The Pentagon Papers
Gravel Edition
Volume 1
Document 39, Telegram from Secretary of State Dulles on the Consequences of the Seige of Dien Bien Phu, 29 April 1954, p 481-82

FROM: Geneva

TO: Secretary of State

NO: DULTE 21, April 29, 10 a.m.


Developments have been so rapid and almost every hour so filled with high-level talks that evaluation has been difficult. My present estimates follow:

(1) Indochina: Delay in fall of Dien Bien Phu has resulted in some French discounting of this development. Nevertheless, it must be assumed the French will not continue in any long-range operation unless it will definitely relieve the strain on French manpower in Indochina. Present French Government holding on because their Parliament in recess and probably no one eager to take over at this juncture. Bidault given considerable discretion because present Cabinet cannot make up its mind on any course. Therefore, we do not have anyone on French side with whom we can make any dependable agreements. After deputies return and Dien Bien Phu falls, there may well be a change of government, probably to the left, committed to liquidate Indochina. However, this is more easily said than done and it is possible that as this fact develops a French Government might be prepared to sit down with us seriously and consider some joint program which is something that so far they have evaded.

I do not know whether from military standpoint it would be deemed feasible to end the scattering and exposure of military forces for local political reasons and withdraw present forces to defensible enclaves in deltas where they would have U.S. sea and air protection meanwhile retain enough territory and enough prestige to develop really effective indigenous army along lines suggested by O'Daniel. This might, I suppose, take two years and would require in large part taking over training responsibility by U.S. Also full independence and increased economic aid would probably be required to help maintain friendly governments in areas chosen for recruitment.

I do not have any idea as to whether this is militarily feasible and Admiral Davis inclines to view that it is not. However, from political standpoint this type of program appears to offer best hope of France staying in war. If France and U.S. agree on such a plan, there would be fair chance of Australia and New Zealand coming along. However, this estimate can be improved in next day or two after I have conferred further with Foreign Minister Casey and Prime Minister Webb. It is unlikely that the UK would initially participate and would probably use its influence to prevent participation by Australia and New Zealand. The UK situation would be difficult internally and externally, andthere would probably be undesirable repercussions upon other NATO partners. Thailand could be expected to cooperate if we act promptly. Foreign Minister Wan gave further assurance today and urges quick military conversations. The attitude here of Molotov and Chou En-lai's statement yesterday lead me to rate more highly than heretofore the probability that any open' U.S. intervention would be answered by open Chinese intervention with consequence of general war in Asia.

(2) UK attitude is one of increasing weakness. British seem to feel that we are disposed to accept present risks of a Chinese war and this, coupled also with their fear that we would start using atomic weapons, has badly frightened them. I have just received a note from Eden referring to my paper read before NATO restricted council where Eden again urges necessity of consultation before any use. He says, "You know our strongly-held views on the need for consultation before any decision is taken."

(3) General: The decline of France, the great weakness of Italy, and the considerable weakness in England create a situation where I think that if we ourselves are clear as to what should be done, we must be prepared to take the leadership in what we think is the right course, having regard to long-range U.S. interest which includes importance of Allies. I believe that our Allies will be inclined to follow, if not immediately, then ultimately, strong and sound leadership. In saying this, I do not underestimate the immense difficulty of our finding the right course in this troubled situation. Nor do I mean to imply that I think that this is the moment for a bold or war-like course. I lack here the U.S. political and NSC judgments needed for overall evaluation.


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