NIE 68-57 PROBABLE DEVELOPMENTS IN LAOS OVER THE NEXT FEW MONTHS

Created: 8/20/1957

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PROBABLE DEVELOPMENTS IN LAOS OVER THE NEXT FEW MONTHS

THE PROBLEM

To estimate trends in Laos over the next few months.

CONCLUSIONS

is the least developed country in Southeast Asia, and there is little contact between the leaders and the people most of whom live in primitive, self-sufficient villages. The inexperiencedgovernment is rendered unstable and ineffective by regional interests, family rivalries, and personality conflicts within the small ruling elite. Laoleaders are also deeply divided over the policy to be followedis tho Communist Pathet Lao. Politicalhas been further increased bysubversive activities in various parts of Laos, against which the internal security forces have achieved only spotty results.

These weaknesses are turnedanger by the fact that the Royal Lao Government (RLG) has not been able to assert its authority over the two northern provinces of Sam Neua and Phong Saly, where forces of the insurgent Pathet Lao have been concentrated pursuant to the Geneva Agreementshere is widespread popular sentiment for ending the civil war and achieving national unity. The possibility of large scaleaction is largely ruled out by the threat of military intervention by the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnamccordingly, there is strong pressure on the RLG toettlement with the Pathet Lao. In his efforts to achieve an early settlement Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma isby several highly placed French advisors. For its part, the Pathet Lao, which has access to DRV advisors, aid, and probably military support ifis under no particular compulsion toettlement

n this situation the principal point of danger is that the RLG mayegotiated settlement which, although respectable in appearance, does not in fact have adequate safeguards to prevent the Pathet Lao from achieving aand eventually controlling position in the government.

e do not believeettlement will be reached within the next few months, because of the probability that the Pathet Lao will continue to stall in the hope of gaining further RLGand the opposition of some RLG leaders who would prefer the existing stalemate to an insufficiently guarded agreement. However, in the longer run, unless the governing elite can beof the dangers implicit in Pathet Lao demands, pressures for integration probably will become so great that no government will be able to resist, and the RLG willettlement without adequate safeguards.

DISCUSSION

SITUATION

The political situation In Laos continues to be dangerously unstable. Westernforms have been imposed on aprimitive society and thereide gulf between the ruling elite and the villagers. The small ruling elite Is divided by family groupings, by regional interests, and by the personal ambitions and bitter antagonisms of the leaders. Lao political leaders are also deeply divided over the policy to be followedis the Communist threat represented by the Pathet Lao. There is some coherence within particular political parties, but party discipline ts rudimentary. In this situation, power is so fragmented among parties and factions that groupings within the National Assembly can usually be formed to blocfc or stall any action inonflict ofinterests exists. Tbe stability or the Lao cabinet Is further complicatedecently adopted constitutional provision whichote on motions of confidence or censure to deputies In the National Assembly who hold cabinet positions.

That Laos has not disintegrated In the face of such Ineffective government Is, in part, the result of the apathy of the majority of its inhabitants, who live In primitive villages which are largely self-sufficient and who are little dependent on actionentralAmong the relativelyride In national independence, the symbolic influence of the crown, and generalin the Buddhist faith are cohesive factors of some Importance. Even more significant factors which act to hold Laos togetherolitical entity are the receipt of American assistance, continued Western diplomatic support, and the continued presence of French advisors In the government and army.

he fundamental problemthe Royal Government of Laos (RLG) has been how to cope with the threat posed by tbe Pathetommunist insurgent group created and controlled by the Communist government of North Vietnam (DRV).the RLO's sovereignty throughout all Laos was recognized in the Genevathese provided thatolitical settlement was reached the military forces of the Pathet Lao would occupy "regroupment areas" In two northern provinces, Sam Neua and Phong Saly. The Lao government has been unable to reach an understanding with the Pathet Lao by negotiations or to gain control of these provinces by limited military and paramilitary operations. The use ofmilitary force to impose RLG rule has been forestalled by the presence of theControl Commission and even more by the fear of DRV military intervention.

The Pathet Lao, which Is estimated toardcore membership ofilitary force ofmost of Sam Neua province, exceptalient occupied by government forces, but not more than one-half of Phong SalyThe Pathet Lao has succeeded Inrecent visitors to its territory with the efficiency and progress of the Pathet Lao areas as compared to non-Communist Laos. There have been indications that morale in the Pathet Lao military forces has shown

TABLE I

POLITICAL STRENGTHS IN THE LAO NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

Party

Nation allala

Strength In National Assembly

20

Principal leaders

Katay Sasorith and Souvanna

I1'. i

Source of Strength

Orientation

)

Oum family of southern Laos. Generally has support of Crown Prince Savang.

Antl-Pathet Lao and

o firm alignment IS)

Northern regionalGenerally supported by Prince Phetsnnilh. whosenior of Junior branch of Lao Royal family, and half brother both toiiiTiii Phmima and to Puthet Lao leader Sou-phanouvong.

Concession to PL for purpose ot achieving unification.

Sananl-kone

family of Vientiane province.

Moderate supporting Katay and oppor-tunlsttc.

family which controls Savannakhct province.

Involvedeud with Phoul Sananl-kone lamlly; slightly IcfUst.

Union

Unaffiliated Total deputies

Bongrong

3 39

Bong Souvanr.arongsof rapidof Laos.

Strongly In favor of

PL.

some Improvement, apparentlyesult of Increased quantities of supplies from the DRV and of the successew small military operations in Sam Neua. The Pathet Lao Is assisted byRV military advisors who Also tram cadres to be sent to other areas of Laos.

Pathet Lao subversive activities have achieved some measure of success outside Phong Saly and Sam Neua. Tbe Communist apparatus appears to consist mainly of small mobile groups which are engaged inand information dissemination. While Pathet Lao operations have probably been limitedhortage of trained cadres, the Communist cause has on the other hand been aided by the activities of Bong Souvanna-vong, leader of the National Union Party, who, although not known toommunist, has been supporting the Pathet Lao political objectives.

man army Is the most effective of the RLG security forces. The RLO has also organized local partisan unitsotal strength of, which have operated with particular effectiveness In Phong Saly. The Lao police force iseffective, despite its rapid expansion from5 tohe government6 alsoIts counterintelligence agency, resulUng in Increased attention to Intelligence and propaganda. These measures have somewhat restricted the extension of Pathet Laoactivities. However, despiteand their new programs, the Laoforces are not capable of enforcingsecurity in all parts of the country at the same time.

Efforts to resolve tbe impasse resulUng from the Geneva Agreements have been marked by inconclusive political negotiations and Intermittent military skirmishing.Phouma, who became Prime Minister ln the springressed hard toormula which would end the division of the country. To this end, he met in6 with his half-brother Souphanouvong, the leader of the Pathet Lao. They agreedeasefire and to broad principles for asettlement. In subsequent negotiations concerning the implementation of thethe Pathet Lao. almost certainly under guidance from Hanoi, has pressed for and has been largely successful in obtaining further concessions from the RLG.

By the end ofhe Lao government, without receiving any significant concessions in return, had agreed in principle to Integrate Pathet Lao troops into the Royal army, grant positions In the civilto Communist functionaries, accept the Pathet Laoegal political party, schedule supplementary elections for anNational Assembly, include the Pathet Laooalition government,eutral foreign policy, and accept aid from anyHowever, Souvanna Phouma finally balkedathet Lao demand that the Lao government,est of Its sincerity and willingness toeutral foreign policy, accept at once Chinese Communist economic aid. The Pathet Lao has not subsequently repeated this demand.

Negotiations were suspended inhereafter, although theAssembly gave approval in principle to Souvanna's agreement onay, It failed to pass an advisory resolution calling fornegotiations ln accordance with his stated policy. The unexpected vote resultedemporary combination comprising conservative deputies In the Independent Party and Souvanna's own Nationalist Party, and, for different reasons. Bong's National Union deputies. The Souvanna government resigned immediately.

A cabinet crisis persisted through the months of June and July, the Katay-Phoul coalition being unable to command quite enough strength toovernment. Finally,ugust. Souvanna Phoumaote ofbtained investiture for asix-man cabinet, which included only three deputies from the assembly. The new coalition cabinet of Nationalists andincludes both Phoui and Katay; Its effectiveness will dependonsiderable extent upon their support. Despitepromise in his Investiture speech of

an immediate effort toettlement with the Pathet Lao, the cabinet has decided to proceed firstevision of theto reduce the influence of minority groups on the formation and tenure ofAccording to present plans,wo-thirds majority for investiture will be reducedimplewhile voting restrictions on deputies who hold cabinet positions will be retained. It is probable that acceptance of the revision will be followedeconstitution of the government, either by Increasing the present cabinet to normal size orew one, and that the change will probably strengthen the position of Phoul and Katay.

POSSIBLE UNES OF DEVELOPMENT

The remainder7 is likely toeriod Of continued uncertainty and political instability in Laos, with the Pathet Laocausing periods of tension andlulls. In this situation there are three possible lines of development: (a) military actionarge scale,egotiatedand (c> the continuation ofivided Laos.

The possibility of an outbreak of large scale hostilities between the RLG and the Pathet Lao forces cannot be excluded.skirmishing will almost certainly occur from time to tune In areas where the two forces are In contact and could lead to an expansion of hostilities. However, large scale military action probably would occur only if: (a) the DRV estimates that the West would not intervene and thereafter gives large scale logistical and possibly troop support to the Pathet Lao, or (b) If the RLG estimates that the DRV would not intervene in the eventarge scale RLG attack against the Pathet Lao. Although the leaders of the Royal army have thus far remained outside politics, they might,esult of their Impatience with Inaction or fear of the extent of concessions to the Pathet Lao, seize control of theand subsequentlyajoragainst the Pathet Lao. The mostleader ofoup would be Colonel

Ouanchief of Staff of the Royal army who on several occasions has boasted to US representatives that he could quickly resolve the problemividedby rapid decisive military action.

we believe that duringof this estimate neither side willgain complete control over Laos byThe major factor restrainingLao will continue to be thethe Royal army. The Communistscontinue to be reluctant totroops in the strength required toIjio government, because of the fearby the West andthe adverse effect such action wouldthe general Communist line ofFor its part, the Laowill probably not attempt aof the Impasse because of theDRV Intervention.

Negotiated Settlement

1 Colonel Ouanctaunch nationalist and an Intelligent, forceful leader. He [ought against the Japanoaerganised an anU-French guerrilla force5ndwas integrated Into the Royal army.

'Weestimated Inhat the DRV army, numbering, givenloglsUcal ftupport, haa Ihe capability of defeating the total military forces of iaos, South Vietnam, and Cambodia simultaneously.

With the possibility of large scalelargely eluTiinated by the bilateral threat of foreign involvement, we believe that both sides will be willing lo resume negotiations. Desplle the present agreement on broadmany crucial points remain unresolved, namely, the cabinet seats to be given to the Pathet Lao, the timing of supplementarythe manner in which the RoyalIs to assume control in the two northern provinces, the integration of Pathet LaoInto the civil service and the military forces, and the specificsao neutralpolicy.

There are strong pressures on the RLG toettlement The desire for

lional union has achieved an almost mystical quality among the Lao leaders and populace, and provides the strongest Pathet Lao lever for obtaining concessions. This is reinforced by the view of many Lao leaders that the Pathet Lao comprises misguided nationalists who can be oriented away from Communist Influence once Laos has been unified. Many leaders and their French advisors believe that with unification contacts between Pathet Lao members in the two northern provinces and their DRV supporters can be reduced. India, through the International Controland the Communist Bloc, through offers of friendship thato have not dared to refuse, have also exerted great pressureettlement The French haveettlement, particularly through theirsupport for Souvanna personally. This French attitude has contributed to theof US-UK-French unity on Lao Issues, since the United States and the Unitedhave supported the stronglyposition, as represented by Katay and his supporters. Finally. Souvanna Phouma has publicly set the datectober for the implementation of previous agreements with the Pathet Lao and this may engenderpressures on the Lao government.

he Pathet Lao Is under much lesstoettlement. It has effective control of the two northern provinces and ready access to DRV assistance if thisls seriously threatened. It is well aware of the popular sentiment for ending the civil war and unifying Laos. ItubversiveIn Royal Lao territory and alsofrom support of its position by Bong's National Union Party. The chief likelihood of Pathet Lao concessions in the near future would springommunist estimate that the Pathet Lao couldetter deal with Souvanna Phouma than with any probable successor, and that the advantages to the Communist cause of another "legal"movement and another neutralizedwould outweigh the danger that the Pathet Lao would be effectively submerged In angovernment.

Continued Stalemate Over tho Next Few Months

egotiated sctUement,will seek to spell out the presentof agreementanner thatit an advantage over its opponent.situation, there are various factorsto prolong the stalemate over themonths.

RLO negotiators will bea recognition that Laos is de|>endenteconomic and military assistance and byto safeguard the government'sbad faith on the part of the To the extent which Katay andto cooperate and are able toaction* of the cabinet, the Royalprobably will, at leastettlement which provides: oalition government beupon prior restoration ofadininistratlon in the(b) that the number ofmilitary personnel to be IntegratedRoyal army be so limited that armyto the crown will not be(c) that positive assurances ofcompliance be secured. The insistencesafeguards will vary considerablyfluctuating power of key politicalwill range between Katay's "hardSouvanna Phouma's apparentmake whatever concessions may beto reach agreement. It is alsoin the present unstable politicalparties or factions may exerciseInfluence upon settlement termsby their numerical strength.

nce negotiations are resumed the Pathet Lao is likely to follow Its previous strategy of waiting and searching for new areas in which the RIXJ might make furtherThe leaders may believe that they do not have to accept the risks involvedoalition government, that time is on their side, and that either the RLG will disintegrateoint at which it cannot resist Pathet Lao demands, or the Pathet Lao will be able

to develop sufficient covert strength outside its two provinces to seize control of the

On balance, we believe it unlikelyettlement will be reached during the next six months. Given the incompatible objectives of the two sides, no settlement is probableone side misjudges the Implications of the agreement. In view of the pressures on the RLG and the lack of understanding ofCommunism in Laos, thisa particular danger to the West,if Souvanna Phouma is able to gainfor his policies. However, It Is unlikely that adequate safeguards can be worked out which are satisfactory both to the Pathet Lao and to the Katay and Phoul Sananlkone groups on whom Souvanna at present depends for his tenure In office. Furthermore, we do not believe the Pathet Lao will be inclined to make major concessions until it feels It has adequately tested the Royal government's ability to withhold additional concessions.

Although we have concluded that Laos will remain divided for the period of thispressures for unification will continue to grow. Unless the governing elite can be convinced of the dangers implicit In Pathet Lao demands, pressures for integration in time probably will become so great that no government will be able to resist, and the RLG willettlement which, althoughin appearance, In fact will not have adequate safeguards to insure Pathet Lao compliance.

n the fluid political situation existing in Laos, thereumber of possibledevelopments which could affect the conclusions reached above. Although we do not consider any of these developments to be probable In the next fewerious deterioration of the political situation, such as another prolonged cabinet crisis, mightin Increasinglttcal Intervention by Crown Prince Savang, Including an extra-parliamentary form of government. Other contingencies include the re-emergence of Prince Phetsarathominant figure, and an Internal crisis over the succession to the throne In the event of the death of ailing King Slsavong Vong.

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