381. Memorandum From Deputy Secretary of State Rush to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), Washington, March 14, 1974.1 2


March 14, 1974


Subject: U.S. Deployments in and Equipment Turnover in Thailand

By memoranda of March 9 and 12 from the National Security Council Staff Secretary, the Department was asked to comment on the implications of Defense Department proposals concerning U.S. deployments in Thailand and the turnover to Thailand of equipment attached to U.S. forces now there.

With regard to deployments, the March 9 memorandum transmitted a plan for reduction of our force level from 36,000 to 32,200 in the 12 months beginning May 1974, with further reduction to 24,700 by the end of FY 75. The March 12 memorandum transmitted an alternative plan for withdrawal of 10,000 personnel in May and June of this year, but made no mention of FY 75 reductions.

Public criticism of U.S. military presence in Thailand continues, but the Thai government has not objected to retaining the present force level through the end of this dry season. The Thai have been informed, however, that we intend to resume withdrawals after May 1 and we are certain that they will expect us to do so, after advance consultation with them.

The desires of the RTG with regard to the rate of withdrawals after May 1 are not known. The Thai Prime Minister indicated to me during my recent visit to Bangkok that the ultimate disposition of forces at Thai bases would depend upon the views of the next government. The [Page 2]psychological climate in the meanwhile is likely to be colored by the political campaigning which will precede the coming Thai national elections, which may be held as early as mid-year. During that campaigning we can expect the U.S. military presence to be a major issue. We anticipate that the Thai public will want a more rapid redeployment rate than the proposed reduction to 24,700 by the end of FY 75. Thus the RTG can be expected to prefer the alternative, i.e., 10,000 withdrawn by the end of this fiscal year. However, this is likely immediately to raise questions concerning our plans thereafter and we should be prepared to discuss the longer range as soon as possible after consulting with RTG on the initial May-June withdrawals.

The only argument on Thai political grounds for the slower withdrawal rate relates to the feasibility of re-entry if Indochina circumstances should so require. The Defense Department plan asserts that "we can easily institute a plan to periodically deploy additional combat units to Thailand on a temporary basis in order to continue sending the 'right signals' to Hanoi." We doubt that political circumstances in Thailand would permit this in the absence of a direct and immediate threat to Thailand and of assurance that the U.S. would actually employ its forces against that threat.

In discussions with the Thai, we should be prepared to take into account their views not only on the political exigencies within Thailand, but also on the economic impact of withdrawals. The plan for accelerated withdrawal envisions the closing of two bases, Takhli and probably Ubon, and this will inevitably have an economic impact on areas immediately adjacent to the bases. Our experience when we closed Takhli in 1971 indicates that dislocations resulting from closure can be minimized through consultation with the Thai. It is therefore essential that we begin discussions with the RTG at an early date and be prepared to work with them to reduce the local economic dislocations.

Whichever plan is adopted, it is important that we begin our discussions with the RTG and reach agreement as soon as possible for three reasons: First, Deputy Foreign Minister Chatchai recently went on the public [Page 3]record regarding your position on the U.S. military presence in Thailand taken during your meeting with Chatchai in New York last September. Chatchai quoted you as saying that the United States will be guided by Thai desires. Second, if agreement extending through the 1975 dry season can be reached with the present government it will be more difficult for the next government, whatever its inclinations, to reopen the issue and dictate a schedule that we might find unsatisfactory. Third, early announcement of agreement on force reductions could help reduce the heat of criticism that we expect during the upcoming election campaigns and would avoid giving the impression that we were acting in response to political pressures.

With respect to that portion of our personnel withdrawals that would result from reductions in headquarters and support elements, we have seen the Defense Department memorandum of February 27 on this subject. We believe it is consistent with current Thai political circumstances that dictate a lowering of the U.S. military profile. We are pleased to note that it calls for planning on the phase down and elimination of USSAG/7AF. This is a particularly sensitive organization in Thailand and is likely to become a subject of increasing controversy during the next several months. Also important is the interest expressed in the memorandum in reducing our intelligence presence.

We have also reviewed the Defense Department memorandum transmitted with the March 12 NSC Staff Memorandum, regarding turnover of U.S. equipment. We do not believe it is fully responsive to your memorandum of November 21, 1973, in that it does not make specific recommendations for equipment transfer other than O-2s (in which the Thai appear to be uninterested), EC-47s, and some medical equipment. We believe DOD should be tasked to come up with additional specific recommendations. In addition, we urge that decisions on specific items that may become available as bases close be made with maximum flexibility. This will help create a climate favorable to retention of a reduced presence in Thailand after FY 75 and might improve prospects for re-entry should such action become necessary later on.

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That you approve the accelerated redeployment plan transmitted with the NSC Staff memorandum of March 12, 1974.
That you ask the Defense Department to develop urgently a further plan to cover redeployment during FY 75.
That Ambassador Kintner be authorized to consult with the RTG on a basis that will (a) allow for possible alteration in our redeployment plan to meet any Thai problems and (b) permit cooperative arrangements to minimize economic dislocations.
That Ambassador Kintner be authorized subsequently to consult with the RTG on plans for FY 75.
That you task the Defense Department to reexamine the subject of equipment which can be turned over to Thailand as we withdraw our forces.

Kenneth Rush

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 566, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Volume 11, October 1973–. Secret. Davis’s memorandum of March 9, on U.S. deployments in Thailand, and March 12, on U.S. force reductions in Thailand, and their accompanying DOD attachments are attached but not published.
  2. Rush submitted State’s response to Department of Defense proposals concerning U.S. deployment and equipment turnover in Thailand.