The Pentagon Papers
Gravel Edition
Volume 1
Document 49, Memorandum from Arthur Radford, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, "Defense of Southeast Asia in the Event of Loss of Indochina to the Communists," 21 May 1954, pp. 509-10.


21 May 1954

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE

Subject: Defense of Southeast Asia in the Event of Loss of Indochina to the Communists

1. As a result of recent military and political developments, including certain public statements by high-level officials of the United States, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that it is incumbent upon them to determine what military forces and resources would be required to hold Southeast Asia against further Communist aggression in the event Indochina is lost to the Communists.

2. Currently approved United States Government objectives regarding Southeast Asia are based on the considerations that:

a. The passing of the countries of Southeast Asia into the Communist orbit would be inimical to the security interests of the United States, and
b. The loss of Indochina to the Communist orbit could lead to the eventual loss of the other countries of Southeast Asia to the Communist orbit.

3. In the event that Indochina is lost to the Communists, the United States must take as an objective the prevention of the loss of the rest of Southeast Asia (Thailand, Burma, and Malaya) to the Communists.

4. There are two basic military concepts for the defense of Southeast Asia:

a. Static type defense (Korea type).
b. An offensive to attack the source of Communist military power being applied in Southeast Asia.

5. The force requirements and inherent logistic implications for a "static" defense of the remaining countries of Southeast Asia-Burma, Thailand, and Malaya are of the order of magnitude as shown in Appendices "A" and "B" hereto. So long as Burma and Thailand are not under Communist control, the geography of the area and the lack of a Chinese Communist capability for a major overseas attack renders Malaya secure from external attack. Therefore, the force requirements are limited to those necessary to defend Burma and Thailand and to provide internal security against infiltration and subversion in Malaya. Should Burma and Thailand be lost, to the Communists prior to an Allied decision to hold a line in Southeast Asia, the defensive position would have to be established in Malaya.

6. A study of the above requirements and implications reveals the following extensive and damaging weaknesses inherent in this concept:

a. It is estimated that it would take a minimum of 12 months to build up the necessary base complex and facilities required to support the forces indicated.
b. These forces would have to remain for an extended period.
c. The commitment in manpower and material incident to maintaining these forces in Southeast Asia for such a period would be unacceptable from the overall viewpoint.
d. The presence of large numbers of United States Commonwealth, and French troops in this area would provide a basis for Communist propaganda to develop and intensify anti-Western sentiment.
e. The dissipation of allied strength through the commitment of forces of this magnitude to a "static" defense of Southeast Asia would contribute to the realization of the politico-military objectives of the USSR vis-a-vis the free world.
f. Execution of static defense plan would result in maldeployment and seriously reduce the flexibility of employment of United States forces. This could seriously jeopardize the United States capability of supporting logistically our present war plans.

7. In view of the foregoing, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that from the military viewpoint the concept of a static-type defense is unsound.

8. In stating certain implementing actions to the current military posture of the United States, the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated inter alia:

Certain other countries such as Indochina, to which the United States has no specific commitment, are of such importance to the United States that an attack on them probably would compel the United States to react with military force either locally at the point of attack or generally against the military power of the aggressor.

It is considered that the rest of the Southeast Asian countries are included in the above category.

9. In view of the above, the United States should adopt the concept of offensive actions against the "military power of the aggressor," in this instance Communist China, rather than the concept of "reaction locally at the point of attack," which is the thesis of the action outlined in paragraphs 5 and 6 above.

10. The force requirements and the logistic support for the operations envisaged in paragraph 9 above are being considered but have not been fully developed. However, it is felt that adoption of this concept would provide a more acceptable return for the manpower and resources expended than would be the case in the concept of a static defense.

11. Upon the decision to implement either one or the other of these courses of action, it would be necessary to insure the degree of mobilization required to take care of the increased possibility of a general war.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
ARTHUR RADFORD,
Chairman,
Joint Chiefs of Staff


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