The Pentagon Papers
Gravel Edition
Volume 1
Document 44, Memorandum of a Presidential Discussion on the Matter of Sending US Forces to Indochina, 7 May 1954, p 501-04


The White House
Washington
May 7, 1954

MEMORANDUM FOR:

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHAIRMAN,
JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF

At a meeting in the President's office with the President, J. F. Dulles and Cutler, the President approved Paragraph lb of the tentative Record of Actions of 5/6/54 Meeting of the National Security Council, but wished that the advice to Smith relative to Eden's proposal should also make clear the following points:

1. Five Power Staff Agency, alone or with other nations, is not to the United States a satisfactory substitute for a broad political coalition which will include the South East Asian countries which are to be defended.

2. Five Power Staff Agency examination is acceptable to see how these nations can give military aid to the Southeast Asian countries in their cooperative defense effort.

3. The United States will not agree to a "white man's party" to determine the problems of the Southeast Asian nations.

ROBERT CUTLER
Special Assistant to the President


May 7, 1954

At a meeting in the President's office this morning with Dulles, three topics were discussed:

1. Whether the President should approve paragraph lb of the tentative Record of Action of the 5/6/54 NSC Meeting, which covers the proposed answer to the Eden proposal. The Secretary of State thought the text was correct. Wilson and Radford preferred the draft message to Smith for Eden prepared yesterday by MacArthur and Captain Anderson, and cleared by the JCS, which included in the Five Power Staff Agency Thailand and the Philippines. Radford thinks that the Agency (which has hitherto been not disclosed in SEA) has really completed its military planning; that if it is enlarged by top level personnel, its actions will be necessarily open to the world; that therefore some Southeast Asian countries should be included in it, and he fears Eden's proposal as an intended delaying action.

The President approved the text of paragraph ib, but suggested that Smith's reply to Eden's proposal should make clear the following:

1. Five Power Staff Agency, alone or with other nations, is not to the United States a satisfactory substitute for a broad political coalition which will include the Southeast Asian countries which are to be defended.

2. Five Power Staff Agency examination is acceptable to see how these nations can give military aid to the Southeast Asian countries in their cooperative defense effort.

3. The United States will not agree to a "white man's party" to determine the problems of the Southeast Asian nations.

I was instructed to advise Wilson and Radford of the above, and have done so.

2. The President went over the draft of the speech which Dulles is going to make tonight, making quite a few suggestions and changes in text. He thought additionally the speech should include some easy to understand slogans, such as "The U.S. will never start a war," "The U.S. will not go to war without Congressional authority," "The U.S., as always, is trying to organize cooperative efforts to sustain the peace."

3. With reference to the cease-fire proposal transmitted by Bidault to the French Cabinet, I read the following, as views principally of military members of the Planning Board, expressed in their yesterday afternoon meeting:

1. U.S. should not support the Bidault proposal.
2. Reasons for this position:

a. The mere proposal of the cease-fire at the Geneva Conference would destroy the will to fight of French forces and make fence-sitters jump to Vietminh side.
b. The Communists would evade covertly cease-fire controls.

3. The U.S. should (as a last act to save Indo-China) propose to France that if the following 5 conditions are met, the U.S. will go to Congress for authority to intervene with combat forces:

a. grant of genuine freedom for Associated States
b. U.S. take major responsibility for training indigenous forces
c. U.S. share responsibility for military planning
d. French forces to stay in the fight and no requirement of replacement by U.S. forces.
(e. Action under UN auspices?)

This offer to be made known simultaneously to the other members of the proposed regional grouping (U.K., Australia, N.Z., Thailand, Associated States, Philippines) in order to enlist their participation.

I then summarized possible objections to making the above proposal to the French:

a. No French Government is now competent to act in a lasting way.
b. There is no indication France wants to "internationalize" the conflict.
c. The U.S. proposal would be made without the prior assurance of a regional grouping of SEA States, a precondition of Congress; although this point might be added as another condition to the proposal.
d. U.S. would be "bailing out colonial France" in the eyes of the world.
e. U.S. cannot undertake alone to save every situation of trouble.

I concluded that some PB members felt that it had never been made clear to the French that the U.S. was willing to ask for Congressional authority, if certain fundamental preconditions were met; that these matters had only been hinted at, and that the record of history should be clear as to the U.S. position. Dulles was interested to know the President's views, because he is talking with Ambassador Bonnet this afternoon. He indicated that he would mention these matters to Bonnet, perhaps making a more broad hint than heretofore. He would not circulate any formal paper to Bonnet, or to anyone else.

The President referred to the proposition advanced by Governor Stassen at the April 29 Council Meeting as not having been thoroughly thought out. He said that he had been trying to get France to "internationalize" matters for a long time, and they are not willing to do so. If it were thought advisable at this time to point out to the French the essential preconditions to the U.S. asking for Congressional authority to intervene, then it should also be made clear to the French as an additional precondition that the U.S. would never intervene alone, that there must be an invitation by the indigenous people, and that there must be some kind of regional and collective action.

I understand that Dulles will decide the extent to which he cares to follow this line with Ambassador Bonnet. This discussion may afford Dulles guidance in replying to Smith's request about a U.S. alternative to support the Bidault )roposal, but there really was no decision as to the U.S. attitude toward the :ease-fire proposal itself.


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