107. Study Prepared by the National Security Council Interdepartmental Group for East Asia1

[Omitted here is the table of contents and sections A through C: Identification of U.S. Interests, U.S. Security Objectives, and Examination of Some Factors in the Current East Asian Environment.]

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D. A General Strategy for Pursuing U.S. Interests in East Asia in Light of Current Conditions and Restraints

Despite the communist victories in Indochina, the United States still possesses a number of advantages in pursuing its interests in East Asia. The environment is changed, however, not only because of Vietnam but as the result of a number of momentous developments, some sudden and some gradual, over the last decade or two. In general, we need to pursue our interests with greater subtlety, more reliance on riding the waves of existing trends in the area, greater use of our diplomatic and, hopefully, economic tools and greater flexibility in tactics. We will probably be less often called upon to employ military force in ambiguous situations. In any event, current domestic and international constraints drastically curtail our ability to do so. Nonetheless, it remains of vital importance that the U.S. retain a flexible and strong military posture in the Asia-Pacific area. In this regard, increases in military deployments, particularly to counter Soviet naval strength, must not be ruled out.

In Northeast Asia, we must sustain our alliances with Japan and Korea. In particular, we must build upon the foundation of our common approach with Japan over the coming years, including cooperation on international economic issues. We should also strengthen our security ties with Japan and explore ways in which Japan—through economic, political and diplomatic means—can complement more effectively our security efforts in the area.

We must be prepared to defend South Korea—although in the future we may adjust our on-the-spot presence as conditions permit. We must try to maintain a favorable balance of power involving ourselves, the USSR, the PRC, and Japan. We can, however, take actions in time to show the value of the U.S. connection to each of the parties, especially the Chinese. These policies require us to be aware of the forces at work in the internal debates of the other major powers as well as their international posture—and to do whatever we can to promote favorable trends.

In regard to noncommunist Southeast Asia, our overriding goal should be to support with sympathy and understanding the growth of stronger and more viable and independent societies, including the development of an effective economic structure. Where possible, and where they demonstrate a willingness to face their own problems, we should provide such security and economic assistance as we are able. All these countries, including Thailand, are capable of resisting communist expansion short of outright aggression and of overcoming or containing their insurgencies, particularly if they can provide stable and reasonably progressive government and reasonable progress in meeting the needs of their populations. What we do to help them eco[Page 456]nomically, politically and in backdrop security terms will be important. Of even more importance is what we do not do. We must not overly embrace them in ways that embarrass them before their Third World peers or which arouse tender national sensitivities. We must take heed of their sense of sovereignty and welcome an inevitable greater independence from us that is the corollary of greater strength and maturity.

The source of future tension in many parts of East Asia may spring more from communal and territorial conflicts than from communist or other insurgencies. The U.S. should avoid direct involvement in these conflicts and discourage intervention by other powers, while doing what it can diplomatically to help resolve such disputes peacefully. At the same time, we should seek to reduce tensions between middle level powers and to progressively reduce the major power stakes in these regional rivalries while discouraging the proliferation of nuclear weapons as an alternative.

As for Indochina, we must try to promote a continued evolution toward independent attitudes and toward moderation. We should try to identify the interests and attitudes of each Indochina entity as well as the interplay between them and the major outside powers and seek to do those things that can lead toward a favorable evolution of events. We should reject excessive communist demands but remain available for improved relations if Hanoi and the others pursue reasonable and constructive policies toward us, particularly with regard to the full accounting for MIA’s, and toward their neighbors. The advantages of U.S. trade and technology as well as the U.S. as a potential political and military balance wheel, should be kept in view for the Indochina communists to consider as a quid pro quo for a more reasonable stance on their part.

In this environment the projection of U.S. military power in the Western Pacific is an important element of the triangular or quadrangular power balance in East Asia. While U.S. security objectives have changed, there is still a need for a strategic military presence that maintains a great power equilibrium in which our Allies and other non-hostile countries can have confidence. In addition, we need mobile and flexible forces which can deter aggression against Korea and Japan, assist in the defense of Allies under existing security agreements, counter Soviet forces in the event of a U.S.-Soviet war, provide surveillance and emergency reaction capabilities and protect communication lines in the Pacific.

Any changes in the deployment of U.S. forces should take place within the context of bilateral or multilateral arrangements aimed at promoting stable evolution. Changes in deployments could, however, seriously undermine the projection of U.S. power if they were seen to [Page 457]be the result of weakness and indecision at home or of a hesitant and unsuccessful foreign policy.

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 39, NSSM 235 (1 of 2) (1). Secret. The study was completed in response to NSSM 235 ( Document 67). Scowcroft forwarded the study, revised following the June 4 SRG meeting ( Document 87), to Kissinger, Rumsfeld, and Bush under a covering memorandum, November 5. (Ibid.)