NIE 68-59 THE OUTLOOK FOR LAOS

Created: 5/19/1959

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SEOefET

the outlook for laos

the problem

To estimate the prospects for political stability in Laos over the next year or so with particular reference to the Communist threat.

CONCLUSIONS

Communist-dominated Neo Lao Hak Zatlthough it has recently suffered some setbacks, is still the most effectively organized political party in Laoserious threat to continued non-Communist rule. The lack of unity between the non-Communist political groups, the Lao Horn Lao (LHL) and the Committee for Defense of the National Interestontinues to hamper the development of an effectiveprogram. )

Nevertheless, important leaders of both non-Communist groups are beginning to appreciate the fact that continuedplays into Communist hands, and we believe that, with constant prodding, they will probably maintain theirmodus vivendi for the period of this estimate. However, if the CDNI-LHL modus vivendi is not maintained and the CDNI and its army supporters become convinced that there is no other means of reducing the conflict and shiftingattention to the Communist problem, they may be tempted to seize power. Their decision would depend in large part on the prospect of US support.)

Government and army efforts to undercut Communist strength have had moderate success in the past half-year even in the absence of fully effectiveamong non-CommunistIt is probableroadprogram, if supported andpushednitedfront, would further reduce the strength and influence of the NLHZ and provide atetter than even chance of continued non-Communist rule.

The CDNI has developed considerable political power during the past six months. Its strength depends mainly upon the support of influential army officers and upon US backing. Although the CDNI organizational structure is still at an early stage of development, it is working toationwide political organization. If the CDNI/army relationship iswe believe that the CDNI will play an increasingly important part in the

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Lao Army leaders are becoming more active in political affairs and the Lao Army willajor role to play in any government program to reducestrength. However, the army's limited military capabilities are gradually diminishing, largely because oftraining. If the Lao Communists were toeneral program ofor guerrilla warfare, the army would probably be unable to maintain internal security except in populated areas and along the country's few main trans por tat ion routes. )

We believe that the Hanoi-directed NLHZ will seek to avoid overt actions which would invite suppression by the Lao Government, at least for the period of this estimate. Any decision for the NLHZ to revert to armed insurrection and forego Its legal political status would probably be made by Hanoi and Peiping.ecision would probably be made onlyast-resort eflort to preserve some assets should the government press an effective and large-scale program to suppress communism or as partroader Bloc plan to increase tensions in the area.

We believe that given continued strong US support, Laos will not change its basically pro-US policy to any significant extent during the period of this estimate. However, the Laotian political and mili-tary leaders will expect the US to give continuing and concrete manifestations of its support, especially during the periods of heightened tension which will probably result from theireffort at home and from theirpro-US foreign policy. The Bloc will probably increase its eflort tothe International Control(ICC) in Laos, in hopes of protecting the NLHZ, frustrating any US effort to improve the capabilities of the Lao Army, and exacerbating differences among the Western nations.

rench influence and prestige in Laos are diminishing. Major causes of this include Lao dissatisfaction with theand support rendered by the French military mission and Laos' increasingly close tics with, and heavy dependence upon, the US. The French resent their loss of Influence in South Vietnam and are suspicious that the US is attempting to replace them completely in the rest of Indochina. De Gaulle and hiswill almost certainly seek to limit growing US influence in the effort tothe position and prestige of France. He will strive to retain the Frenchfor combat training of the Lao Army and for French administrative jurisdiction over the base at Scno. While the Lao Government will press hard for the prompt elimination of such French responsibilities, we believe that during the period of this estimate the Laoprompted by theprobably go alongore gradual resolution of this problem.

discussion

olitical settlement betweenGovernment and the Pathet Laoguerrillas provided for nationwideto fillew seats in the Nationalthereby raising then these elections (MayNeo Lao Hak Zathe legalreplaced the Pathet Lao, organizedan electoral front with the lellow-tSantiphab Party. Thisationalist-reformist-neutralistand benefiting from the electoralamong competitiveercent of the vote andf theseats (one toacancy).followed up this show ofwith an active, continuedcampaign and seemed untilbe holding its wide popular support.

conservative Lao Horn Laomainly of old-lineeats In the Nationalits leader, Phoul Sananlkone, isHowever. Inasmuch ascannot participate in votes ofand investiture, the LHL In facta thin margin over the combinedIn the parliament and hasew defections couldthe government. InAssembly, after strong USunder threat of an army coup,by the prospects for an NLHZthe next national electionsranted Primeextraordinary powers for onewas to enable him to reorganize theto amend the constitution, and toa political, economic and socialto reduce Communistontinued non-Communist

January, Phoui has reorganizedto remove or to reduce thesome of the more corrupt members,include several members of the reformist

Committee for Defense of thehoul has continued toCommunists from the cabinet, and the government has taken some anil-Communist measures, particularly through the LaoArmy. However, the government has not yet established direct and continuousin all parts of the country with the Lao people, who are for the most part politically apathetic and innocent of national affairs. This failureolitical conflict between the major non-Communist groups, the old-line LHL politicians and the youngerofficials and army leaders of the CDNI, have continued to hamper the effectiveness or government efforts to compete with the Communists for the loyalty and respect of the Lao people.

If. NON-COMMUNIST SITUATION AND

A. Tha LHL-CDNI Conflict

he LHLoose union of the former conservative Independent and Nationalist parties. Its formation after the May elections wasarriage of convenience to satisfy US requestsnified conservative effort against the NLHZ Although It does notide membership nor anthat Is effective in all provinces, the LHL benefits from the highly complicated Laoof family and regional loyalties and from the political skill of its leaders. Some of the old-guard conservative politicians who have dominated Laos since its independence arebecause of their ineffectiveness and corruption. Many LHL leaders tend to be more immediately concerned with the threat to their personal positions posed by the CDNI than with the national threat posed by the Communists. Some of these leaders have shown little inclination to compete with Uie Communists at the village level or toigorous party organization. However, the LHL also Includes many of the country's very small number of experienced political leaders and competent administrators

The CDNIolitical movement was also formed after the May elections. It is composedmall group of ambitious younger politicians and government officials dissatisfied with the performance of theirelders. CDNI strength and influence is based upon the support of influential army officers and upon US backing. The CDNI recognizes that drastic reforms in government are necessary to reduce the chances of an NLHZ victory in the next general elections. They appreciate tbe Importance ofationwide organizationrass roots following bothasis for political strength andeans of undercutting the NLHZ.

During the past six months, the CDNI has expanded rapidly Its role in national affairs. Its leaders now occupy six cabinet posts Including the key posts of foreign affairs, finance, defense, and information. The CDNI appears to have the sympathy of the Crown Prince who. though lacking in self-assurance and determination, has considerable influence and Important powersonsequence of exercising many of the prerogatives of the ailing King. Its leaders arc developing an active program among the Lao youth and are seeking to win prestige and popularity through their administration of thecivic action and rural aid programs. Although Its developmentoliticalis still In an embryonic stage, the CDNI is more vigorous than the LHL and its political power is rising.

The conflict between the LHL and the CDNI stems primarily from the CDNI threat to the entrenched political position of the LHL politicians. However, there are strongfor LHL-CDNI cooperation. Important leaders of both groups are coming tothe fact that continued disunity would defeat the aims of the grant of special powers and play into Communist hands, and they are using their influence to reconcile the LHL-CDNI differences. Moreover, increasedpressure from Hanoi and heightened tension in the border areas is tending to draw the non-Communist groups together. Furthermore, the Lao leaders recognize their country's heavy dependence on US aid and appear to be increasingly responsive to US urgingnified anti-Communist effort.

B. Prospects for Non-Communist Unity ondNon-Communist Government

For the period of this estimate it is likelyragile modus vivendi between the non-Communist groups will be maintained bynegotiation and compromise. Each side, however, with an eye to the basicconflict, will continue seeking to further its own Interests, thereby dividing itsbetween its conservative opponent on the one hand and the Communist threat on the other. The major test of the LHL-CDNImay occur in connection with the next electoral campaign which almostwill not take placeand army efforts to undercutstrength have had moderate success in the past half-year even in the absence of fully effective cooperation among non-Communist elements. It is probableroadprogram, If supported and vigorously pushednited non-Communist front, would further reduce the strength andof the NLHZ and provide atetter than even chance for continued non-Communist rule.

If the CDNI/army relationship iswe believe that the CDNI will play an Increasingly important part in theHowever, if the CDNI-LHL modus vivendi is not maintained and the CDNI and its army supporters become convinced that there is no other means of reducing thebetween the non-Communist groups and of shifting governmental attention to the Communist problem, they may be tempted to seize power. Their decision in this regard would depend in large part on the prospect of US support.

A further clement of uncertainly in the political situation is the possibilitytruggle for succession to the throne if the ailing,ear old King Sisavang Vong should die without formally designating an heir, as required by the constitution. In such event

the Crown Prince would be the leadingbut he might be challenged by any of the several brothers and other maleof the royal line. If the Crown Prince, who favors the CDNI, should become King, Phoul might be replaced. In such case, as in the event of any change of government during the tenure of the present NationalDNI premier-designate would probably find it most difficult to attain the necessary vote from the LHL parliamentary majority, unless the army applied strong pressure.

III. NLHZ STRENGTH AND COURSES OF

A. The NLHZ

The NLHZ has wide popular support,and capable leadership, and an effective organization at the provincial and village level. IL also has successfully cultivated many members of the influential Buddhist priesthood. The party is tied directly to, and receives its basic policy directives from, the Communist party of North Vietnam. The Lao Communistsarge potentialfor infiltration, subversion, andand they are probably attempting to consolidate their clandestine apparatus. They almost certainly have organizational plans and arms cachesossible reversion to armed dlssldcnce. However, theirfor armed action are probably less than they were before the Lao Oovernment-Pathet Lao political agreement which ended the insurrection. The amount of military equipment in Communist hands has beenand the Pathet Lao militaryhas been dispersed.

The NLHZ is concerned by the increasing political strength of the CDNI army group In the government, and it views the possibilityoncerted anti-Communist effortnified government with considerableThe government, through the army, has taken some repressive measures against NLHZ agents and has gradually expanded its civic action and rural aid programs in some areas formerly dominated by the Communists. Wc believe that the NLHZ Is experiencing

SEt, some difficulty in maintaining its rank-and-file following and the discipline of its local cadres. Despite these developments and the continuing fear that the army and themightajor campaign to repress Communist activity, the NLHZ, thus far. hasaiting game, avoiding actions which might endanger its present statusegal political party. At present, the NLHZ is continuing ils peaceful, legal, and nationalistic stance, while the burdenampaign of threat and intimidation is bemg carried by Hanoi, Peiping and Moscow.

B. Probable NLHZ Courses of Action

NLHZ probably has very littleindependent decision except in mattersdomestic policy. Any decision forto revert to armed Insurrectionits legal political status wouldbe made by Hanoi and Peiping,by the NLHZ leaders, We believedecision unlikely exceptast-resortpreserve some assets should thean effective program to suppressor as partroader Bloc plantensions in the area. At leastperiod of this estimate, the NLHZcontinue to emphasizeand legal politicalthe non-Communist parties.

IV. THE LAO NATIONAL ARMY-ITSAND FUTURE ROLE

Key leaders ofman army are becoming increasingly active in theand In political affairs. Most of them arc cooperating with or are sympathetic to the CDNI. The army will have an important role to play in any government program to reduce NLHZ strength and influence. This role includes maintaining effective internal securityime of increasing pressure on the NLHZ, and assisting the government in an anti-Communist rural aid program at the village level.

The Lao Army is the only organization with any real potential capability forinternal security. However, if the Lao Communists were toeneral campaign of terrorism and guerrilla warfare,

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Lao Army, at ils present level ol training and effectiveness, would be capable ofinternal security only along thefew main transportation routes and in populated areas, Even this limited capability is gradually diminishing largely because of inadequate training. Unless this trend is checked, the effectiveness of anyprogram to reduce NLHZ strength and influence will be decreased.

V. international relations

Lao governments havetheir foreign policy in terms ofnonallgnmcnt, and peacefulthey have in fact relied almostUS support. Laos is underS aidercent of Laos' imports andentire military budget. Laos hasexchange diplomatic representativesBloc state, and has recentlyNationalist consularhas no trade with the Bloc and hasoffers of trade and aid. Thegovernment has been moreits association with the US and in Itsof communism and of Bloc policiesprior Lao government. We believecontinued strong US support, Laoschange Its basically pro-US policy toextent during the period ofHowever, the Laotian politicalleaders will expect the US toand concrete manifestations ofespecially during the periodstension which will probablytheir anti-Communist effort at hometheir forthright pro-US foreign policy,

influence and prestige In LaosMajor causes of this arewith the training andby the French military mission,increasingly close ties with, andupon, the US. The Frenchloss of influence in South Vietnamsuspicious lhat the US is attempting tothem completely in the rest of De OauIIe and his governmentcertainly seek to limit growing USin the effort to increase the position and prestige of France. He will strive lothe French responsibilities for combat training of the Lao Army and for Frenchjurisdiction over the base at Seno. While the Lao Government will press hard for the prompt elimination of such French responsibilities, we believe that during the period of this estimate the LaoIf prompted by theprobably go alongore gradual resolution of this problem.

aos' relations with North Vietnam and Communist China continue to be hostile. Inanoiensealong the Lao border In an attempt touspected military coup or the grant of special powers to Phoui. Since that time, both Hanoi and Peiping, through their radio and press, have continued to vituperate and threaten. However, because of the risk of US retaliation, wc believe It unlikely that Bloc forces will initiate major armed action against Laos during the period of this estimate, although they might continue limited border forays. Both Hanoi and Peiping have charged Laos with border and air space violations and have sent notes to the Geneva co-chairmen requesting that the International Control Commission (ICC) be reconvened in Laos to guarantee fulfillment of these articleswith the maintenance of foreign bases and troops and providing for political freedom withinoscow subsequentlyormal request that the ICC reconvene. The Bloc will probably create whatever pressures it can through the ICC to exacerbateof opinion among the westernand to obstruct any foreign efforts to Improve the combat capabilities of the Lao Army.

' The ICC in Laos adjourned sine die last July, after the political settlement with the Pathet Lao and the supplemental elections, with certainfor Its recall. Onebruary the Lao Government unilaterally announced that ll had fulfilled the requirements or the Genevaand was no longer bound by them.

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