102. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Regional Affairs, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Martens) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Gleysteen)1


  • The Probable Effects on Southeast Asia of Sending a High-Level US Delegation to Hanoi

If carried out with care and proper preparation, a shift in US policy toward more rapid normalization with Hanoi might be well-regarded by some if not all the ASEAN states and all could accommodate themselves to such a policy if properly prepared. However, any spectacular move toward Hanoi, particularly this early in the new Administration, could have a profound unsettling effect on the non-communist countries of Southeast Asia. Thailand is clearly the most sensitive to any major US change toward Vietnam but the other countries would also be affected in greater or lesser degree.

The potential destabilizing and unsettling effects of any US gesture toward Hanoi could be substantially reduced, however, by prior consultation with all of the ASEAN states to be carried out in a serious and considerate manner that would not appear perfunctory. At a minimum, our Ambassadors in all the ASEAN countries plus Burma should be authorized to inform the highest levels of those governments in advance and with appropriate stress on our continued interest and concern in their welfare. We would explain, in particular, that our initiatives to improve US-Vietnamese relations were designed to contribute to peace and stability in the region and were but one demonstration of the fact that the United States would continue to be active in the affairs of the area. Similar notification should also be given to a number of other governments but less urgently so. Ideally, however, it would be preferable to make some non-Vietnam related gesture toward the friendly states of the region first, even if only a reassuring statement in an early speech on foreign policy that would clearly dem[Page 359]onstrate that we are sincerely interested in the future of non-communist Southeast Asia, that we will continue to place greater emphasis on it than on communist Indo-China and that we fully intend to continue playing an active, positive role in the area.

The above recommendations are made against a backdrop of undisguised concern in the non-communist Southeast Asian states that the new US administration has shown little interest in them or their concerns and a fear that they will be brushed aside in favor of spectacular steps toward accommodation with Vietnam. The situation is reminiscent of the so-called “Nixon shocks” in Japan resulting from failure to “clue-in” important sensitive countries in advance of our China initiative2—an initiative that would have not only been acceptable but welcomed if properly prepared. The sensitivities in the ASEAN countries today can be likened to those in Japan in the earlier situation; but the institutions are weaker, the sense of vulnerability is greater and the capacity for [less than 1 line not declassified] over-reaction is also decidedly more palpable.

The above comments are not to suggest the nature of specific reactions in the ASEAN countries. These may not be immediately evident, in fact, since the shock effect could produce conflicting pressures for imprudently precipitous accommodation by some of the Southeast Asian states with Hanoi on the one hand and a flight into greater militarization and security consciousness on the other. Among other implications of the latter would be an additional encroachement of authoritarianism and further repression of dissidence. Both tendencies might co-exist in a country like Thailand with implications for greater internal polarization and bickering which would tend to destabilize the governing mechanisms, or even the society, further. Pressures from some quarters to shift ASEAN’s emphasis toward security considerations would be a possibility too and this would predictably provoke a more hostile Hanoi attitude than now exists leading into a vicious circle of mutual suspicion. Another possible reaction in Thailand would be to seek US reassurances on a basis that might not only be embarrassing to us but which would be essentially unhealthy. Specifically, Thai pressure to “talk-up” the Manila Pact3 and Rusk-Thanat agreement4 [Page 360] from the obscurity into which they had slipped after Vietnam and to seek our endorsement of their current validity, could occur.

The Philippines could be reinforced in its [less than 1 line not declassified] behavior and its doubts about US commitments under the bilateral security treaty5 magnified—both with adverse effects on the future of the base negotiations. Indonesia would be notably shaken and vulnerable to the ever-present undercurrents of xenophobia, mysticism and escape from the current modernizing mood. Malaysia would welcome US normalization with Hanoi in any case but would be affected by Indonesia’s attitude and, in any event, would be more reassured by prior consultations. Singapore, with its pragmatic and worldly leadership, would be less shaken than Thailand and Indonesia but would fear anything that could be interpreted as US weakness or naivete.

None of the above points should be taken as a bar to early normalization with Hanoi. All can be overcome by well-considered preparation involving consultation designed to demonstrate that our Vietnam policy is being carried out in the broader policy framework of constructing a more stable and healthy equilibrium for the long pull—a policy in which friendship and concern for our friends in non-communist Southeast Asia and a willingness to remain active ourselves in promoting regional peace and stability would remain fundamental ingredients.

  1. Source: Department of State, Miscellaneous Old Vietnam Political Records, 1968–1991, Lot 94D430, Viet-Nam Normalization of Relations (SRV). Secret; Exdis. Concurred in in draft by Gregory Miller (EA), John Helble (EA/TB), Edward Ingraham (EA/IMS), Benjamin Fleck (EA/PHL), and James Rosenthal (EA/VLC).
  2. A reference to Nixon’s July 15, 1971, announcement that he would be visiting China and his description of the 2 days of meetings between Kissinger and Zhou Enlai in China that immediately preceded the announcement. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 819–820.
  3. The Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, also known as the Manila Pact, signed September 8, 1954, established SEATO. (TIAS 3170; 6 UST 81) See Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. XII, East Asia and the Pacific, Part 1, pp. 898–899.
  4. The Rusk-Thanat joint statement, signed March 6, 1962, pledged U.S. support for Thailand’s defense. See Department of State Bulletin, March 26, 1962, pp. 498–499.
  5. The Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Philippines was signed on August 30, 1951. (3 UST 3947; TIAS 2529)