21 February 1962
SPECIAL NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE Number 10-62
Communist Objectives, Capabilities, and Intentions in Southeast Asia
Submitted by the DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE Concurred in by the UNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE BOARD As indicated overleaf 21 February 1962
SECRET 18F 1 SNIE 10-62 SECRET Declassified by 058375 date 12 APR 1976 No. 364
PSM page 3 of 15
COMMUNIST OBJECTIVES, CAPABILITIES, AND INTENTIONS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
To estimate Communist objectives, military and subversive capabilities, and short-term intentions in continental Southeast Asia.1
1 The following estimates also bear upon the problem: SNIE 13-3-61, "Chinese Communist Capabilities and Intentions in the Far East," dated 20 November 1961; SNIE 10-2-61. "Likelihood of Major Communist Military Intervention in Mainland Southeast Asia," dated 27 June 1961.
1. The long-range Communist Bloc objectives in Southeast Asia are to eliminate US influence and presence and to establish Communist regimes throughout the area. Although the Communist powers have some differences of view as to tactics and priorities and the risks to be run in pursuing their objectives, they have thus far maintained a basic unity of ultimate objectives and a high degree of policy coordination with respect to Southeast Asia. If the current differences between Moscow and Peiping continue to grow, a major split on Southeast Asia policy could ensue. In this event, Peiping and Hanoi, which have special interests in Southeast Asia, might resort to more militant tactics. (Paras. 6-9)
2. Communist China, with the largest land army in the world, has the capability to overrun Southeast Asia and defeat the combined indigenous armed forces of the area. The North Vietnamese forces are superior to those of any other mainland Southeast Asia state. We do not believe, 1
SECRET 3 SECRET
PSM page 4 of 15
however, that the Communist powers intend to attempt to achieve their objectives in Southeast Asia by large-scale military aggression. We believe that they intend to continue to pursue these objectives primarily through subversion, political action, and support of "national liberation" struggles, so as to minimize the risks of Western, particularly US, military intervention. Over the past several years there has been a clear pattern of increasing Communist military, paramilitary, and political capabilities for pursuing Communist objectives in Southeast Asia. The development of these capabilities is particularly advanced in Laos and South Vietnam. (Para. 11)
3. We do not believe that Communist efforts in Southeast Asia follow a predetermined timetable or priority listing. Laos and South Vietnam are now their priority targets. We continue to believe that the Communists do not intend to initiate an all-out military effort to seize Laos. If, however, a military showdown between the Laotian Government forces and the Communists does develop, we believe that the Communist side would win out, bringing additional forces from North Vietnam if necessary. Nevertheless, the Communists are unlikely to pursue actions involving substantial risk of direct US military involvement so long as they continue to believe that they have a good chance of achieving their objectives in Laos by legal, political means. (Paras. 12, 15-16)
4. In South Vietnam, we believe that there will be no significant change over the short run in the current pattern of Viet Cong activity, although the scope and tempo of the Communist military and political campaigns will probably be increased. The Viet Cong will probably again resort to large-scale attacks, seeking to dramatize the weakness of the Diem forces and to reduce both civilian and military morale, in an effort to bring about Diem's downfall under circumstances which could be exploited to Communist advantage. (Para. 21)
5. In Thailand, the initial effort of Communist China and North Vietnam will probably be to increase their subversive potential, particularly in the northeastern frontier area. 2
SECRET 4 SECRET
PSM page 5 of 15
Concurrently, the Soviets will continue to employ a combination of political pressures, military threats, and economic inducements to persuade the Thai Government to seek accommodation with the Bloc and adopt a more neutral policy. The Communists almost certainly believe that by sapping the independence of Laos they will be advancing their interests in Thailand as well. The neutralist positions of Cambodia and Burma are acceptable to the Communists for the time being. Communist activity in both countries will, therefore, probably be kept at low key. (Paras. 12, 24, 26, 28)
SECRET 5 SECRET
PSM page 6 of 15
1. COMMUNIST OBJECTIVES
6. The Communist Bloc long-range objectives in Southeast Asia are to remove all vestiges of US influence and presence and to establish Communist regimes throughout the area. As an intermediate step, the Communists are seeking to move Laos into a strongly Communist influenced, if nominally "neutralist" position. In South Vietnam, the struggle is probably so sharply drawn that the Communists look for only a brief neutralist stage, if any, in the progression toward communism. In Thailand, the Communist effort has not yet reached major proportions, and emphasis is upon pressures at the government level to move Thailand away from its ties with the West into a neutralist position. However, there are differences of view among the Communist powers immediately concerned--the USSR. Communist China, and North Vietnam--as to tactics and priorities and the risks to be run in seeking their long-range objectives in the area. There are also differences between Moscow and Peiping over certain fundamental matters of ideology and policy.2
2 For an analysis of the differences between the USSR and Communist China see NIE 11-5-62, "Political Developments in the USSR and the Communist World," dated 21 February 1962.
7. The national interests of the USSR, Communist China, and North Vietnam in Southeast Asia differ. The Soviets are not linked with the area in terms of geography, history, or economics, and they feel no threat to their national security emanating from the area. Moscow's interests in Southeast Asia appear to be mainly political and strategic, and its tactics tend to be less militant than desired by Peiping and Hanoi. Thus, the Soviets, while supporting "wars of national liberation," as in Laos, are more cautious than the Chinese and more concerned with the risk of local wars in the Far East spreading into general war.
8. Communist China and North Vietnam, on the other hand, have special interests in Southeast Asia derived from their geographic position, historical associations, and economic needs. Peiping considers continental Southeast asia to be part of its sphere of influence. Hanoi regards Laos and South Vietnam as within its special purview. Both have been involved in ambitious economic development plans and would stand to gain economically from domination of Southeast Asia. In addition, they are, at present, more militantly revolutionary than the Soviets and less reluctant to risk local war in order to achieve the early establishment of Communist regimes in the area.
9. Despite these differing interests and viewpoints, the Communist powers appear to have maintained a basic unity of ultimate objectives and a high degree of policy collaboration with respect to Southeast Asia. Laos provides the only apparent exception to this generalization, but as yet the Communist powers do not appear to be seriously at cross purposes. If, however, the differences between Moscow and Peiping continue to grow, a major split on Southeast Asia policy could ensue. In this case, Peiping and Hanoi might resort to more militant tactics.
II. COMMUNIST CAPABILITIES
10. Every country in continental Southeast Asia is vulnerable in some degree to Communist subversion, political and economic pressures, and military aggression. The governments of the area all feel threatened and exposed. Most have tended to overemphasize 4
SECRET 6 SECRET
PSM page 7 of 15
the threat of military aggression by Communist China and/or Communist North Vietnam and to underemphasize the threat from internal subversion and Communist "national liberation" tactics. Whether neutralist or pro-Western in orientation, the governments of Southeast Asia gear their policies to their assessment of the balance of force between the Communist and non-Communist powers in the Far East and of the willingness of the West to intervene militarily.
11. Communist China, with the largest land army in the world, has the capability to overrun mainland Southeast Asia and defeat the combined indigenous armed forces of the area. The armed forces of Communist North Vietnam are superior to those of any other mainland Southeast Asia state. We do not believe, however, that the Communist powers intend to attempt to achieve their objectives in Southeast Asia by large-scale military aggression. We believe that they intend to continue to pursue these objectives primarily through subversion, political action, and support of "national liberation" struggles, so as to minimize the risks of Western, particularly US, military intervention. Over the past several ears there has been a clear pattern of increasing Communist military, paramilitary, and political capabilities for pursuing Communist objective in Southeast Asia. The development of these capabilities is particularly advanced in Laos and South Vietnam.3
3. For details concerning Communist activity and strength in Laos and South Vietnam see Annex and maps.
III. COMMUNIST SHORT-TERM INTENTIONS
12. We do not believe that the Communists have developed a firm, timetable for achieving their objectives in Southeast Asia, or that their efforts follow a precise priority listing. It is clear that Laos and South Vietnam are now receiving priority attention. We believe that the neutralist positions of Cambodia and Burma are acceptable to the Communists for the time being, and that Thailand is likely to become an increasingly active arena for Communist political pressures, infiltration, and subversion.
4 See also SNIE 58-62, "Relative Military Capabilities of Opposing Forces in Laos," dated 11 January 1962, and SNIE 58/1-62, "Relative Military capabilities of Opposing Forces in Laos," dated 31 January 1962.
13. The minimum short-term Communist objectives in Laos had probably been satisfied, in general, at the time of the cease-five in May 1961. Communist-held territory in Laos permitted the overland movement of personnel and supplies into South Vietnam by way of the secure, if difficult, maze of connecting mountain trails in Laos. Moreover, the Lao Army was disorganized, disheartened, and ineffective. Movement by Communist personnel into and across Laos was virtually unchallenged even where nominal government control remained in effect. Hence it was unnecessary for the Communists to risk the possibility of armed intervention by the US, by seeking to achieve the complete domination of Laos by military means. At the same time, developments of the past few months have probably caused the Communists to revise downward their estimate of the chances of US military intervention in Laos.
14. The delays in negotiations for establishing a coalition government in Laos, the substantial buildup of the Laotian armed forces during the case-fire, and the pattern of limited Lao Army offensive action, particularly since mid-December 1961, probably caused considerable annoyance and some concern to the Communist Pathet Lao and to the North Vietnamese leaders who control and direct the Communist effort in Laos. These considerations probably account for the limited Communist counterattacks of recent 5
18F cont 7 SECRET SECRET
PSM page 8 of 15
weeks. We do not believe that the pattern of military activity thus far indicates preparations for an offensive designed to take the major Mekong cities by assault.
15. We continue to believe that the Communist powers do not wish to become deeply involved militarily in Laos, and that to the extent possible they prefer to keep their military involvement clandestine. Thus, so long as they see a reasonable chance to achieve a political settlement which would not in practice preclude continued use of southern Laos as a base for operations against South Vietnam, the Communists are unlikely to adopt a course of action which would involve substantial risk of direct US military involvement. Moreover, the Communist side probably considers that their chances of winning control of Laos by legal, political means are good.
16. However, if the Laotian Covernment increases the scale of its military activity, the Communists will respond with counter military action, and a general military showdown between the two sides could ensue. Such a showdown might also develop from continued Communist military pressures designed to force the government to return to negotiations. In case of a test of military strength, we believe that the Communist side would win out, bringing additional farce from North Vietnam, if necessary.
B. South Vietnam 5
5 See also NIE 14.3/53-61, "Prospects for North and South Vietnam," dated 15 August 1961; SNIE 10-3-61, "Probable Communist Reactions to Certain SEATO Undertakings in South Vietnam," dated 10 October 1961; SNIE 53-2-61, "Bloc Support of the Communist Effort Against the Government of Vietnam," dated 5 October 1961; and SNIE 10-4-61, "Probable Communist Reactions to Certain US Actions in South Vietnam," dated 7 November 1961.
17. The primary Communist objective in South Vietnam is its reunification with North Vietnam under communist domination. The tactics being used are a combination of political and guerrilla warfare which have been developed to a high degree of proficiency by the Vietnamese Communists over a long period of time. The Communists operating in South Vietnam (the Viet Cong) are directly controlled and provided with political and strategic guidance by the Communist Party of North Vietnam (the Lao Dong). The North Vietnamese regular army provides military guidance, and some cadres, technicians, and logistical support.
18. The major strengths of the Viet Cong include their superior intelligence service, the extent of their control of the countryside and the peasantry, their thorough knowledge of the local terrain, and their mobility and their ability to achieve surprise, all of which are characteristic of a well organized guerrilla force. The Viet Cong are not capable of defeating the South Vietnamese armed forces in conventional type warfare. On the other hand, the government forces are able to concentrate their efforts against a given area only by exposing other areas to Viet Cong attack.
19. The Viet Cong's progression from guerrilla to conventional warfare tactics, if it occurs, will probably vary in different areas and will depend on a number of factors, including their success achieved in lowering the South Vietnamese Army's morale, the consolidation of their control in the countryside, and their introduction of new weapons and materiel. in the meantime, they will probably continue their current campaign of concentrating upon the government's paramilitary forces and attacking regular army units only when they have sufficient numerical superiority to inflict decisive defeats. Isolated outposts, patrols, and vehicle convoys will be the principal military targets, with a concurrent major political and economic effort in the rural areas to reduce governmental authority and further disrupt the Vietnamese economy. 6
8 SECRET SECRET
PSM page 9 of 15
Further attacks can be expected against the capitals of provinces particularly those in areas under considerable Communist control.
20. The North Vietnamese leaders may still hope to achieve the reunification of North and South Vietnam through the medium of the countrywide elections stipulated in the 1954 Geneva Accords. North Vietnam seeks to remove President Diem and eliminate US influence in South Vietnam through military and political pressures. There is a continuing possibility that Hanoi may attempt to establish a "rival government" in South Vietnam. Statements by Radio Hanoi on the internal and external activities of its "National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam," as well as the Front's recent initiation of its own broadcasting operations, suggest that Hanoi may be preparing for such a move.
21. For the short run, however, we believe that there will be no significant change in the current pattern of Viet Cong activity in South Vietnam, although the scope and tempo of the military and political campaigns will probably be increased. The Viet Cong will probably again resort to large-scale attacks, seeking to dramatize the weakness of the Diem forces and to reduce both civilian and military morale, in an effort to bring about Diem's downfall under circumstances which could be exploited to Communist advantage.
6. See also SNIE 52-61, "Thailand's Security Problems and Prospects," dated 13 December 1961.
22. Communism has Haver been attractive to the Thai people. However, neutralism has certain historical roots in Thailand and considerable immediate appeal to the Thai people. The USSR has been pressing the thai Government o disengage from SEATO, expand relations with the Soviet Union, and move toward neutrality. At the same time, the Thai leaders feel increasingly exposed to attack and infiltration from Communist China and North Vietnam as a result of developments in Laos.
23. In the northeast Thai provinces, which historically have been economically depressed, the people are ethnically close to the Laotians. The area also has a special vulnerability to Communist penetration as a result of the presence of more than 50,000 Vietnamese refugees of the Indochina War, most of whom frankly admit their allegiance to Ho Chi Minh. North Vietnamese and Lao Communists are probably maintaining liaison with cadre elements among this Vietnamese refugee community and providing them with small arms and guerrilla warfare training. Thailand's long. poorly-defended border with Laos facilitates Communist infiltration.
24. The Communists are unlikely o initiate an overt attack against Thailand in the foreseeable future. The Asian Communist states probably believe that their base of subversive activities in Thailand must be substantially strengthened before a major guerrilla-supported national liberation movement could be attempted. At present, no widespread indigenous Communist movement exists in Thailand, and the small, illegal Thai and Chinese Communist parties are relatively ineffective. Communist Chinese and North Vietnamese tactics, therefore, probably will be employed initially to increase the subversive potential in Thailand, particularly in the northeastern frontier area. Concurrently, the USSR will continue to employ a combination of political pressures, military threats, and economic inducements to persuade the Thai Government to seek accommodation with the Bloc and adopt a more neutral policy. The Communists almost certainly believe that by sapping the independence of Laos they will be advancing their interests in Thailand as well.
9 SECRET SECRET