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NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE
Short-Term Political Prospects for Laos
Sub miffed r.
DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELUGENCE
Concurred In by fhe UNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE BOARD As Indicated overleaf7
The following intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate:
The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organization* of the Depart, ments of State and Defense, and the NSA.
Vice Adm.aylor. Deputy Director of Central Intelligence
Mr. George C. Denney, for the Director of Intelligence and Research, Deportment
Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Carroll, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency Lt. Gen. Marshall S. Carter, for the Director, National Security Agency
Dr. Charles H. rTelchordt, for the Assistant General Manager, Atomic Energy Corn-mission: and Mr. William O. Cregar, for the Assistant Director, Federal Bureau 'of Investigation, the subject being outside of their jurisdiction.
of the United States, the trans-any manner to an unouthoriirTa>'T>ssiaan is prohibited.
SHORT-TERM POLITICAL PROSPECTS FOR LAOS
To estimate the prospects for political stability in Laos over the next year or so. In addition, to estimate the 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.
the past several years, the Kingdom of Laosa substantial degree of political stability. This rests,on the international support which the Royal Laoenjoyed since2 Geneva settlement, support whichSouvanna Phouma earnestly 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 term, 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 not authorizeinto Laos of US or other Allied ground troops.he has demonstrated some tolerance for small-scale, 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 die open or prolonged presence
on Lao soil of any substantial number of Alliedone battalion. If the US proceeded with such visible actions despiteopposition, he would probably resign, though theremall chance that he might tolerate the US action in hopes of somehow limiting it."
1 Mi.enuey. for the Dverfa* of lnwILgeore and Research. Department of Stair,ut Sootatmi atom certakur) would tiwpi Sanun regard* theoa of ihr Ceaeva acttirmrat at mdnprnaabb kt the wrvival of Laos and would see thr viable introduction of allied ground form ai lifiuling the abandonment of Uut settlement. He hai made these points many tunes. If. despite hu opptsitioti. the actions contemplated In tha sentence were oiutertaaen, he would auume, against theof previous L'S assurances to him, that the VS bad brokentioiidiip of confidence built up2 and had lust interest in preserving the Owva vtllenienl and in hi* remaining in office. He would hate no hope, therefore, that hy reiikuning In office he could exercise any further influence on our courses of action.
I. PROSPECTS FOR POLITICAL STABILITY A. Internal Factors
Afterears of independence, the Kingdomos remains economically and politically underdeveloped.ew thousand individuals, most of them French-educated, participate in government and politics; the bulk of tlieis illiterate and politically apathetic. Popular identification with the country, the government, and thestronger than in theis very limited, and regional and family loyalties continue toredominant role in domestic politics.
The Lao political situation is further complicated by two decades of international contention in the Indochinaormula was devised bynation Geneva Conference2 to bring peace to Laos by making theeutral bufferripartite coalition government was organized in Vientiane by the three major Lao politicalneutralist, andheaded by the neutralist Prince Souvanna Phouma. But this design for national reconciliation 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-populated uplands bordering China and the two Victnams. The government controls the populous Mekong River lowlands and commands considerable support among some upland ethnic minority groups, particularly the Meo.
ince Geneva, Lao politics have undergone major changes. Inhe Lao Communists withdrew from active participation in the 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 his neutralist force and the US provided needed military equipment and supplies. Since then, Souvanna has come to believe that, in the last analysis, the security of Laos depends on the US.
hile privately favoring US policies in the Indochina area. Souvanna nevertheless maintains an international position of neutralityommitment to tripartite government. He sees the maintenance of those Geneva principles as indispensable to the legitimacy of the Royal Lao Government (RLG) and its international acceptance. He believes that so long as they are retained, even if onlyacade, Moscow will support the present political equilibriumos; and that Hanoi andmain military interests now lie outside the territory controlled by the Vientianeat least mako no major efforts to upset the present equilibrium. He also believes that the
maintenance of tripartitism may facilitate the reintegration of the Pathet Lao into the national community at some future date.
The departure of the Communists from the tripartite government3 reduced iteutralist-conservative coalition, with the latter factionpredominant. The net result has been the achievementubstantial degree of political stability. Neutralist-conservative cooperation lias grown, almost obliterating the differences which once existed between these factions. Souvanna now frequently ignores any distinction between the two, and in policy terms there is virtually none. The conservatively-inclined military leaders have also become increasingly acceptable to Souvanna. He knows that their support is essential to the 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 the departure from Laos in recent years of some of the more disaffected and contentious elements among the military, notablyPhoumi and his adherents.
For their part, the key Lao military figures accept and support Souvanna in the interest of maintaining, with USroadly-based nationalto Communist territorial encroachments. The military leaders are also conscious of the restraints placed on them by continuing international interest, particularly that of the US. in keeping Souvanna in power. Souvanna's position is further strengthened by King Savangesire to maintain legitimacy and by divisions among the military arising from regional and family
Tlie neutralist faction, once Souvanna's main support, has been unable torue political party and has lost much of its elan. The neutralist label presently attracts little popular support; neutralist candidates, except those identifying 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 is retained,for cosmeticdistinguish those who occupy the cabinet posts originally reserved for that faction and to demonstrate that tripartitism survives.
The newly-elected National Assembly is more disciplined and cohesive than ils predecessor. In tlie first serious test of its character and intentions. Souvanna's national budget was passed without opposition. This issue had contributedajor governmental crisis in the falln contrast to the disorganized and obstructive legislature which it replaced, the new Assemblyale majority of deputies obligated to regional military leaders who In turn have agreed to support Souvanna.
The Lao Communist politicalNeo Lao Hak Satneither strong nor deeply rooted in Laos; it is almostreature of the North Vietnamese on whose support and direction it has
become increasingly dependent. Although the NLHS abandoned its role in the national government int continues to hold to theource 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 conservalives, the Lao Communists and their North Vietnamese mentors also realize that the tripartite arrangement under his leadership places significant international conslraints on the Lao military and indirectly on the US.
Political stability in Laos will continue to depend on theof cooperation and mutual respect between Souvanna, the FARand the King. Despite some misgivings about Souvanna onof certain of the military leaders, it is probable that they will continuehis 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 differences with Souvanna atThere is always the possibility, however, that personal rivalriesmilitary may spark outbreaks of internecine strife asmilitary-inspired coup attempt against Souvanna's government, as inunlikely. Moreover, no military leader has sufficient statute toacquiescence of his peers for any takeover of the government.
B. External Factors
Hanoi and the War in Vietnam. To Hanoi, the war in Laos is secondary to its campaign to take over South Vietnam. Hanoi seeks through the agency of the Pathet Lao to control the regions adjacent to its own borders. It sup-ports the Pathet Laoilitary and political force in order toiable instrument for any future Communist takeoveros. Of principal immediate importance to Hanoi, however, is control of the southern panhandle area containing the corridor which it views as an essential route between North and South Vietnam.
anoi's objectives in the soutliern panhandle have been servedondition of relative military stalemate in which il retains control of the uplands bordering South Vietnam while FAB forces occupy the Banking Nfekong lowlands. At 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 elsewhere in Laos. It is probable that Hanoi will maintain this posture toward Souvanna so long as the status quo obtains.
For his part, Souvanna would like lo see tlw North Vietnamese eventually driven from all Lao territory, but he docs not share the intense US concern with the Communist-controlled panhandleugged region only sparsely populated by non-Lao tribal peoples. So long as Hanoi evidences no interest in extending its occupation westward into the Mekong lowlands, Souvanna is
reluctant to see the boat rocked by attempts to force tbe NVA/VC out of the highlands.
Souvanna's International Position. Underlying all Souvanna's actions are his concern for the preservation of the Geneva tripartite framework ofand his dedicationoreign policy of neutrality for Laos. He has 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, lie is particularly anxious to avoid disturbing relations with the Soviets on whom he relies to provide an additional check on Hanoi's expansionist tendencies and whosehe regards as fundamental to the policy of neutrality. He also weighs presumed Soviet reactions in arriving at decisions on domestic affairs. He is also careful to avoid provoking Peking, but he is less hopeful that tbe Chinese Communists would attempt to restrain Hanoi.
Souvanna has accepted certain US military activities in Laos such as bombings that benefit his troops as well as hamper Hanois war effort in South Vietnam, and certain covert activities. However, in both cases, 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 photoreconnaissanoe. He has never been informed by the US of itsin small-scale ground reconnaissance activities, although be 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 ho 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 drain on Lao 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 hostilities would inevitably rise and that Laos would become another battleground of the Vietnam war.
C. The Succession
is no present expectation that Souvanna will resign, citheror health reasons, though he isears old and lias often inused tlie threat of retirement lo obtain acceptance of bis 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 time to select and build up an acceptable successor. At
present, he apparently sees Minister of Finance Sisouk na Champassak in this role,
sin mill Souvanna die, there would bo considerable jockeying lor power which would be likely to continue even after the installationewAwareness of the importance of US support would alfect decisions,umber of major domestic factors would also come into play. An essential element would be the preference of King Savang Vatthana, constitu-tjoually the most powerful man in Laos and almost universally respected-Another important factor is the military llie Lao military would probablyonservative civilian since the only military figure who might qualify at this timeGeneral Kouprasith Abhny. He would be strongly opposed by many of his colleagues who fear ascendancy of the Vientiane-based Sanani-konc clan with whom Kouprasith is closely associated. If the King, taking international interests into account, acted vigorously on behalfeutralist, such as Prince Suoumang Sisaleumsak. hit decision would probably be accepted.
The choiceuccessor would, of course, have important implications for the survival of thr Geneva structure. Moscow would be particularly concerned about and expect to influence the selection process andeutralist. Hanoi, if satisfied through the choice ofneutralist successor that Souvanna's departure would not lead to significantly increased military pressures on its use of Lao territory, would probably accept thewill) only pro formaf so, its Pathet Luo clients would follow suit. Tin' appointmentonservative figure would raise questionsadherence to tlie tripartite formula. The emergence ofigure clearly hostile to the tripartite formula would be completely unacceptable to Hanoi and Moscow: Moscow would denounce tbe new government as without standing under the Geneva agreements, and openly support the Pathet Lao; and Hanoi might take new military initiatives.
II. REACTIONS TO EXPANDED ALLIED GROUND ACTION IN THE LAOS PANHANDLE
lielicvc that Souvanna, if approached officially, wouldprojKaals put to him involving Allied ground action in the LaosHe Is predisposed to do so hy his whole approach to the war.would he reinforced by expectationsorth Vietnamesewould enktrge the war in Laos. He would expect that Hanoiback, not only in areas in which the Communists were beingalso in areas now under IIIX; control, which would be of muchMoreover, lie would beo react noto abut to the progression of events that he would envisage asfollow the first move. Thus, he would be reluctant to autliomolow risk, very small-scale, and deniable actions because liethat, whatever tlie original US intention, the new actions undresponse wouldomentum of their own.
tt'L-aiiHr Souvanna utnlcrstands the Stake olhe.' tho 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 informed. The level of such tolerance will vary from time to time and has, generally speaking, been on an attending scale.
Although he has privately as well as publicly drawn the line against ground operations, tlie key test in his view remains the ability to avoidThr essential elements in his tolerance of presently -conducted actions have been that: insofar as his official relations with the US are coiHxrrncd. these actions have not existed; thev have been uriackiMrvvledged, 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 tbey met the same criteria, might continue to be
ignored by Souvanna.
Souvann* would vigorously oppose any action involving the open or prolonged presenceo soil of any substantial number ofne battalion. He woiddommunist military reaction and,uch larger and destructive war throughout Laos. If consulted in advance, he would almost certainly oppose tlie move strongly. Moreover, most of theo political and mililary leaders, including, the King, would share his misgivings and accept his lead in this matter.
If the US proceeded with such visible actions despite Souvanna'she would probably resign, though theremall chance that he might tolerate the US action in hopes of somehow limitingn the event of hiseo leader, conservative or military, could probably be found toovernment that would cooperate with the US, but it is uncertain that the King would legitimize the new govcrrimeut. Externally, mctrcover. tbe departure of Souvanna under these circumstances would changeo situation dramatically. Tbe Vietnamese Communists would no longer have any political restraints on their military actions in Laos, and the Soviet Union would probably swing to direct political support of the Pathet Lao.
"Mr.roney, for the Director ot* Intelligence and Rewnreh. Department idelieves that Si'iiviiiiiiit almost certainly would resign. Souvanna regards theot the Geneva settlement as indispensable to the survivalt and would see the visible introduction of allied ground forces as signal ing lhe abandonment nf that settlement. He has madeott it* many times. If, despite his opposition, the actions- contemplated in this pam graph were undertaken, he would assume, against lhc background of previous USr.ii..to him, that the US had hnAen the relation*hip ofill up2 ami had lost inlcicat In preserving the Oeneva settlement and in his remaining in office. He would have no hupr, therefore, that by remaining In oflice he could ewrebe any further Infloenta un our couiw* of action.
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