SNIE 58-61-PROBABLE COMMUNIST REACTIONS TO CERTAIN U.S. COURSES OF ACTION WITH

Created: 2/21/1961

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SNIE )1

ESTIMATE

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PROBABLE COMMUNIST REACTIONS TO CERTAIN US. COURSES; OF ACTION

ITH RESPECT TO LAOS

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PROBABLE COMMUNIST REACTIONS TO CERTAIN US COURSES OF ACTION WITH RESPECT TO LAOS

scope

purpose of this estimate is briefly to assess Communist (Soviet, Chinese, and DRV) reactions, and, where significant, non-Communist reactions, to certain US-sponsored military actions1 with respect to Laos. It is proposed that thesebe assessed for two situations: that the military moves were undertaken <a) under essentially presentor (b) after neutrals and US allies hadS proposal for the establishmenteutral nationsin Laos, but before it had begun to function in Laos.

The courses of action here considered were given to the intelligence community for the purposes of this estimate and were not intended to represent the full range of possibilities. The given courses are of five general types:

direct delivery of militaryVientiane by US aircraft.

US aerialLaos (by such aircraft

actions in Laos by volunteeraircraft (Thai, Vietnamese, or others).

introduction of variousforces (Thai technicians,irregulars,ompositevolunteer legion) toof action in Laos.

military action by US and(forward deployment ina token force, air or ground forcesin Laos, or the threat of USamphibious action against

the estimate

The Present Situation In loos

ince the bursts of activity that ended in the RLG's capture of Vientiane and the seizure of the Plaine des Jarres by the Pathct Lao-Kong Lc forces, the military situation in Laos has turned into sporadic, inconclusive civil war. Military action at present Is largely small unit probe and movement, with each side groping toward the other, hampered by difficult terrain and uncertainCombat consists chiefly ofskirmishes between small infantry groups, usually broken off when one or the other sideew mortar or artillery rounds to bear. Although the terrain favors guerrilla tactics,

not even the pro-Communist forces have yet chosen to base their fighting essentially on such tactics. In sum. neither side is likely to "win" the war in Laos in the near future, unless it receives more than logistic support from the outside. However, more limitedby one side or the other could occur, and might have significant political effect on the situation.

The RLG forcesreater amount and diversity of military equipment available to them at present than do the PL forces, but the USSR is continuing to airlift supplies and equipment into Sam Neua and the Plaine des Jarres. Bloc support appears to be in excess of the present needs of the PL-Kong Le forces, and it is not clear for what purposes thissupport Is Intended. Also, we believe that PL forcesomewhat greater military capability than they have yet chosen toFor their part, these Communist forces have the great advantages of covert support from across the jungle border withnd of the ability to retire into the DRV for safe haven and retraining. More importantly, the PL do not have to maintain their military eflortery high level to serve Communist aims in Laos.

Despite the apparent military stalemate of the past few weeks, we believe that longer range trends in Laos in present circumstances are, slowly, toward the Communists. Pro-Communist forces occupy the key centers of Xieng Khouang and the Plaine des Jarres, most of Sam Neua and Phong Saly provinces,umber of pockets in the central and southern provinces. They are not meeiing effective resistance in these areas and havehadow government, which they claim to be the legal continuation ofPhouma's, at Xieng Khouang. The RLG Is largely Inept and ineffective innon-Communist support throughout Laos, and will probably not be able to retake Xieng Khouang and the Plaine des Jarres In the near future. Present PL actions appear directed towards consolidating their position in areas they hold, but they may shift to more offensive tactics at any lime.

any US allies and the neutrals have been disturbed by events of the last year or so In Laos and critical in varying degrees of US objectives and policies there. The British and the French in particular have felt that the US was too unyielding In Ils dealings withPhouma. too inflexible regarding aRLG accommodation with the Pathet Lao, and overly ronfldrntilitarywas possible. There hasenerally favorable response among US allies andthus far to tlie new US planeutral nations commission in Laos. Thailand, South Vietnam, the Philippines, and The Republic of China have generally supported US actions in Laos, but have been critical of the US at the same time for what they regard as its failure to act swiftly and decisively in the face of the Pathet Lao-Kong Le challenge. Allied and neutral opinion has been further disturbed by the recent retreat of Chinese Nationalistfrom Burma Into northwest Laos, near the Laos-Communist China border.

B. Communist Interests and Policies with Respect to loos

he USSR has for some time almostconsidered Laos lo be one of the softest spots in US commitmentsromising candidate for eventual fall to the Communists. Until recently the USSR has apparently been content to keep subvention-aggression in Iaosairly low-key, and to let the DRV largely run the Communist showup by Soviet and Chinese Communist logistic, propaganda, and diplomatic aupport.Souvanna Phouma's recognition of the USSR in0 gave Moscow theto Involve itself more directly inin Laos. This It was quick to do,considering at the tune (November -early December) that trends in Laos were rapidly benefiting Bloc interests, andelatively small commitment (POL and rice airlift) could markedly abet this.since the fall of Vientiane to General Phoumi. however, the USSR has increased that commitment, organizing anda steady airlift of military supplies into Communist-held areas of northernthe face of Indication! that the US considers

est case of Soviet willingness to reduce tensions and to turn to serious negotiation of other outstanding issues.

The USSR has not committed the Blocin Laos. It has not admitted, even to its own public, that Soviet aircraft areinto Laos; DRV military involvement in Laos has been kept covert, although we have firm evidence that DRV technicians andare present; and the USSR has not given any ultimata concerning Laos, publicly orAt the same time, Moscow'sairlift is unprecedented, the DRV haswarned through diplomatic channels that it might be forced to intervene, and the Bloc has warned that the situation In Laoshreat to the security of the DRV andChina and that thereanger of expanded hostilities. Tactically, the USSR seems to be playing by ear in Laos,arget of opportunity, apparently confident that there is little if any compulsion at present either to raise the Communistante or toettlement, and that present Communist tactics will boththe demise of non-Communistin Laos and seriously embarrass the US internationally.

The USSR probably considers, too, Lhat it isolitical-military advantage in Laos and that there Is presently little risk inCommunist efforts in Laos at about their present scale and pace. Moscowanticipates that the US is going toifficult time either winning the Jungle war in Laos or backing out of it; that the US will be hesitant to take any extreme measures in Laos which might divide it still further from its Western allies and the neutrals; that the US will be concerned not to become engaged in expanded hostilities with the DRV or,Communist China; and, hence, that the US will probably In time agreeettlement on terms which, from the Soviet viewpoint, will leave ample opportunities for futuresubversion of Laos. Additionally, the USSR may also consider that Its believedin Laos can be usedounter in any high-level negotiations it might have with the US In coming months on other world issues.

There has been no clear indication to dale of the degree to which difficulties in Slno-Soviet relations have either spurred orBloc action in Laos. The fact that the Soviets, rather than the Chinese, haveirect role there is probably the product of: (a) the opportunity accorded tbe USSR in the RLO's diplomatic recognition of it, but not of Peiping; (b) Soviet concern not to evoke the much stronger US response which, inview, would probably result were Peiping demonstrably involved in direct support of the PL-Kong Le forces; (c) Soviet desire toits revolutionary initiative as the leader of the Bloc; and possibly (d) Sovietin precluding greater Chineseinfluence in Laos.

Chinese Communist propaganda activity with respect to Laos has increased in the past two weeks, partlyesult of the Injection of the Chinese Nationalist irregulars into the Laos picture. Communist China Is almost certainly more concerned with the USin Laos than Is the USSR, andirm line on Moscow. Wehowever, that Soviet policy in Laos springs more from response to the situation in Laos and the US' involvement therein, than from problems arising out of relations with Communist China. At the same time, Soviet policy In Laos is probably somewhat morethan it might be were It not for the recent Sino-Soviet dispute.

C. Probable Reactions to US-Sponiored Military Actions

ommunist reactions to particular US-sponsored military actions would be greatly influencedariety ofhe precise combination of such actions; their manner, speed, and success; the degree ofor condemnation given these actions by world opinion; and the diplomaticand general Bloc posture existing at the time. Also of primary importance would be the Bloc leaders' impression of theand vigor of the new USwhich they will judge from the whole

"T1 I HiTTTr,T_

range of US moves and statements. Thiswill affect the degree of credibility which the Bloc leaders assign to any USgiven them concerning Laos. Thediscussion of Bloc reactions is based on the situation in Laos as it has developed thus far.

Bloc reactions would be profoundlyby Bloc appraisal of the political effects of the US-sponsored measures. Except in the case of the most modest US military measures (paragraphloc leaders wouldcertainly expect that most of worldwould be sharply critical of the US, and that this fact would,deter the US fromtooence, unless Communist assets were directly threatenedonfrontation of US and Bloc military forces had actually taken place, the Bloc would probably not feel compelled toignificant militaryin Laos.

In the light of these considerations, wethat the facteutral nationsfor Laos were being established would not affect Communist reactions to US military measuresajor way. In the event that there were general Free World support of the neutral nations commission plan, the USSR might well associate itself with it and might even attempt to use it for its own purposes. We believe, however, that any US-sponsored military actions, except for the most modest measures (paragraphould meet adverse non-Communist reactions, possibly causing the participating neutrals either to withdraw from the commission scheme or to attempt to insert themselves more fully into settlement of the Laos situation.

We believe that Bloc reactions would be essentially determined by the USSR, except in those instances, as discussed below, where specific military measures engaged special Chinese Communist or DRV sensitivities.

Except possibly in the case of extreme militarye believe that Soviet leaders would not feel it necessary to match US-sponsorcd military actions in Laos with corresponding, step-by-step, Bloc military measures. Soviet leaders would probably conclude that the lesser US-sponsoredwould probably not prove militarilywould not threaten to destroy or greatly reduce Communist positions and assets In Laos, and therefore would not necessitate Bloc actions which carry any considerable degree of risk. They would probably also consider that US-sponsored measures would evokeworld reactions, cause friction between the US and much of the non-Communist world, and create receptive audiences for the Bloc's eflort to convince the world that it is US policy which threatens the peace inAsia and elsewhere. In thesethe USSR would probably consider that it would have the option, at any stage at which it thought US moves were becoming hazardous, to bring about negotiations with excellent prospects of achieving an outcome favorable to the PL.

Under certain conditions the USSR would sponsor some military moves in Laos. Moreover, the USSR would not hesitate to make serious threats against the bases of countries participating in the US-sponsored moves. Itot consider that such Soviet actions would prejudice its efforts to

'See paragraphelow, where the estimated Communist reactions are givenomposite-nationality volunteer ground force, US and allied air forces, US and allied ground forces, or the throat ol US air and amphibious action against the DRV.

portray the US oa tho disturber of the peace. However, we believe that Bloc responses to all except the most extreme military measures (paragraphelow) would be designed far more for their political than their mililary effects. Depending on the US-sponsored measure or measures in question, thewould probably run the gamut of propaganda attacks, political action, riots, demonstrations, and attempts tn the UN and other international groups to condemn the US and its participating partners.

The Soviets do not want to prejudice their chances of negotiating with the US on issues more Important to them than Laos. This consideration may restrain them fromup military pressures In Laos on their own initiative; It will be less likely to restrain them from military responses to US military initiatives there. They will wish to be sure that the new US Administration Is convinced of Soviet firmness and determination. They may also see cases where Soviet militarywill reinforce, rather than weaken. Soviet political and propaganda efforts.

In general:

US measurrs which fell shortdefeat or serious setback toforces would probably not causeto make any substantial change inscale and nature of its logisticto the PL, or place the bloc underto make political concessionsUS. Some PL military activitydevelop, however, as an adjunctpolitical and propaganda efforts.

US measures which actuallythreaten PL positions or securitycause some Bloc militaryLaos. However, before these becameand Irrevocable, we believe thatwould attempt to move theInto some Internationalwould probably consider lhat worldto any expansion of the conflict,Bloc firmness, would suffice to forcetoettlement which, at apreserved the Bloc position in Laos.

to lesser measures.certainlyigorous diplomaticreaction, but probably not aincrease in Bloc intervention inresponse to the following measures:

a. The direct deliveru ol military supplies to Vientiane by US aircraft. (However, the Communists would probably increase their logistic support of the PL forces.)

ustained US reconnaissance flights over Laos. (However, If the US aircraft on such flights were detected on overflights of the DRV or Communist China, the Bloc propaganda campaign would become shrill, interception attempts might be made by Bloc aircraft, and hat pursuit might occur as Uie US aircraftto their bases.)

a The use of unmarked Thai or otherto augment present PAL and CATin Laos.

d. The assignment of volunteer Thaito FAL units.

None of these measures would be likely, in our judgment, to cause the Communists to cease their military efforts In Laos, to feel the need to make any concessions, or, on the other hand, themselves to step up the tempo in Laos. Non-Communist world reactions to such US-sponsored measures would probably be severe only If Incidents Involving outside forcesbut pressuresegotiated solution would grow.

to intermediate measures.to Intense Blocthe Bloc would probablymilitary countermoves to the

a. The commitment of "volunteer" combat aircraft to ground support operations in Laos. The Bloc would probably seek to increase PL AAA capabilities, possibly covertly introducing DRV AAA units Soviet threats would be made against the (Thai, Vietnamese, or other) bases supporting the air operations. The chances are about even Lhat "volunteer"ground attuck aircraft would bein Laos. However, the chances of such commitment would rise sharply if the non-

Communist aircraft had attacked undSoviet airlift aircraft. We believe it less likely that Communist air strikes would be attempted against the supporting non-Communist air bases.

commitment ol Chineseto combat action ineneral assumption. Bloc andthat these troops had beenat least the tacit consent of the US.an the Nationalist irregulars did notaffect the course of fighting indid not make raids Into China, SovietCommunist reactions wouldconfined to vigorousHowever, the possibilityexcluded that the Chinesemake punitive raids against thein Laos.

overt assemblingoken forceand allied ground forces in northeastDRV troops would probably bealong the Laos border, and threatsintervention might be made.

We do not believe that any of these measures would cause the Communists to cease their military support of the PL. However, the USSR would probably consider that much greater political gains could be made from exploiting non-Communist criticism of these US-sponsored measures than from spirited military responses In or about Laos. This might be the point at which the USSR would feel it profitable to enter into negotiationsettlement, confident that tbe outcome of the negotiations would be favorable to the Communist cause in Laos.

eactions to extreme measures. Wethat more drastic US measures wouldtrong military and political response from the Bloc, although the Bloc would still be concerned lo keep hostilities fromfurther. Its military responses would be calculated to deter the US from undertaking still more extreme action, and to force lhe Laos Issue into negotiations Since the US measures would almost certainly haveegative world response, the USSR would press for negotiations in the belief lhat lhe US would be at considerable disadvantage and that no significant concessions by the Bloc would be necessary. Extreme propaganda-political action against the US. worldwide, would of course accompany Communist political and military moves. The precise scale of Bloc military response in the Laos area would vary, depending on the nature of the US-sponsored military measures, as follows:

a. The commitmentolunteer, composite-nationality ground force in Laos. It theof the PL forces were threatened,numbers of (DRV) "Lao" or "border" forces would probably be committed tothe situation. We believe it unlikely that Chinese Communist "volunteers" would be committed, although we cannot rule out this possibility.

he overt commitment of US and allied nation combai aircraft in Laos. Wc believe that the Bloc would probably regardeasure asajor commitment by lhe US to the support of non-Communisl forces in Laos and would feel that this challenge obliged It lotrong political and military response. The Communists would seek to maximize the propagandaof non-Communist adverse reactions to the US air actions. They would probably move to negotiate, calculating that they could bothettlement that would protectassets in Laos and at the same time reap considerable political benefit in the world. We cannot estimate with precision what form these military responses would take. It Is possible that they might commit Bloc air or ground forces, but would in any event build up their readiness posture In the general area and issue strong threats against the US and participating allies to cease their air

c. The commitment of overt US and allied ground forces to garrison or combat duty in Laos. Bloc reactions would probably beto. but more intense lhan, those described for air action (b) above. In particular, the chances are about even that the USSR would at the same time sponsor DRV intervention in Laos, and it might even acquiesce in Chinese Communist intervention.

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d. The issuingolemn, private teaming to the Bloc powers to cease their militaryefforts in Laos or face possible US air and amphibious action against the DRV. Thewould certainly regard defense of North Vietnam against such an attack as imperative. They would prefer to forestall such an attack, not only to prevent great military damage to the DRV but also to avoid the risk thatmight expand even further. They would probably feel that their total interests could best be served by making public the US warning and castigating ithreat to world peace. They would probably seeadvantage in this course even if they did not believe that the US was prepared to make good on its threat. Simultaneously, Moscow would probably announce itsto defend the DRV against attack and stress that any such US action would carry the risk of general war. The Soviet leaders would probably calculate that they could in this manner generate worldwide pressures on the US which would dissuade it from its threat and force it into negotiations on terms acceptable to the Communist side.

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