thailand can notify the GVN at any time that it wishes to withdraw some or all of its forces in SVN. While our records do not contain information specifically on the duration of the Thai commitment to SVN it is reasonable to assume that neither we nor the Thai are under an obligation to continue support of the Thai military contribution to VN indefinitely; therefore, the US could terminate its support of the Thai forces after, of course, notifying the RTG. Also we feel certain that we could persuade the RTG to withdraw its forces from SVN if it were prudent to do so. The Thai have indicated their desire to coordinate closely with the other allies in SVN. We have not suggested to the Thai that they reduce or withdraw their forces; however both we and they are aware of the insurgent threat in Thailand and the related threat of enemy advances in Laos. There has been some speculation among individual RTG authorities that it might be necessary to withdraw or reduce their forces if the threat to Thailand becomes worse. However, recently the RTG has publicly announced its intention to continue its military contribution to the GVN as long as each believes it is a necessary contribution.

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Assistance to the Thai

12. USG direct assistance to the Thai to support their troop contribution is described above.4 This aid is outside the regular Military Assistance Program. The MASF program was used to meet Thai requirements stemming from a deployment decision in 1967. Amb Unger’s Nov 7, 19675 letter outlines this. The Thai had two major concerns when they decided to increase its infantry contribution to a division in late 1967.

A.
They were concerned that sending their best troops out of country in substantial numbers would weaken their military posture in Thailand. They sought to meet this by accelerating their modernization efforts and sought our assistance. In response we agreed to increase the MASF level from $60 million to $75 million for FY 68 and to a $75 million planning figure for FY 69. We also agreed to consult with the Thai on the composition of the program.
B.
With the decision to send a division, longstanding Thai anxieties about air attack surfaced once again. They asked for a Hawk battalion and after considerable discussion we settled on a Hawk battery to be deployed after the RTG had acquired the necessary land and completed the requisite construction. We also agreed to train the Thai to operate the battery and turn it over to them. The cost of the battery, not to be borne by the MAP Program, is about $7 million. The annual O&M cost to the MAP Program is estimated to be about $1.2 million. To date the site has not been prepared and the Hawks have not been deployed.

13. The dispatch of forces to Vietnam has had a nearly uniform positive political impact in Thailand. The Thai believe that their participation in the conflect reflects credit on the nation, particularly because it is a volunteer expeditionary force. The Thai believe that unit performance has been creditable and they take pride in the recognition given for specific actions by the allied command.

During the election campaign, nearly a year ago, a few voices were raised by left-wing fringe candidates advocating withdrawal of Thai forces from Vietnam (and US forces from Thailand), but as noted elsewhere these had no effects on the campaign or its outcome. More recently, in the wake of the beginning of the US troop reduction program, some similar comments have appeared. These have been divided among the handful who advocate withdrawal in principle, and who are still regarded as aberrant by most Thai, and a few who have [Page 72]argued that Thai forces should be drawn down along with other allied forces in the light of security requirements at home.

RTG and Viet-Nam Strategy

14. The Thai Government has participated as one of the troop contributing countries in periodic meetings and in the process of consultation on major political and military moves to which the US Government is pledged. The more formal acts of consultation have, of course, been accompanied by a continuing exchange of information, ideas and views. 15. By these means, key Thai leaders have been given a sense of participation commensurate with their contributions to the joint effort— contributions which in their minds include not only the dispatch of Thai forces to Vietnam, but the provision of bases and facilities for use by US forces in Thailand. They have neither had nor sought a direct role in development of strategic or tactical plans by COMUSMACV and the GVN. But they have felt free to express their judgments as to the general course of action best calculated to bring the war to a satisfactory ending. They have consistently advocated, and still prefer, that efforts at negotiation be accompanied by application of sufficient military pressure to make the negotiations meaningful and to protect the fundamental principles on which US and Republic of Vietnam participation in the Paris Talks has been premised.

RTG and Viet-Nam Settlement

16. The Thai Government expects to have a voice in the eventual Vietnam settlement and, indeed, desires to have a part in the post-hostilities efforts to maintain stability and promote regional reconstruction and development.

17. The Thai Government has accepted the propriety of the current phase of the negotiations being conducted by the US and the Republic of Vietnam, speaking for all the troop contributing countries. They expect to be kept informed of developments in and related to the talks. This has been done on a very selective basis, and there has been no indication that the Thai feel their legitimate interests are being disregarded. They have however emphasized their desire for more timely consultation in advance of actions. They have made no requests to participate in the Paris Talks themselves at this stage, but expect to participate in negotiations leading up to the eventual settlement.

18. The claim of the Thai and other troop contributing govts to participate in appropriate ways in the eventual settlement is recorded in the Manila Communiqué of 1966.6 The Thai understandably and [Page 73]properly take this seriously. The US Government has given expression to the need for consultation as events unfold through meetings of the foreign ministers of the troop contributing countries, which have been held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the SEATO Council and, in Sept. 1969, at Secretary of State Rogers’ initiative in New York.

In the absence of clearer indication of the time when negotiations will become meaningful, and in what kind of forum, the Thai Govt has not spelled out its ideas on the way in which it could appropriately participate. In the meantime, however, as noted above, they have wished to maintain a dialogue on the substance of the Vietnam problem. We believe that the Thai do this with the other allies as well as with the US and that the views of the Govt of Vietnam are given special weight in the development of Thai positions. Throughout the period of the Paris Talks, Thai leaders have spoken in opposition to the imposition of a coalition govt on South Vietnam, taking in this respect at least as hard a position as that of the GVN.

19. Foreign Minister Thanat has indicated in a general way the disposition of the Thai Govt to continue to play an active role in Southeast Asian affairs following achievement of a settlement. The Thai seem attracted to the idea of entrusting the task of supervising provisions of the settlement to a largely Asian group of nations, more broadly based than the International Control Commissions established in the 1954 and 1962 Geneva Agreements. If such a step were feasible now, it seems likely that the Thai Govt would itself be willing to contribute to such an effort.

20. The prospect of a coordinated attack on the problem of reconstruction and continuing development in the Southeast Asian region has held great appeal for the Thai ever since President Johnson’s speech at Johns Hopkins in 1965. The Royal Thai Govt is already an active participant in virtually all regional organizations, either indigenous to Asia or involving participation of outsiders as well, and believes there is the prospect both for further strengthening of such institutions and for the Asian members to carry a progressively greater share in the effort. The Thai do not believe, however, that either such organizations or the region in general can achieve its potential without support from the US and other nations outside the region continuing for a further period.

Unger
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  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 1–1 THAI–US. Secret; Limdis. Repeated to SECDEF, CINCPAC, and COMUSMACTHAI.
  2. Telegram 178591 to Bangkok, October 21, transmitted the text of Senator Symington’s October 20 letter to Rogers. (Ibid.)
  3. For a summary of the information Symington requested, see footnote 2, Document 30.
  4. Paragraphs 3–10 describe U.S. financial support of overseas allowances, meals, and accommodations for Thai forces in Vietnam, and death and disability gratuities. The United States also agreed to equip and pay for the training of the Thai ground forces going to Vietnam.
  5. Not printed.
  6. For text of the Manila communiqué, see Department of State Bulletin, November 14, 1966, pp. 730–735. Paragraph No. 28 dealt with the participation of troop-contributing countries in the settlement. It stated that “they would act on this basis in close consultation among themselves in regard to settlement of the conflict.”