99. Letter From the Ambassador to Thailand (Unger) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)1
The recent bombing of North Vietnam targets by US aircraft is yet another in a series of cases that found me totally unprepared to tell the RTG anything about operations from Thai bases involving a significant departure from existing policies and practices as they know them. While fully appreciating the sensitivity of the subject, I strongly feel that my inability to communicate some of this information—at least at the top level—has prevented me from discharging commitments and responsibilities to the RTG that form an important part of the arrangements [Page 203]and understandings under which US forces were permitted to operate from Thai bases. Initially, you will recall, they asked for advance information on our operations. Our present arrangement of giving them post-strike summaries is predicated on the assumption that we will keep them informed of unusual operations, especially when the deviation from established practice has political dimensions of interest to the Thai.
I am enclosing a brief list of Thai-based operations2 that took place this year without our knowing in advance or being able to inform the RTG except after the fact.
As far as last weekend’s strikes against North Vietnam are concerned, despite my urgent inquiry to Washington,3 I was again unable to offer the RTG any information about the involvement of Thai-based USAF resources beyond what had already appeared in the papers. The Prime Minister’s first question when I introduced General Clay was about this operation. Had Thanat been present, he would surely have probed more deeply and perhaps gotten off one of his barbs about our failure to consult. To compound the problem, Secretary Laird’s November 23 statement about the helicopter rescue operation (which I was instructed to convey urgently) was sent only Priority, did not arrive here until after lunch, and could not be conveyed before the RTG read it in the afternoon papers. In view of today’s press stories that the helicopters used Thai bases, we may yet have some inquiries about this one.
I strongly feel that the requirement to keep the RTG fully informed on operations of Thai-based aircraft is fundamental to the smooth conduct of air operations from Thai bases. It has a direct bearing on the continuation of the operational freedom we have enjoyed here and which I presume it is desirable to maintain.
I know you will share my growing concern over these disturbing episodes and hope you will find opportunities to take them up at appropriate levels in DOD, perhaps by drawing Dave Packard’s4 and Tom Moorer’s attention to them. With every understanding for the need for operational secrecy, I believe our policy of dealing out the RTG (whose [Page 204]record on security has been excellent) is short-sighted and someday may boomerang. Informing the RTG after the fact, and then only incompletely, simply will not do!
Looking forward to seeing you soon in Washington.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 563, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. V. Top Secret; Official–Informal.↩
- Attached but not printed.↩
- Telegram 14761 from Bangkok, November 22. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 563, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. V)↩
- In a December 4 letter to Packard, Johnson enclosed a copy of Unger’s letter and commented: “I feel that his points are very well taken and, as we draw down in the area and the Thai look to what they feel are the policy implications for themselves, I feel that we should no longer necessarily expect the same degree of Thai complaisance in our use of bases in Thailand.” (Ibid.)↩