57. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1
- Thai Forces for Laos
As I discussed with you, Souvanna and Thanat both have urged again that we agree to movement of a battalion-size unit to assist in the defense of Long Thien. Therefore we convened a meeting of WSAG at the Undersecretary’s level2 to consider available options. Two were developed:
Option 1: We could quickly flesh out the equipment needs of a Thai battalion (about 900 men) now located at Udorn Air Base and airlift it to Long Thien. This could be accomplished in about 72–96 hours.
Pro: If this unit is put into position before an all-out attack by North Vietnamese forces it would increase the probability of holding Long Thien against the forces now deployed against it. But it would not assure that the position could be held. It would delay the NVA forces, however, at least for the time they would need to move forward the division now held in reserve 40 miles away. It would boost the morale of Vang Pao and his Meo forces and toughen their resistance. It would stabilize Souvanna and Thanat for the time being and reduce the risk of the whole situation unraveling. The chances for an organized retreat should that become necessary, and thus the saving of those forces, would be increased. Moreover, this action would be a clear signal to North Vietnam that we would not let a major threat to Laotian sovereignty go unchallenged. This response also would strengthen Souvanna’s hand against those rightist elements who seek his removal and whose succession could complicate our relations.
Con: On the other hand, Long Thien might fall despite the introduction of the Thai unit. We could face the same dilemmas compounded by an additional commitment especially if the retreat is not orderly. We would also face a strong domestic outcry which could result in increased inhibitions on our air operations in Laos. If the Thai battalion were lost in the action, it could be a serious blow to Thai morale.[Page 123]
Option 2: We could tell Souvanna and Thanat that the best way to use Thai forces would be to prepare a full regiment of three battalions for introduction at a later stage should North Vietnam take Long Thien and continue to move southward. We would commit ourselves to proceed on this course if the need were to arise. We would consult with them now on how to equip and train the unit readying it for use when the time came and decide on a place for putting it.
Pro: This course would avoid the danger of a disaster involving substantial Thai forces at Long Thien (although over 300 Thais are already there with an artillery unit). We would be giving a favorable response to the urgent plea of Souvanna and Thanat. The domestic political problem would be somewhat reduced—we could point to the fact that we had waited until North Vietnamese intentions to overrun Laos had become unambiguous and that we had shown great restraint in the face of earlier strong pleas for our help. Since it is not certain that North Vietnam intends to move much beyond Long Thien, we might not have to move the Thais at all.
Con: This response is less than Souvanna has asked—it might not prevent him from stampeding—and seeking a deal with North Vietnam in the belief that we are not prepared to support him. Moreover, by waiting we may be in a worse position when and if we have to move the Thai forces. The North Vietnamese would have moved closer to the Thai border, effectiveness of the Lao forces would be less and our commitment would be greater. Moreover, it would be harder in those circumstances to avoid the involvement of our SEATO commitments and our Taksin plan understanding with the Thais.3
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 102, Country Files—Far East, Thanat (Foreign Minister), [2 of 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive. Printed from an unsigned copy.↩
- See Document 56.↩
- There is no indication that the President approved these recommendations, but Document 59 suggests that the President verbally instructed Kissinger to implement option 1.↩