SNIE 68-2-59 THE SITUATION IN LAOS

Created: 9/18/1959

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THE SITUATION IN LAOS

THE PROBLEM

To estimate Communist capabilities and short-run intentions in Laos, and tothe reactions of Communist and non-Communist countries to certaindevelopments.

CONCLUSIONS

believe that the Communistof guerrilla warfare in Laos waseactiontronger anti-Communist posture by the Laotianand to recent US initiatives in support of Laos. We consider that it was undertaken mainly to protect theapparatus in Laos and to improve Communist prospects for gaining control of the country. )

The Communists probably believed: (a) that guerrilla warfare offered somelowpromoting Communist objectives in Laos even if the Laotian Government received substantial moral and material support from theand (b) that military forces which the West would be likely to commit inside Laos would be indecisive against the flexible Communist guerrilla tactics.

We estimate that the Communiststo keep the risks and the costs of their actionow level and they are not likely in the near future to resort to large-scale guerrilla activity, at least so long as the UN fact-finding mission is in Laos.

Most uncommitted andcountries would probably support Western intervention in Laos if they were convinced that the Laotianposition was grave and that there was direct Communist Bloc support of the Laotian rebels. In that event, they would prefer that such action be taken under UN auspices. )

Hanoi and Peiping have warned that any foreign military intervention in Laos would be consideredirect threat to their national security. However,partly on the scale and nature of the military move, the Communistreaction to the Westernwhether under UN, SEATO, or US auspices, initially would probably take the form of further covert Northintervention rather than overtThere probably would be less effort than at present to camouflage this intervention. This Communist action might, in the first instance, be limited to seizing substantial territory insuch as Sam Neua and Phong Salywe believe they could do under existing conditions with an aug-

mentation of present guerrilla forces, and then using this situation for political bargaining purposes. The Communists would probably be prepared torolonged and unresolved struggle,if the country weredivided. If non-Asian forces were committed in Laos, the likelihood of an overt Communist invasion would

f the Communists should comeestern interventioncapable of resolving the conflict and establishing firm anti-Communist control over Laos, they would then face the difficult decision of whether to raise the ante further, possibly to the point of openly committing North Vietnamese or Chinese Communist forces to the fighting. We estimate that both Communist China and the USSR wish to avoid serious risk of expanding the hostilities more broadly into the Far East or beyond. We believe, therefore, that the Communists would seek through various uses of diplomacy, propaganda, covert action and guerrilla

"Th* Director of Intelligence and Research.ol State: die Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army; the Assistant Chief of Naval Operation! forDepartment of the Navy; and the Director for Intelligence. The Joint Staff, would delete this sentence, believing thatversimplifies the factors which might lead lo an overtinvasion.

warfare to cause the West to back down. If, however, the Communists becameduring the courseeries ofand counteractions that the USto commit major US combat forces into Laos, we believe that the odds would be better than even that the Communists would directly intervene in strength with North Vietnamese and possibly Chinese Communist military forces."1

"The Assistant Chief or Staff, Intelligence, USAF believes that the likelihood of overtby Chinese Communist or North Vietnamese forces would be significantly reduced if thewere convinced lhat the US would not limit its counteroperaUons in an expandingto the territory ofhe Director of Intelligence and Research.of State; the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of tbe Army; and the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations forDepartment of Uie Navy, believe that the last sentence of this paragraph overstates somewhat the willingness of North Vietnam and Communist China to use major military force against the US In the Luus situation, andwould delete tlie sentence and substitute the following: "If these measures failed, Northand possibly Communist China, mightto athow of military forceast effort to make these pressures on the Westand the risks of overt communist military intervention would thus increase. In the end, however, the Communists would be unlikely to press such nse of forceoint which in their estimation would approach serious risk o" large-scalehe Assistant Chief or SUA for Intelligence. Department ol the Army, would add the following clause: "particularly if they were convinced that the US would not limit its counteroperatlons In an expanding conflict to the territory of Laos."

DISCUSSION

COMMUNIST INTENTIONS IN LAOS

We believe that the initiation of Communist guerrilla warfare In Laos in mid-July wasa reactioneries of actions by the Royal Lao Government which threatened drastically to weaken tho Communist position in Laos.eriod of about one year after the7 political agreementsthe Laotian Government and the Pathet Lao. the Communist controlled party inNeo Lao Hakto move by legal political competition toward its objective of gaining control of Laos. The Laotian Government had taken counteraction which checked this effort. Moreover, the US had stepped up Its activities to strengthen the Laotian Government, notably through theto send military training teams, and clearly was increasing Its presence in Laos. The Communist advance In Laos was losing impetus. To the Communist world, theprobably appeared to be one of increasing political repression, declining assets,trengthened anti-Communist position in the country.

Hence we believe that the current crisis was initiated mainly In order to protect theapparatus in Laos, to stop the trend towards Laotian alignment with the US, and to improve Communist prospects for gaining control of the country. Judging bypropaganda and diplomaticand by the scale of guerrilla activities to date, it does not appear that theexpected by military action to overthrow the Laotian Government and seize control of the country. They may have believed that the government would be Intimidated into immediate concessions, restoring atajor part of the legal and political position which the Communists had enjoyed after7 agreements between the Pathet Lao and the government. Wc think it more likely, however, that tho Communists expected aof strife In Laos to alarm the world at large and toidespread demand for restoration of quiet, and that they hoped thus to bring about through internationaleturn of the International Control(ICC) to Laos. Under the ICC the Communists had enjoyed substantialand they probably expected to enjoy them again if the Commission returned.

their Initial alms, theundoubtedly were prepared totactics and their objectives to thesituation, and even to press onoverthrow of the government andthe country If the prospects for suchdeveloped favorably. They mayin mind,easible Intermediatere-establishment of Communistthe provinces of Sam Neua andand possibly the formation of aIn those areas as afuture subversive efforts.

The Chinese Communists probably have certain interests In the present crisis into those of North Vietnam. It is basic to Chinese Communist policy to opposethe strengthening of anti-Communist regimes in the area of their interest in Asia and to resist the strengthening of the USanywhere on China's periphery. The Chinese Communists probably also wish to demonstrate to Southeast Asian governments, particularly the neutralist ones, that theyturn toward the West without serious risks. Although Peiping may well wish to emphasize its Importance on the world scene and may regard the Laos crisis as useful for this purpose, this Is probably no moreonus effect.

Soviet interests In the current crisis in Laos are more remote than those of Peiping and Hanoi. The USSR probably views the current actions of Hanoi and of theguerrillas in Laoseasonableof basic Communist revolutionaryand In line with worldwide Communist interests. It Is probably willing to letand Hanoi work out the details so long as the situation does not appear to risk major hostilities with the West. Moscow's

ganda has concentrated on charging theGovernment with violations of4 Geneva Agreements, but on the whole, Moscow has continued toore restrained line than Hanoi or Peiping. Soviet restraint on this question is likely to continue at least as long as the current high-level East-Westare underway.

FOR GUERRILLA WARFARE

Many conditions in Laos, especially in the northern provinces of Phong Saly and Sam Neua, are favorable for Communist guerrilla warfare. The country is mostly junglemountains. It is sparsely populated. Most of the people live in small isolatedconnected only by foot trails andThe few roads which do exist, except those in the Immediate vicinity of the major towns, are little more than jeep trails.the supply routes from Hanoi into Sam Neua and Phong Saly provinces and into central Laos are considerably better than those from Vientiane. Air facilities in Laos are limited. The two primary airfields (Seno and Vientiane)ear-round capability to support medium transports with limited loads. Three secondary airfields (Luang Prabang, Pakse and Xieng Khouang) can support light transport operationsear-round basis. The remaining airfields are of marginal value, particularly during the rainy season. Communications facilities areeven for minimum administrativein peacetime. Vientiane hascommunication with the provincialand the regional military commands. Most villages, army outposts, and self-defense units must depend upon runners forwith higher authorities.

Current monsoon rains hamper Laotian Government military operations and logistic support more than they do Communistoperations. The rainy season generally slackens about mid-September to mid-October and is followedive-month dry season.

The social and political situation alsofavorable opportunities for Communist guerrilla and psychological warfare. Theof the Laotian Government has never been thoroughly established throughout the nation, due in part to the physicalof the country and in parteneral lack of interest by the ethnic Lao governing elite, which is concentrated in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. People of Lao stock make up only half of the population. Thesehave inhibited the developmentaotian national spirit, or identification with the central government. The commonof Laos, especially those in the villages, are superstitious and simple folk highlyto rumors, propaganda and intimidation. Communist psychological warfare has been at least as effective as armed action ln theeffort.

Government authority has been especially weak in the northern provinces of Sam Neua and Phong Saly which were under Pathet Lao control until7 During the7 Laotian Govcrnment-Pathet Lao agreements on unification and theof Communist guerrilla activity in mid-July of this year, the government had madeeginning in the process of re-educating the population of these two provinces away from Communist Influences, or away from their traditional trade tics with northernThis is particularly true among the Kha, Mco and Black Thai tribal groups, whose mountainous domain straddles the Laotian-North Vietnamese border. These tribes, which make up aboutercent of theof Sam Neua and Phong Saly provinces, have traditionally been antagonistic toward the Lao people and government.

Most of the guerrillas in the northern provinces arc ex-Pathet Lao soldiers, and Meo and Black Thai tribal people. Elements of the Pathet Lao battalion which refusedand escaped to North Vietnam are probably involved. It is almost certain that many of the guerrillas now engaged havetraining in North Vietnam, that some supplies and equipment for the currenthave been provided by North Vietnam, and that the guerrillas move Into and out of North Vietnam as necessary. The totalof guerrillas Involved up to the present ls

t most. Although this may represent theportion of guerrillas recently indoctrinated and trained for operations In Laos, theprobably have considerable additional potential strength Although we have no conclusive evidence of participation by North Vietnamese, we believe it ts almost certain some are involved in the guerrilla activity, particularly in coordination, communication, and advisory roles. Lao rebel capabilities are directly proportional to the amount ofprovided them by North Vietnam.

We believe that if, under existingthe Communistsigorous effort through guerrilla warfare to seize Sam Neua and Phong Saly provinces, they could succeed in doing so with an augmentation of present guerrilla forces by additional guerrilla forces and logistic support from outside Laos, and without Involving the use of regular North Vietnamese units. Sam Neua town itself, which has special political and psychological importance for the laotian Government, might be able to hold outonsiderable length of time, particularly Ii loyal troops elsewhere in the province conducted effective guerrilla action against the CommunistHowever, problems of logistic support and morale, if not corrected, could lead to the fall or surrender of Sam Neua townthe loss of the two provinces andof Sam Neua town woulderious blow to the Laotian Government, we do not believe that it would lead to the collapse of the government's will to continue the struggle, particularly If It appeared lhat effective help would be forthcoming.

The considerations discussed in theabove probably caused the Communists to believe: (a) that guerrilla warfare offered somelowpromoting Communist objectives in Laos even if the Lao Government received substantial moral and materia) support from the outside, and (b) that multary forces which the West would be likely to commit Inside Laos would beagainst the flexible Communisttactics.

III. REACTIONS TO CERTAIN CONTINGENT DEVELOPMENTS

We do not believe that the Communists will resort in the near future to large-scale guerrilla activity, such as an attempt to take Sam Neua, at least so long as the UNmission is present in Laos. Thewill make special efforts to concealof outside participation and willreaffirm offers to negotiate political differences with the Laotian Government. Moreover, the US has already set in motion certain military preparedness measures in the Far East. It is possible that these or similar moves might cause the Communists to keep guerrilla activity in Laosow levelonsiderable period.

If, however, Communist armed actionIn scale and effectiveness, either in the near future or at some later time, and if Laotian appeals for outside assistance did not result In quick and favorable response, it is probable that Laotian morale would rapidly decline and the will to resist would wither away. Such developments would haveadverse repercussions throughoutand non-Communist elements lnAsia.

Hanoi and Peiping have warned that any foreign military intervention In Laos would be consideredirect threat to theirsecurity. However, depending partly on the scale and nature of the military move, tlie Communist military reaction to theintervention, whether under UN, SEATO. or US auspices, initially would probably take the form of further covert North Vietnamese Intervention rather than overt invasion. There probably would be less effort than at present to camouflage this intervention. Tlus Communist action might, in the first instance, be limited to seizing substantial territory inas Sam Neua and Phong Salywe believe they could do under existing conditions with anof present guerrilla forces, and then using this situation for political bargainingThe Communists would probably be prepared torolonged and unresolved

struggle, particularly if the country weredivided. If non-Asian forces were committed In Laos, the likelihood of an overt Communist invasion would increase.*

If the Communists should come to believeestern intervention appeared capable of resolving the conflict and establishing firm antl-Communlst control over Laos, they would then face the difficult decision of whether to raise the ante further, possibly to the point of openly committing North Vietnamese or Chinese Communist forces to the fighting. We estimate that both Communist China and the USSR wish to avoid serious risk ofthe hostilities more broadly in the Far East or beyond. We believe, therefore, that tbe Communists would seek through various uses of diplomacy, propaganda, covert action and guerrilla warfare to cause the West to back down. If, however, the Communists became convinced during the courseeries of actions and counteractions that the USto commit major US combat forces into Laos, we believe that the odds would be better than even that the Communists wouldintervene in strength with Northand possibly Chinese Communistforces.6

The Communists would probably counter the unilateral introduction of "volunteers" or regular military units from South Vietnam and Thailand with the introduction of North Vietnamese "volunteers."

' See footnote to Conclusionee footnotes to Conclusion 6.

The uncommitted and anti-Communist countries of the world would view withommunist takeover of Laos, butestern intervention in Laos might lead to the outbreakajor war.most of these countries, including most members of SEATO, would probablysuch intervention if they were convinced of the gravity of the Laotian Government'sand of direct Communist Bloc support of the rebels in Laos. The findings of the UN Security Council subcommittee will almost certainly have an important influence in this respect,

If the uncommitted and anti-Communist countries accepted the need for intervention In Laos, they would prefer that such action be taken under UN auspices. If dispatchN-led force were blocked by Communistopposition, intervention by SEATO would probably be supported by most Free World countries despite the strong dislike of some neutralist nations for the SEATOOn the other hand, SEATO failure to move effectively in responseao appeal for help would not only endanger the existence of SEATO itself but would seriously weaken the confidence of the non-SEATO states of Asia In tho West's determination and ability to defend them from Communist attack.

US military intervention, such as theof troops to Laos, in the absence of broad acceptance of the need to intervene would probably have little support even among the anti-Communist nations. Our SEATO allies, however, would probably support us although most might do so with considerable reluctance.

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