THE COMMUNIST VIEW OF THE SITUATION IN LAOS (SNIE 58-70)

Created: 2/5/1970

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The Communist View of the Situation in Laos

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THE COMMUNIST VIEW OF THE SITUATION IN LAOS

THE PROBLEM

To cslimate Communist views of the situation ui Laos with particular atlcntion to North Vietnam's assessment ol recent Royal Lao(HLC)/US military activities in Ihc country.

CONCLUSIONS

A. Hanoi almost certainly wants to establish its hegemony over allos, but subordinates this goal to its higher priority interest in establishing ils control over South Vietnam. Although blunder questions are involved in Soviet and Chinese Communist policiesos. Moscow and Peking give priority to supporting Hanoi, and each recognizes that its ability to influence Hanoi's policy with regardos is limited.

B Tl* Communists stepped up military activity in northern Laosartly to counter US-suppoitcd RLC military' initiatives. Actions to which tliey were particularly sensitive included guerrilla and intelligence operations in areas close lo North Vietnamese and Chinese borders, and penetrations into areas regarded by the Communists as rightfully theirs. Thc incieased Communist activity must also be seen as stemming from Hanoi's anticipation of favorable developments in Vietnam, and ils related desire ro bolster its political and military posture in Laos in order to be in the best possible position lor an* coincident movementaw settlement there.

C While the Communists Ixrlievc lhat lhe US has violated the Ceiievnhave certainly done soncver-theleM, they wish to preserve the symbolic authority of2 settlement. They believe it affords them opportunities for an eventual return, without further international negotiations,egitimate and

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strengthened position in Vientiane. This concern, among other factors, lias operatedestraint on their military actions. We do not believe that they arc likely at this time to cast aside these restraints and embark on military actions as dramaticush to tlie Mekong.

D Nonetheless, wcigorous Communist militaryover the next few months aimed at retaking the Plain of Jars, the capture of winch, particularly in the context of the intensified US air campaign in northern Laos, thev probably regarded as evidenceurprisingly tough US posture They probably will also aim atVang Pao and his forces who have been carrying thc major burden uf the war in northern Laos. If the Communists are successful in these efforts, they will probably seek to take advantage of badly shaken RLC confidence to persuade RLC leaders, Souvanna and thc Kingew political settlement is necessary to bring an end to the wai.ettlement would almost certainly require that the RLGalt lo all US bombing in Laos, and an alteration of thearrangements that would enhance the Communist political position.

DISCUSSION

I. GENERAL COMMUNIST OBJECTIVES IN LAOS

Sortli Vietnam Communis! objectisesos are determined almost entirely in Hanoi. The indigenousComrnumvt movement (lbc Neo Lao Hakand Its miliiary arm (the Pallieiare essentially creations of Ihe Vietnamese Communis! Parlyo Pong) and are firmly under Hanoi'* control.

There Is Utile question that Hanoi wants eventually lo establish hegemony over allos. Physically weak and Kickingirm nallou.il identity. Lametween Ihr far stronger and compel inn Thai and Vietnameseeach ol which controlled major portions of what is now the Kingdom cf Laos before the establishment of the French protectorate. With theof the French. Hanoi came to see itself a* Ihf logical Wader over at) of fonner French Indochina and, According to some tourers, as tbeinfluence over ethnically related peoples in adjacent portions of Thailand. Ilanot'i interest In bordering northeastern Laos is particularly strong because, at its rastem extremity in Houa Phan (Sam Nroa) Province. Lao territory extends to wllhinmiles of the North Vietnameselhc Tonkin Delta. Hanoi's interest in southern Laos hat hern reinforced as iba! .itea has become virtually Indispensable to the campaign to take over South Vietnam.

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3 Hanoi appearsssc no set timetable for publishing its hegemony over Laos, lhc North Vietnamese iccm willing lo defer this nim until they achieve their priority objective in South Vietnam. Nevertheless, for the ultimateo( thii aim. Hanoi wants to preserve nnd strengthen thc Lao Communist movement. Thus, it is concerned to prevent Lao gosrmment rorces from making any major inroad* into Communist held leriilory. to recover ruch groundhen it is lost, to maintain lhe strength of I'L forces, and to consolidate political control over PL-occupud areas. In piuMiit of these goals, however. Hanoi has been careful to avoid moves which might overturn thetlcim.it or be used by the US to justify large-scale cround mi-mention in Laos,against Communist supply routes in the southern corridor.

The USSR. Soviel policy toward Laosunction of broader-rising from Moscow's desire lo offset and minimize thc influence of China and ihe L'S, which it attempts to do mainly h> Mipporting Hanoi. The Soviets also find it useful to preserve their role as one of llw sponsors of2 accords on Laos and their continuing shared responsibility for the gosrmment of Sou-vnimii Phouina. For the pni.nl, therefore, Ihc USSR does not desire lo have the delicate balance in Laos upset or to sec the Vietnam conflict spill over into adjacent areas. Moscow is obviously in an ambiguous position, but It is likely to continue to accord priority to the support of Hanoi's objectives and policies

Communist China China's basir objectives in Laos are to eliminate the US military and pohhcal presence, and to ensuic that Laos is controlledegime closely aligned withntil thtM objectives arc achieved, Peking wishes to make certain that tho areas of Laos bordering on its own territory are iu friendly hands, and thai It retains access through Laos to lhe Communis! in.iirgcnts in northern Thailand. Apparentlyfor the preseni with thc prospectorth Vietnamese -dominated Laos, tbe Chinese haveupporting role there that both advances theirsejntended to bolslcr Peking's posilion with Hanoi in competition with Moscow. Theprovide supplies for lhe local Communist forces in northwestern Laos where their military construction units are alio building an extensive road network,'

II. THE COMMUNIST VIEW OF THE SITUATION IN LAOS2

eneoa Sell ir menl North Vietnam understoodeneva Agiremrnts, and the undemanding* reached by lhefactions at Zurich and the Plain ofUelatively secure

'Tho most significant of Uiesohc omUib Chinos* are poshingdi limn Muong Sal,iuily tlie wuihein tcnimui of Iheir efforts, down tbe Nam Beng Valhy in lhe .Lmlioi. of PA Bros oa lite IStCM Rivrr. ocJytlei Iio.ii thcSee sup)

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Cease-fire Hue" behind which it could meetequirements, principally ofuffer for North Vietnam's western bordersorridor for safe passage of supplies and troops to South Vietnam Hanoi abo expected thatrinngetnents wouldommunist veto in the tripartite Provisional Government of National Union, through the seats held by lhc Lao Communists and their neutralist sympathisers and throughfor unanimity on important issues Hanoi expected, moreover, to be able to play upon divisions between the right .ok) Souvanna's neutralists, bringing the latter increasingly imder its influence

lthough the Communists probably did not expect that the US wouldhonor to the letter2 terms as they understood them, the leadership nevertheless probably believes in its own public posilion, tlse cardinal point of which is lhat the US has consistently undeimined (he Geneva Agreements. Spcci6cnlly, they believe thai the US has subverted the neutralists, encouraged the HLG to penetrate areas riglitlully controlled by the Communists, and used Lao* lo iuppoil the war againsi the Vietnamese people. The fact thai some US actions in Laos, particularly against the Communist logistic routes in thehave been in response lo Hanoi's efforts to gain control of Soulh Vietnam by force probably does not alter these basic views in Hanoi. The Communist' argue tlvat thc struggle in South Vietnam is an internal matter which is of no concern to the US and feel that their military action is justified by US efforts to thwart North Vietnam's rightful claim to all of Vietnam which they established by their victories againsi Ihe French.

8 Although the Communists may assert thai they are "punishing"then military activities aie larely undertaken for any singlethe Communists are led tonot toa complex ofCertainly the drive lo regaineliminate hostile pockets

within il and retaliate against specific KLG ucti .ne among these considerations. The Communists no doubt slewed the HLG uipluie ofic6 and its useupport bate for guerrilla and intelligence operations in Phong Saly Province and other areas close to the Chinese borders the establishment ot navigation sites related to the war against North Vietnam such as Phou Pha Thi. thc expansHja into the Scdone Valley in tlie soulh. and the growth of Vang Pao's forces and their activities in areas of Houa Phan and Xieug Khouang Provinces as requiring retaliatory action. Thc RLCs recent rainy season operations, against Muong Phine in the south -ml'< successful drise acrost the Plain of Jars undoubtedly fall into Ihe same calejoiy. But Communtit military actions in Ijios are noi determined solelyesire for retaliatory action. Suchare made also in llie context ol furthering long-term Communist goals of

1 Actually, tlieement* did not give fori.ml ir-iounillun lo any teue-fire line.te-fire ninety railed nri nilnjil'te (ThenUn trmtory Itrlil by the vtnoui fndMni ll llie Dine of2 tutCe merit.)

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omplete controloj and uf furthering lhcir efforts in South Vietnam, as well as such iliort-tctin goals as expanding line* ol comniunicatrou, reaping polilical benefits from miliiary pressures, taking advantage of targets of opportunity, and making the most effective use of lliniliil resources-

doctrine* aboul US bchasior apart. Ihe Vietnamese Communistbelieve lhat the situaliou in Lao* at il has developed since thehas served Iheir purposes reasonably well. This has been (lieitt.ulyrexpeet to their priority obkvtive. support of the war inAlthough US interdiction measures againsi the virtuallylOutcs in the Panhandle have imposed heavy burdens on lhcirlhe Communists have oevertlieless succeeded in keeping Ihe suppylo South Vietnam.*

tin- fall. because nl it* conieiiiraHon on South Vietnam,not attempt lo mow dtxisivrly against t'S/HLC gain* in Lao* at itstheo*ack and forth, with Rl-Cthe May-October rainy season and Communist count crofTensivcsNovemberdry session If North Vietnamese forces were notleipuied by thesettlement, neither were Ihey used to modifygeneral fines of military control pertaining2 Indeed,ain in such seesaw exchange* in theew years,6et loss of Icirilory. and an esen greaterofmigration) in ihese annual lytic* nf military net ion.

lecenr DeielopntM'. Communis; mililaiy action toolew intensity9L/WA combat fotc-ei in northern Iain* weie increased sub-staniially during thc period. Vigorous campaigns in lhe dry seasons of bolh years. Isc<;imiing with lhe recapture of Nam Bac, and targeted primarily againsi major government Mies behind Communis! linesome of the werM RIX setbacks of Ihe war.

'Mft> On Paaath TrUnlJrihj. the MW Ch*fSuff.believe.

Ihe Ltdl (hat pjupapk teriojOylh- fiirH So whah the flow> ic.iL:rn lam lo South Vietnambeen impelled and llie import which this ha> hail on Hanoi', upfftmi and strategy in tlte war

He Mats Owl .lore (he let offewalv*he Ociuntuinls Iiave hnleianceiJn*hc* forces lo the Vreevsury I- achieve thrii ol-jnlniVillain Tlieade ennrinoui eRorlim obstacle

In mlrochicina, tuppliviate five limes the leiel h- eventually fllWred thruiigh Allhough nut prnomtrl limited in the north, he wu'lluae troop infiltrationeva]ItTha ha*. nit) of ofieiaraan mmfSeSft to|iw;rr" In jim iflcatw and Vietnami-niton.

Helti i. In Lao* it causing tlsen South Vietnam to minima liningar thc enemy and fixiing Hanoi to ma^iMfe needar. Knulli. the nanpo of IniridKliuq taeceitailureVfill utrptngr heaiily upon the ialcnd Vart-

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IA This buildup and these Communist utfemitc* aiefully explained,only as reactions to PLC fmttati.rs. increased USr ifconcern over thc security o( border area* Communist military moves9 in Laos must also behe context of Hanoi's capcttatiorts with respect to the war in Vietnam.anois^rently begancct tl-militarylitical struggle in Vietnam and pressure* nn US policy to develop increasingly in its favor, ln anlieip.ition of such developments in Vietnam, itthat Hanoi set out in Lio* to bolster its pollliual and military posture In order to be in Ihe best possible position 'or coincident developmentsew settlement in Laos.

n the political side the Laobegan in the spring8 to

set lhe stageew internal settlement svlilch would retain the tripartite principle but accord to the "true" neutralists under iheir control tlse right lu represent the neutral faction. Moreosrr. while Lao Communist propagandaon Souvanna continued, the North Vietnamese, and perhaps the Russians as well, seemed to be suggesting to Somam* ilat Ik- could purge himself of the puppet stain and continue to play ,in important roleevised tripartite formula if he could bring an cod lo US Iwmbmg Unusual gestures of icspwt to tlie King were also orrneuralrd with drmands that the bombing ceasenclude to an Internal settlement lo be reached by tlie !jo among themselves.

U llie psychological impact of lhe Communist military anditicalsvas considerable, and nl the endImih dry seasons there was much apprehension in Vientiane that the Communists would soon break oul of previous patterns ol military action and push to the Mekong. Ai the end ofor example, il appeared in Vientiane Ibal the Commuimt* had established ain north Laos fioin which they vould launch major ndensives early in the winter

hen, much to the Communists' surprise, Vang Paoajor rainy season offensive which drove the Communists of! thc Plain of Jars for the first lime and captured stores in quantities svhich appeared far in excess of noiinal Communist requirements. The Communislv probably viewed lhc capture of the Plain, especially in the contest of Ih*US air campaign inos, as evidence ofsurprisingly tough US posture in Laos- The IBM of the Plain was notlow to Communist prestige buterious setback wmcb complicates their continuation of the high level of miliiary activity they pursuedS9 Now. the Commvnisls almost certainly believe the) have to recapture the Plain before they can increase the military pressure on th*

'Souvanrucijuntrd US airmih bier these plane, were auihnmed lo return fire. Total t'Soiurtiv cteaddyn 1IM40 In I'm In Novemhe,il* bombing of IWI. Vietnam whs hailed. USoittesH lumped froma.-vuje .ifer month tn0 |Wt month. Unlll0 bj fur lhc en-alerm of Uiete .miles were maile in thc <ntr"lor in wuth lam. Ury inning in July owever, altar* lortici In

ti Laos,In MffM ofo'vi.reated from-

i mrmih UiOO per nsonlh.

RtX, in pursni! o( their objectives of stopping the US bombing andavorable poUtical settlement

III. THE OUTLOOK

The as-ailable evidence stronglyigorous Communiit campaign during the present dry MUM in north Laosinimum,ampaign would be aimer) at retaking thc Plain of Jars, the extent of their militarysugcrsti that the Cornrminists may also intend lo move against the major MeO bases and eliminate Vang Pao and his forces, once and for all Tfseprobably are awure that Vang Pao's reserves are relatively thin;onceited campaign agnlnst his Meo forces could exhaust ihemingle dry season; and lhat once tlie Meo. who have been carrying the mtjOf burden ofr inGS. had been duperitd. the psychological impact on the RLC. combined with ihe military effect, could leave all of northern Laos open to tlie Communists.

The Communists might also move against Vang Vieng, the headquarters of Ihc Souvanna neutralist troops, hoping lo take advantage of its politicalby installing the "Patriotic Neutralist Forces" there. In order to increase political pressure on tlse RLC. Communist forces may alsohreatiang Prabang, and possibly Vientiane, without actually carryingattacks Interest in political impact might also lead them to further slit Kings of important towns and oilier terrorisl actions In ihc sontlurn Panhandle, where Ihc Communists already enjoyrelatively satisfactory territorial position, they will probably devote their energies to Interdicting the HI.Cs lines of communication, and im-mobiliring local RLC commanders.

If the Communists retake Ihe Plain of Jars, and inflict heavy damage on Vang Pao's forces, ihey are likely to follow up fairlv quicklyrightened poliiical campaign. They will hope thereby to take optimum advanlage of badly shaken RLC confidence. Their intent willto persuade RLC leaders, Souvanna and the King in particular,ew political settlement is necessary to bring ait end to the war. The Communists would probably offer Souvanna and other Lao politicalosition of some continuing legiiimacy and authority. But the setll< ni< nt svould almost certainly require that thr- RLCalt toombing in Laos, and enhance tha Communist political position in atripartite government.

The Conxniinisii arc unlikely to engage in military actions suchilitary drive lo thc Mekong so drama tic and extensive as to threaten (he survival ol2 arrangements.2 arrangements are probably still regarded liy the Communists as providing them ssllheturn to legitimacyc political path to powerime of (heir own choosing. The Communirts may calculate that the majo:re willing, even anxious to regard the international aspects of lhe Lam question as settled in principle, if not in practice, by these arrangements. Thus. Ihey may anticipate tlml all that will lie required in Laos itself, when thc

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limi' Is ripe.eadjustment of the internal arrangements which will slrenglhen and guarantee the position ol Ihe Lao Communists, while hopefully retaining thc prestige und legitimacy attached to the participation ol Souvanna and fhe sanction of the King. Once the Irlparljto government is restored wiihavoring the Communists. Hanoi probably has considerable confidence, despite its experience with2 accords, that wiih North Vietnameseee,o clients will eventually take control of thc country.

Although the North Vietnamese probably no longer have any serious concernovehe Mekong on thru part would bring US ground forces inlo Laos in strength, they woulduch better than even dunce of an intense au reaction. We do noi believe ihey would want to run the.se risks atlime simply to enhance their political impacl in Vientiane Iheir political objectives with respect to the RLC can be belter served by mote measured actions lhat shake ils confidence severely sslthout causing it lo disappear.

Tlie North Vietnamese probably calculate that any Communist successes in Laos are likely to contribute lo American svar-weariness. However, we doubt lhat Hanoi would cast long-standing restraints aside and nsove in strength to the Mekong in Ihc hope that the US Coveriiment would feel compelled by ilsof the overallr by public opinion, lo move more rapidly toward witbdrassiiig American forces in Vietnam and ending the svar there on Communist terms. Hanoi cannot be especially confident al this time of its reading ol either American public opinion ur US Government policy, nor docs it have any particular basis in past behavior for assuming that specific events in Laos cause specific US reactions with respect to Vietnam.

We cannot predict Ihc outcome of Ihe current military struggle around the Plain ol Jars except to note that Vang Pao is upuch superior force and his troops- lack the resilience and reserves loustainedcampaign Buthave no doubterious deleat svould cause much alarm in Vientiane, possibly even panic. In certain einumslances Souvanna mighl lose his ability lo hold things together. Hither he or the King might then feel it necessary to bargain with the Communists with few useful cards left in their hands.

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