74. Memorandum From William Stearman of the National Security Council Staff to Secretary of State Kissinger, Washington, June 6, 1975.1 2


June 6, 1975


SUBJECT: U.S. Policy on Laos

Early WSAG discussion of Laos has been recommended, and the main question will be: What is it worth to us to maintain a presence in Laos?

The main arguments being made for keeping a presence are:

  • — Our Mission would serve as a listening post in Laos.
  • — Our presence in Laos might give us some influence in the country. Specifically, we might be able to influence Soviet, Chinese and North Vietnamese attitudes.
  • — Our presence in Laos would reassure the Thai. Conversely, our withdrawal would disturb the Thai.
  • — It is customary and convenient for us to maintain a presence in most countries whether Communist or non-Communist, friendly or unfriendly.

On balance we are virtually all agreed that it would be desirable to keep a presence in Laos. Disagreement will arise over the price we should pay. I submit that maintaining our presence is, for the following reasons, not worth the price we will probably have to pay.

  • —As a listening post, Vientiane will be marginal at best because our contacts — and those of the whole diplomatic community — will be severely restricted. We will probably learn more about Lao developments in Udorn, Thailand than in Vientiane — just as for years Vienna [Page 2] was a better source of information on Czechoslovakia and Hungary than were Prague and Budapest.
  • — It is extremely difficult to see how we can have any influence in Laos. One basic fact, which is often ignored or not understood, is that Hanoi calls the shots in Laos. We have ample intelligence showing how tight North Vietnamese control has been over the Pathet Lao. Our influence over the North Vietnamese is now practically nil. I can see little reason why either the Chinese or Soviets should be receptive to our views on Laos. The Chinese have consistently supported the Hanoi position on Laos and, for example, seemed to have cooperated closely with the North Vietnamese and the Pathet Lao in the roadbuilding operation in Northern Laos. The Soviets have been somewhat less supportive of Hanoi’s role — as was the case in Cambodia — and probably have little influence left in the country.
  • — It would, no doubt, please and reassure the Thai if we remained in Vientiane. It would, however, not reassure the Thai if we permitted ourselves to be humiliated or blackmailed as the price for keeping an Embassy in Laos.

Basically, the PGNU request for “unconditional” aid is probably an extension of Hanoi’s public demand for U.S. reparations under Article 21. If we came up with enough aid — which would be hard to justify to Congress or anybody else in light of what has recently happened — our people might be left alone; however, Hanoi might still find it hard to resist the temptation to have its Pathet Lao proxies occasionally rub our noses in it just to demonstrate our impotency in Southeast Asia.

If we give little or no aid — especially if we cut off our vital contributions to FEOF — there is little doubt that our remaining personnel would be subjected to further harassment and humiliations which could only further damage our prestige in Southeast Asia. In this case we lose both by staying under these circumstances or by allowing ourselves to be forced out of the country.

In summary, we should remain in Laos only if it costs us little or nothing in aid and if we can be reasonably assured of freedom from further harassment, and both seem improbable at this time.

We can stall for awhile longer, but sooner or later the crunch will come if and when the other side realizes we are not going to help subsidize Hanoi’s Laotian colony.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, Box 12, Laos. Secret. Urgent; Sent for information. Kissinger’s initials appear at the top of the first page. According to an attached correspondence profile, Kissinger noted the report on June 9. The NSC staff scheduled a WSAG meeting for June 27 to consider U.S. policy toward Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, but a handwritten notation in the June 27 WSAG Briefing Books reads: “HAK Cancelled.” (Ibid., Box 27, WSAG Meeting, Indochina, June 27, 1975)
  2. Stearman outlined U.S. options in Laos for WSAG consideration.