89. Memorandum From K. Wayne Smith of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • George Tanham’s Priorities for Thailand

You are probably aware that a strongly held view in the State Department is that the U.S. should not urge the Thai to deploy ground forces outside Thailand, e.g., in Laos and Cambodia, except perhaps on short-term cross-border operations.

Those who favor this “Fortress Thailand” view do so for a variety of reasons, including a fear that Thai ground operations outside Thailand will provoke a retaliatory response from Hanoi or Peking. One of their strongest arguments is that the limited Thai military capabilities that are available should be deployed against the insurgent threat within Thailand.

Marshall Green has called your attention2 to the views of George Tanham, one of the proponents of the view just described, and suggested you might want to talk with him. (The Green and Tanham memoranda are at Tab A.)3

Tanham, who until recently served as Ambassador Unger’s Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency, argues as follows:4

  • —The RTG does not take the insurgent threat seriously enough and is not devoting adequate attention or resources to its insurgency problems. For example, RTG units deployed against the insurgents are poorly trained and undermanned.
  • —Efforts by the U.S. to involve the Thai outside Thailand indirectly divert Thai attention from their internal problems. Moreover, in responding to U.S. requests to deploy “forward,” the Thai may believe that such deployments increase the U.S.’s obligation to help Thailand meet its insurgent threat.

Tanham’s reasoning drastically simplifies an exceedingly complex problem. Thai decisions on out-of-country deployments turn more on their view of their security interests than anything else, although financial inducements play an important role. Furthermore, the NSSM 51 study has found no one-to-one trade-off between RTG capability to meet the external versus the internal threat. It is more likely that the Thai will:

  • —meet neither threat if they do not reform their forces or receive appropriate U.S. assistance, or
  • —meet both threats if they do take the necessary reform actions and U.S. assistance is provided intelligently. NSSM 51 lays out several options designed to promote Thai force effectiveness against the internal and external threats and weighs the advantages and disadvantages of external deployments as a separate political and strategic military issue.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 563, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. V. Secret. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum in Kissinger’s handwriting reads: “They have proven their contention ad nauseum.”
  2. In a July 17 memorandum to Kissinger, Green recommended Tanham as “one of the foremost authorities on insurgency problems, particularly in Thailand.”
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Although Smith summarized Tanham’s two main points, the latter made numerous other observations in his June 1970 memorandum. Some of his points are specific, e.g. “too many young officers in Bangkok,” while others are more general. For example, in his speculation concerning the reason for Bangkok’s “probably complacent” attitude towards the insurgency, Tanham theorizes that “their successful experience in maintaining their independence,” their “leaders’ belief in the basic loyalty of the Thai people,” and “an inadequate understanding of the real threat of communist revolutionary warfare” all played a part.