172. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • United States

    • Secretary of Defense, Honorable Harold Brown
    • Deputy Secretary of Defense, Honorable Charles Duncan
    • Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David Jones
    • Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Honorable Richard Holbrooke
    • Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA), Honorable David McGiffert
    • U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Honorable Morton Abramowitz
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, East Asia & Pacific Affairs/Inter-American Affairs (ISA) Mr. Michael Armacost
    • Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Rear Admiral Thor Hanson
  • Thailand

    • Prime Minister of Thailand, Honorable KRIANGSAK, Chomanan
    • Minister of Foreign Affairs, Honorable UPADIT, Pachariyangkun
    • Minister of Interior, General LEK, Naeomali
    • Deputy Minister of Interior and Commander-in-Chief, Royal Thai Army, General PREM, Tinsulanonda
    • Deputy Minister of Defense, Honorable YOSE, Davahasdin
    • Ambassador of Thailand to the United States, Honorable KLOS, Visessurakarn
    • Secretary General of the Prime Minister, General PORN, Dhanabhumi
    • Secretary General of the National Security Council, Air Marshal SIDDHI, Savetsila

(C) After felicitations, the Prime Minister indicated that he had a number of requests for additional military equipment. General Lek outlined these in considerable detail. He particularly emphasized the Thai desire for an additional $20 million in FMS credits; accelerated delivery of equipment currently in the pipeline; US authorization for the RTG to obtain equipment and/or spare parts currently produced under US licensing arrangements in Taiwan and Korea; retention of the US MAG in Thailand; and access to additional major US equipment items such as tanks, APC’s, interceptor aircraft, helicopters, ammunition, anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft systems.

(C) General Prem added that the Thai Army is currently weak relative to its principal adversary, the Vietnamese. Consequently it must upgrade its forces on an urgent basis. He assigned highest priority to the acquisition of three battalions of medium tanks which he wanted to have operational within a year. He also cited a requirement for M–41 tank ammunition and spare parts which he suggested is currently available in Taiwan. General Prem recited other equipment needs such as howitzers and ammunition. He promised to provide additional details after the US side examined a detailed list of requirements which he passed to Ambassador Abramowitz.

(C) Secretary Brown noted that some of the items were already known to us; others were new requests. Therefore, we would have to study the list in detail. He underscored the serious effort the US recently had made to demonstrate continued support for the independence and security of Thailand. Specifically, he mentioned the $6 million increase in FMS credits, the change in the priority accorded to the RTG in the Force Activity Designator System from V to III, accelerated delivery of a number of systems in the pipeline (as outlined at Tab A),2 and the planned effort to obtain congressional authority for cost free transfer of $11.3 million worth of ammunition left in Thailand. Secretary Brown reiterated that we will look at the possibility of expediting additional deliveries and responding positively to other Thai equipment requests. [Page 608] He noted that no main battle tanks are currently available, and that a preliminary look at our surplus stocks reveals no tanks, half track vehicles or APC’s in stock, though some trucks are available. As for obtaining US origin items from Taiwan and Korea, he promised to look at the issue, but noted that it presented additional policy questions. He emphasized that we have been attempting to avoid encouraging additional countries to enter the arms export business and that acquisition of any items from Taiwan would present issues that we would have to review in the context of our China policy. Nevertheless he promised to review the bidding on this question and get back in touch with the Thai authorities.

(C) Regarding air-to-air missiles, he suggested that the Thai concentrate on deploying the AIM 9–J and defer consideration of the AIM 9–L due to its high costs and sophistication. The Secretary noted that we have no plans to withdraw the MAG from Thailand. As for F–5E/F, he promised that he would see what could be done about accelerating deliveries but he urged Kriangsak not to get his hopes up.

(U) General Prem requested consideration of Thai needs for the Bell helicopter outfitted with TOW anti-tank weapons.

(U) Secretary Brown indicated that it should be possible for us to provide additional TOWs to the RTG, underscoring the fact that we could probably provide anti-tank weapons more expeditiously than tanks themselves.

(U) General Prem noted that tanks are nonetheless the best anti-tank weapon.

(U) Secretary Brown acknowledged that he had argued that case himself but added that TOWs are cheaper. In any event he emphasized that he will review this along with other new Thai requests and get back to the RTG through Ambassador Abramowitz.

(U) Prime Minister Kriangsak reiterated the desire of his government to learn what excess defense stocks might be available.

(U) Secretary Brown reiterated that an initial look at our surpluses did not turn up many items on the Thai list of requests, but he said that we would keep looking.

(S) There followed some discussion of the type of tanks currently available to the Thais. General Prem indicated that the RTG tank inventory consists of M–41s which cannot cope with the T–55s available to Vietnam. Indeed he asserted that the only thing the Thais have to stop Vietnamese tanks is the heavy traffic in downtown Bangkok.

(S) Secretary Brown said he shared Thai concerns about Vietnamese military pressures against them. He suggested a variety of political and military reasons why the invasion of Thailand by the Vietnamese currently appears unlikely—not least the overextension of SRV forces [Page 609] in Cambodia and its economic difficulties at home. But he added that we would want to reaffirm in tangible ways our support for Thailand asserted on two separate occasions by the President that morning.

(S) Prime Minister Kriangsak indicated that visible display of American power in Southeast Asia was important not only to give pause to the Vietnamese, but to sharpen perceptions of America’s capacity and will to remain an effective force in the region. He also maintained that while one could argue that the Vietnamese would be unwise to attack Thailand, he was in a position in which he could not afford to be sanguine about Vietnamese ambitions. Therefore he must take the “worst case” into account.

(S) General Lek added that the President had indicated an interest in preserving a balance of forces in the area, but at present there is an imbalance. The Vietnamese have expanded their forces; they are deploying their army in Cambodia; they have the advantage of being able to utilize many weapons left in Vietnam by the U.S. Since this is a “proxy war,” he said, the Thais also have to estimate what the PRC and USSR might do. Taking all these considerations into account, he concluded that the Vietnamese could still escalate the scale and intensity of conflict in the area.

(C) Secretary Brown acknowledged that the Vietnamese have been more impressive in their efforts to build a military machine than in seeking to overcome their economic problems. He emphasized our hope that an expansion of conflict in Indochina can be averted, and commended Kriangsak for the calm and effective manner in which he had dealt with the new situation in Cambodia—i.e., affirming Thai confidence, avoiding panic, concentrating on strengthening his own military forces for the longer-term.

(S) The Prime Minister noted that if something were to happen to Thailand, there would be an inevitable general reaction involving other ASEAN countries, and indeed affecting the U.S. position. If we don’t plan for the worst, he said, we could find ourselves in great difficulty. He added that what he has said in public about the current situation is somewhat different than what he had in his own mind.

(S) The Secretary responded that he recognized the Thais faced real security dilemmas. And he emphasized that there are ample reasons for demonstrating US solidarity with Thailand at this time. He acknowledged the importance of Thai actions to build up their own forces. He said that if the Thai would leave their equipment list with Mr. McGiffert and Mr. Armacost a review would be undertaken in an expeditious way. He said that we obviously intended to maintain an effective military presence in the region, and would be prepared to consider additional ways of visibly displaying that presence. With respect to ship visits, for example, there were 32 last year to Thai ports and this [Page 610] figure seemed rather high. But he invited Kriangsak to tell us if he wanted more.

(S) There followed some discussion about the communication between Thai insurgents and hostile forces in Laos or Cambodia. Prime Minister Kriangsak said that there was some evidence of this, and he emphasized that there were still 70,000 ethnic Vietnamese inside Thailand. Air Marshal Siddhi said that the Communist Party of Thailand formerly had maintained some form of liaison with the Vietnamese, but this ceased in December, 1978. The Vietnamese are now seeking to provide support to various other groups within Thailand and he claimed that the Vietnamese were more skillful than the Chinese in utilizing such support.

(C) General Jones underscored the warm feelings that exist between the Thai and the US military, based upon the experience of fighting together in Korea and Indochina. He said that we recognized that the threat to Thailand has wider implications for Southeast Asia and for the US.

(C) General Lek noted that the Integrated Communication System in Thailand is getting old and is in need of spare parts. Prime Minister Kriangsak commented that the RTG was currently discussing with IT&T major investments in the Thai telecommunication system. Some of their military needs might be taken care of through an augmented civilian communications system.

(C) Secretary Brown emphasized our understanding of Thailand as the key to the current situation in Indochina. He said it was important to deter Vietnamese military pressures against Thailand, and that while military power is one element of the deterrent, skillful diplomacy is another. He supported the development of additional Thai military strength, but added that the key questions concerning military forces and equipment are: how much? how fast? and what kind?.

(C) The Prime Minister said that the Thais have a good deal of obsolete ammunition, for example 60 millimeter shells which can only be used about 60 to 80% of the time due to problems with the fuses.

(C) General Prem reiterated the need for M–41 spare parts. He said that these were currently available in Taiwan, and that he was ready to send people to Taiwan at a moment’s notice.

(U) Secretary Brown said that he would look into this matter.

(C) Prime Minister Kriangsak reiterated the desire of the RTG to purchase US origin items such as 155 millimeter guns and ammunition from either Taiwan or Korea.

(C) Secretary Brown concluded the meeting by saying that we will take the Thai equipment list and review it sympathetically. We have already been able to provide some support; we will review other possi [Page 611] bilities and relay our response through Ambassador Abramowitz. Meanwhile we will wait for any further suggestions the Prime Minister may have with regard to ship visits.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 330–82–0205, 22, Thailand 1979. Secret. The meeting took place at Blair House. Prepared by Armacost and approved by McGiffert on February 21.
  2. Attached but not printed is an undated table.