SHORT-TERM POLITICAL PROSPECTS FOR LAOS

Created: 5/18/1967

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CONTRprfED ^BRARY

Mandatory Review

87 ,i

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NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE

Short-Term Political Prospects for Laos

Submitted by

DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Concurred in byUNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE BOARD Ai Indicated overleaf7

APPROVED FOR1

SECKCT CONTRpOED DISSEM

N?

TrSe following inteliig+nc* organizations participated in fhe preparationis estimate:

the Central Intelligence Agency and the Intelligence orgammnov. of the Deport-menti of Slate and Detente, and the NSA.

Concurring-.

Vice Adm. Rufut I. Taylor, Deputy Director of Contra! Intelligence Mi. George C. Ocnney, lor (ho Director of Intelligence and Retearch, Department of Slate

Lt. Gen. Joveph F. Carroll, Director, Deferne Intelligence Agency

U. Gen.S- Carter, forirector, Nohonol Security Agency

S

Dr. Charle* H. Reichardt, for tho Assistant General Manager, Alomlc Energy Cot.-miii-on ond Mr. William O. Cregor. for (he Awlitont Director, FeoWal Bureau of Irnvtligotion, tho subject being ootvde of their jurisdiction.

SHORT-TERM POLITICAL PROSPECTS FOR LAOS

THE PROBLEM

To estimate the prospects for political stability in Laos over the next year or so. In addition, to estimate tho reactions of Souvanna Phouma and the effect on his government of expanded Allied ground action in the Laos Panhandle. The reactions of other foreignto these courses of action are not considered.

CONCLUSIONS

the past several years, the Kingdomosa substantial degree of political stability. This rests,on the international support which thenenjoyed since2 Geneva settlement, support whichSouvanna Phouma earnesdy seeks to retain. Moreit rests on an understanding among Souvanna, thea lesserconservatives and neutralists,at preserving Lao independence and the attributes oftripartitism. In the short terra, at least, we see no seriousof military support for the regime, nor does aattempt seem likely.

believe that Souvanna. if approached officially, wouldany proposals put to him involving Allied ground actionLaos Panhandle. He has stated that he would notion of US or other Allied ground troops.he has demonstrated some tolerance for small-wale, limitedwhich he is not officially informed; the key test in his view isto avoid acknowledgement. Activities meeting theseas in the past, be ignored by Souvanna. He would,oppose any action involving the open or prolonged presence

on Lao soil of any substantial number of Alliedone

it.1

and had loit Interest in preserving the Geneva settlement and in his remaining in office. He

1 Mr. George C. Denncy, for ihe Director of IntelH^-nee and Research. Department of Stale, believes that Souvanna almost certainly would resign.re^nJ* the ptewrva-Hon of the Geneva settlement at indispensablehe survival of Laos and would see the visible InboductMO of allied ground force* as signaling the abandonment of thai settlement He hot made these points many Hints. If. despite liit opposition, tbe actions irmteinplated in this sentence were undertaken, he would assume, againit the background of

DISCUSSION

I. PROSPECTS FOR POLITICAL STABILITY

A Internal Factors

L Afterears of independence, the Kingdom of Laos remains economically and politically underdeveloped. Onlyfew thousand individuals, most of them French-educated, participate in government and politics; ihe bulk of (heis illiterate and politically apathetic Popular identification with the country, the BO%rrnment, and thestronger than in theis very limited, and regional and family loyalties continue toredominant role in domestic politics.

The Ijio political situation is further complicated by two decodes of international contention in the Indochinaormula was devised bynation QantTO Conference2 tn bring peace to Laos by making theeutral bufferripartite coalition gowmment was organized In Vientiane by the three major Lao politicalneutralist, andheaded by (he neutralist Prince Souvanna Phouma. But this design for national reccmeibation and territorial unification soon proved unworkable and the internal struggle resumed. Today the Communists control aboutercent of the area andercent of the population, generally tribal groups inhabiting the rugged and sparsely-populatedrdering China and the two Vletnams. The government controls the populous Mekong River lowlands and commands considerable lupport among some upland ethnic minority groups, particularly the Meo.

Since Geneva, Lao politics have undergone major changes. Inhe Lao Communists withdrew from active participation in Ihe tripartiteand Communist Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese troops initiated attacks on neutralist-held positions In northern Laos, Souvanna obtained the support of the conservative leadership of the Royal Lao Armed Forces (FAR) for bis neutralist force and the US provided needed iruhtary equipment and supplies. Since then, Souvanna bos <ome to believe that, in the last analysis, the security of Laos depends on the US.

While privately favoring L'S policies in the Indoehnu area, Souvanna Dcvcrthelrs* maintains an international position of neutralityommitment to tripartite government. He sees the maintenance of these Geneva principles as indispensable to the legitimacy of the Royal Lao Government (RLC) and its international acceptance. He believes that so long as they arc retained, even if onlyacade. Moscow will support the present political equilibrium in Laos; and that Hanoi andmain military interests now lieo territory controlled by the Vientianeat loast make no major efforts to upset the present equilibrium. He also believes that the

maintenance of tripartltism may facilitate the reintegration of the Pathet Lao into tbe national community al some future date.

be departure of the Communbti from the tripartite go*-rument3 reduced itruBalnt-conservative coalition, with the latter factionpredominant The net result has been the achievementubstantial degree of political stability. Neutralist conservative cooperation has grown, almost obliterating the difference* which once existed between these factions. Souvanna now frei|iienlly Ignores any distinction between the two,olicy terms then- is virtually none. The conservatrt'cly-inclUied military leaders have also become increasingly acceptable to Souvanna. He knows that their support is essential to tbe preservation of his government, not only because of the military strength they control but also by virtue of the political power they hold in their regional commands. This increased acceptance of the military isesult of Ihe departure from Laos in recent yean of some of the more disaffected and contentious clemmitit among the military, notablyPhoumi and hi* adherents.

or their part. Ihe key Lao military figures accept and support Souvanna in the interest of maintaining, with I'Sroadly-based nationalto Communist territorial ew roach merits. The mihlary leaders are abo conscious of the restraints placed on them by continuing international interest, particularly that of the US, in keeping Souvanna in power Souvannas position is further strengthened by King Savangesire lo maintain legitimacy and by divisions among the military arising from regional and family

The neutralist faction, once Sonvaiuws main support, has been unable loru< political party and has lost much of in elan. The neutralist label presently attracts little popular support; neutralist candidates, except those idexrtifying with regional interests, have generally suffered defeat at the polls. Kong Le, the military symbol of neutralism, has recently been removed from his command in the interest of integrating neutralist forces into the FAR, and has left the country. Nevertheless, the neutralist label la retained,for cosmeticdistinguish those who occupy the cabinet posts originally reserved for that faction andemonstrate thai trlpartitism survives.

The newly-elected Nationalore disciplined and cohesive than its predecessor. In the first serious test of its character and intentions. Soovanna's national budget was passed without opposition. This issue had contributedajor governmental crisis in the fall6 In contrast to the disorganized and obstructive legislature which It replaced, (be new Assemblyafe majority of deputies obligated to regional military leaders who in turn have agreed to support Souvanna.

S. The Lao Communist politicalNco Lao Hal Satneither strong nor deeply rooted in Laos: it is almostreature of the North Vietnamese on whose sopport and direction it has

become increasingly depenoVnl. Although Ihe NI.HS abandoned its role in the national government int continues to hold to the tripartitea source of legitimacy at home andramework within which to reenter the government should the overall situation in Indochina once again warrant the suspension of hostilities and the adoption of political tactics.undoubtedly disturbed by Souvanna's effective cooperation with the conservatives, the Lao Communists and their North Vietnamese mentors also realize that the tripartite arrangement under his leadership places significant international constraints on the Lao military and indirectly on the US.

Political stability in Laos will continue lo depend on theof cooperation and mutual respect between Souvanna, the FABand the King. Despite some misgivings about Souvanna onnf certain of the military leaders, it is probable that they will continuebis government and its policies. The present arrangement offersscope for the exercise of political influence within their regions,do not appear to have any major policy difference* with Souvanna atTliere is always the possibility, however, that personal rivalriesmilitary may spark outbreaks of mtemecine strife as5military-inspired coup attempt againsl Souvanna's gos'emtnenl, as inunlikely. Moreover, no military leader has sufficient stature toacquiescence of his peers for any takeover of the government

B. External Fa crocs

Hanoi and the War in Vietnam. To Hanoi, the war In Ijum is secondary to iti campaign to take over South Vietnam. Hanoi seeks through the agency of the Palhet Lao to control the regions adjacent to Ha own borders. It sap-ports the Pathet Laoilitary and political force in order toiable instrument for any future Communist takeover of Laos. Of principal immediate importance to Hanoi, however, is control of the southern panhandle area containing the ccrrsdor which it views as an essential route between North and South Vietnam.

anoi's objectives in the soutlieni panhandle have been servedondition of relative military stalemate in which it retains control of the uplands liordering South Vietnam while FAR forces occupy the flanking Mekong lowlands, Ai present. Hanoi shows no intention of extending Its occupation westward into FAR territory. Nor is it exerting strong political and military pressures On Souvanna's government elsesvherc in Laos. It ti probable that Hanoi will maintain this posture toward Souvanna so long as the status quo obtains.

For lib part, Souvanna would like to see the Nwth Vietnamese eventuallv driven from all Lao territory, but he does not share ihe intense US concern with the Communist controlled panhandleugged region onlv spsrsefv populated by noo-Loo tribal peoples. So long as Hanoi evidences no interest in extending its occupation westward into the Mekong lowlands, Sousanna is

reluctant too boat rocked by attempts to force the NVA/VC out of the high lands.

U.nternational Position. Underlying ailctions arc his concern for tho preservation of the Geneva tripartite framework ofand his dedicationoreign policy of neutrality for Laos- He lias collaborated closely with the US. which is fighting the common enemy in Vietnam and is the only source of large-scale assistance in terms of military hardware and air support. However, he has stated that he would not authorize the introduction into Laos of US or other Allied troops. He is particularly anxious to avoid disturbing relations with the Soviets on wliom he relies to provide an additional check on Hanoi's expansionist tendencies and whose ncog* mtJon he regards as fundamental to the policy of neutrality. He also weighs presumed Sovietrriving at decisions on domestic affairs- He is also careful to avoid provoking Peking, but lie is less hopeful that the Chinese Communists would attempt to restrain Hanoi.

Souvanna has accepted certain US military activities In Laos such as bombings that benefit he troops as well as hamper Hanoi's war effort in South Vietnam, and certain covert activities. However, in both cams, his agreement rests on absolute prohibition of publicity. He has refused to acknowledge the existence of any US military activity in Laos with the exception of armed air pJiotoreconnalssance. He lias never been Informed by the US of itsin small-scale ground mnonaissance activities, although he may be aware of them. He has firmly taken the position, both privately and publicly, that he cannot approve US military ground operations in Laos.

Souvanna, although prepared to cooperate with the US in actions that he believes will assist Laos without exposing it to new and excessive political or military dangers, has many reasons for placing close limits on suchHe is aware, as is the Lao elite in general, of the tremendous draino resources Imposed by the hostilities, even at their present level, andasualty rate that, particularly for an underpopulated country, is very high. He believes that the Introduction of friendly foreign ground troops would be contested by the North Vietnamese and that the level of hostilitips would inevitably rise and that Laos would become another battleground of the Vietnam war.

C. The Succession

is no present expedition that Souvanna will resign, eitheror health reasons, though he iscars old and has often inused the threat of retirement to obtain acceptance of his policies.to enjoy his position and Is conscious of his role in building aHe is also aware that he is probably the only Lao leader otherKing with sufficient international stature and acceptance to lendthe tripartite formula. He is also concerned about the successionwants more lime to select and build up an acceptable successor. At

present, he apparently sees Minister of Finance Sisouk na Champassak in this role.

Should Souvanna die, there would be considerable jockeying for power which would be likely to continue even after the installationewAwareness of the importance of US support would affect decisions,umber of major domestic factors would also come into play. An essential element would be the preference of King Savang Vatthana.the most powerful man in Laos and almost universally respected. Another important factor is the military. The Lao military would probablyonservative civilian since the only military figure who might qualify at this time is General Koupraslfh Abhay. He would be strongly opposed by many of his colleagues who fear ascendancy of the Vientiane-based Sanam-konc clan with whom Kouprasith is closely associated. If the King, taking international interests into account, acted vigorously on behalfeutralist, such as Prince Sisoumang Sisalcumsak, his decision would probably be accepted.

The choiceuccessor would, of course, have important implications for the survival of the Cencva structure. Moscow would be particularly concerned about and expect to influence the selection process andeutralist. Hanoi, if satisfied through the choiceeutralist successor that Souvanna's departure would not lead to significantly increased military pressures on its use of Lao territory, would probably accept thewith only pro forma complaints. If so, its Patbet Lao clients would follow suit The appointmentonservative figure would raise questionsadherence to the tripartite formula. The emergence of any Lao figure clearly hostile to the tripartite formula would be completely unacceptable to Hanoi and Moscow: Moscow would denounce the new government as without standing under the Geneva agreements, and openly support the Pathct Lao; and Hanoi might take new military initiatives.

II. REACTIONS TO EXPANDED ALLIED GROUND ACTION IN THE LAOS PANHANDLE

believe that Souvanna, if approached officially, wouldproposals put to him involving Allied ground action in the LaosHe Is predisposed to do so by his whole approach to the war.would be reinforced by expectationsorth Vietnamesewould enlarge the war in Laos. He would expect that Hanoiback, not only in areas in which the Communists were beingalso in areas now under BLG control, which would he of muchMoreover, he would be inclined to react not merely to abut to the progression of events that he would envisage asfollow the first move. Thus, he would be reluctant to authorizelow risk, very small-scale, and deniable actions because hethat, whatever the original US intention, the new actions andresponse wouldomentum of their own.

SEC*^

Because Souvanna undeislnnds the stake of Laos In the outcome of the war in Vietnam, and realizes that until it is over Laos will perforceheater of operations, he has demonstrated some tolerance for actions of which he is not officially mformed. The level of such tolerance will vary from time to time and has, generally speaking, been oo an ascending scale. Although he has privately as well as publicly drawn the line against ground operations, the key test in his view remains the ability to avoidThe essentia! elements In his tolerance of presentK conducted actions have been that: Insofar as his official relations with the US are concerned, these actions have not existed; they have been unacknowledged, small,and shallow penetrations conducted by specially trained forces: and they have not become, in anyublic or diplomatic issue. Expanded activities of this type, so long as they met the same criteria, night continue to be ignored by Souvanna.

Souvanna would vigorously oppose any action involving the open or prolonged presence on Lao soil of any substantial number ot Alliede.g- one battalion. He wouldommunist military reaction and.uch larger and destructive war throughoutf consulted in advance, he would almost certainly oppose the move strongly. Moreover, most of the other Lao political and military leaders, including the King, would share his misgivings and accept his lead in this matter.

Ihe US proceeded with nich visible actions despite Souvanna'she would probably resign, though theremall chance that hethe US action in hopes of somehow limitingn the event ofa Lao leader, conservative or military, could probablyovernment that would cooperate with ihe US, but it Isthe King would legitimize the new government. Eiternally,departure of Souvanna under these circumstances would change tbe Idramatically. The Vietnamese Communists would no longerpolitical restraints on their military actions in Laos, anil the Sovietprobably swing to direct political supporl of theo.

'Mr.roney. for tbe Director of Inirllirem and Hear tax b, DrpartmeM of State, beueves that Souvanna alnul .ertaauy would resign. Souvanna regards theuf tbe Geneva irttlement as Indiapnnobie IS the survival of LaxM and would are tba visible introduction of allied ground fences as signaling ihe abandonment nf that settlement. He baa made these points many times. If. despite hu opposition, the actions ranieoipliliii in this paragraph ivrre undertaken, he would assume, against the background of previous US aawrance* to him. that the US had broken tbe reUnonsJop ci confident* both up scare IBM and bad lost merest in preanslng UW Geneva raltieiiarut aad in his renaming in cafjce. Ilr would have no hope, therefore, that by reinamuig in office he cnold exercise any further influence on our course* of action.

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