NSC-124: US Objectives in Southeast Asia

Hi! Here’s an interesting document from the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, East Asia and the Pacific, Volume XII, Part 1.

NSC-124 – Report to the National Security Council by the Executive Secretary, Top Secret, Washington, June 25, 1952

Statement of Policy by the National Security Council on United States Objectives and Courses of Action With Respect to Southeast Asia.*


1. To prevent the countries of Southeast Asia from passing into the communist orbit, and to assist them to develop the will and ability to resist communism from within and without and to contribute to the strengthening of the free world.

General Considerations

2. Communist domination, by whatever means, of all Southeast Asia would seriously endanger in the short term, and critically endanger in the longer term, United States security interests.

a. The loss of any of the countries of Southeast Asia to communist control as a consequence of overt or covert Chinese Communist aggression would have critical psychological, political and economic consequences. In the absence of effective and timely counteraction, the loss of any single country would probably lead to relatively swift submission to or an alignment with communism by the remaining countries of this group. Furthermore, an alignment with communism of the rest of Southeast Asia and India, and in the longer term, of the Middle East (with the probable exceptions of at least Pakistan and Turkey) would in all probability progressively follow. Such widespread alignment would endanger the stability and security of Europe.

b. Communist control of all of Southeast Asia would render the U.S. position in the Pacific offshore island chain precarious and would seriously jeopardize fundamental U.S. security interests in the Far East.

c. Southeast Asia, especially Malaya and Indonesia, is the principal world source of natural rubber and tin, and a producer of petroleum and other strategically important commodities. The rice exports of Burma and Thailand are critically important to Malaya, Ceylon, and Hong Kong and are of considerable significance to Japan and India, all important areas of free Asia.

d. The loss of Southeast Asia, especially of Malaya and Indonesia, could result in such economic and political pressures in Japan as to make it extremely difficult to prevent Japan’s eventual accommodation to communism.

3. It is therefore imperative that an overt attack on Southeast Asia by the Chinese Communists be vigorously opposed. In order to pursue the military courses of action envisaged in this paper to a favorable conclusion within a reasonable period, it will be necessary to divert military strength from other areas thus reducing our military capability in those areas, with the recognized increased risks involved therein, or to increase our military forces in being, or both.

4. The danger of an overt military attack against Southeast Asia is inherent in the existence of a hostile and aggressive Communist China, but such an attack is less probable than continued communist efforts to achieve domination through subversion. The primary threat to Southeast Asia accordingly arises from the possibility that the situation in Indochina may deteriorate as a result of the weakening of the resolve of, or as a result of the inability of the governments of France and of the Associated States to continue to oppose the Viet Minh rebellion, the military strength of which is being steadily increased by virtue of aid furnished by the Chinese Communist regime and its allies.

5. The successful defense of Tonkin is critical to the retention in non-Communist hands of mainland Southeast Asia. However, should Burma come under communist domination, a communist military advance through Thailand might make Indochina, including Tonkin, militarily indefensible. The execution of the following U.S. courses of action with respect to individual countries of the area may vary depending upon the route of communist advance into Southeast Asia.

6. Actions designed to achieve our objectives in Southeast Asia require sensitive selection and application, on the one hand to assure the optimum efficiency through coordination of measures for the general area, and on the other, to accommodate to the greatest practicable extent to the individual sensibilities of the several governments, social classes and minorities of the area.

Courses of Action

Southeast Asia

7. With respect to Southeast Asia, the United States should:

a. Strengthen propaganda and cultural activities, as appropriate, in relation to the area to foster increased alignment of the people with the free world.

b. Continue, as appropriate, programs of economic and technical assistance designed to strengthen the indigenous non-communist governments of the area.

c. Encourage the countries of Southeast Asia to restore and expand their commerce with each other and with the rest of the free world, and stimulate the flow of the raw material resources of the area to the free world.

d. Seek agreement with other nations, including at least France, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, for a joint warning to Communist China regarding the grave consequences of Chinese aggression against Southeast Asia, the issuance of such a warning to be contingent upon the prior agreement of France and the UK to participate in the courses of action set forth in paragraphs 10c, 12, 14f (1) and (2), and 15 e (1) and (2), and such others as are determined as a result of prior trilateral consultation, in the event such a warning is ignored.

e. Seek UK and French agreement in principle that a naval blockade of Communist China should be included in the minimum courses of action set forth in paragraph 10c below.

f. Continue to encourage and support closer cooperation among the countries of Southeast Asia, and between those countries and the United States, Great Britain, France, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, South Asia and Japan.

g. Strengthen, as appropriate, covert operations designed to assist in the achievement of U.S. objectives in Southeast Asia.

h. Continue activities and operations designed to encourage the overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia to organize and activate anti-communist groups and activities within their own communities, to resist the effects of parallel pro-communist groups and activities and, generally, to increase their orientation toward the free world.

i. Take measures to promote the coordinated defense of the area, and encourage and support the spirit of resistance among the peoples of Southeast Asia to Chinese Communist aggression and to the encroachments of local communists.

j. Make clear to the American people the importance of Southeast Asia to the security of the United States so that they may be prepared for any of the courses of action proposed herein.


8. With respect to Indochina the United States should:

a. Continue to promote international support for the three Associated States.

b. Continue to assure the French that the U.S. regards the French effort in Indochina as one of great strategic importance in the general international interest rather than in the purely French interest, and as essential to the security of the free world, not only in the Far East but in the Middle East and Europe as well.

c. Continue to assure the French that we are cognizant of the sacrifices entailed for France in carrying out her effort in Indochina and that, without overlooking the principle that France has the primary responsibility in Indochina, we will recommend to the Congress appropriate military, economic and financial aid to France and the Associated States.

d. Continue to cultivate friendly and increasingly cooperative relations with the Governments of France and the Associated States at all levels with a view to maintaining and, if possible, increasing the degree of influence the U.S. can bring to bear on the policies and actions of the French and Indochinese authorities to the end of directing the course of events toward the objectives we seek. Our influence with the French and Associated States should be designed to further those constructive political, economic and social measures which will tend to increase the stability of the Associated States and thus make it possible for the French to reduce the degree of their participation in the military, economic and political affairs of the Associated States.

e. Specifically we should use our influence with France and the Associated States to promote positive political, military, economic and social policies, among which the following are considered essential elements:

(1) Continued recognition and carrying out by France of its primary responsibility for the defense of Indochina.
(2) Further steps by France and the Associated States toward the evolutionary development of the Associated States.
(3) Such reorganization of French administration and representation in Indochina as will be conducive to an increased feeling of responsibility on the part of the Associated States.
(4) Intensive efforts to develop the armies of the Associated States, including independent logistical and administrative services.
(5) The development of more effective and stable Governments in the Associated States.
(6) Land reform, agrarian and industrial credit, sound rice marketing systems, labor development, foreign trade and capital formation.
(7) An aggressive military, political, and psychological program to defeat or seriously reduce the Viet Minh forces.
(8) US-French cooperation in publicizing progressive developments in the foregoing policies in Indochina.

9. In the absence of large scale Chinese Communist intervention in Indochina, the United States should:

a. Provide increased aid on a high priority basis for the French Union forces without relieving French authorities of their basic military responsibility for the defense of the Associated States in order to:

(1) Assist in developing indigenous armed forces which will eventually be capable of maintaining internal security without assistance from French units.
(2) Assist the French Union forces to maintain progress in the restoration of internal security against the Viet Minh.
(3) Assist the forces of France and the Associated States to defend Indochina against Chinese Communist aggression.

b. In view of the immediate urgency of the situation, involving possible large-scale Chinese Communist intervention, and in order that the United States may be prepared to take whatever action may be appropriate in such circumstances, make the plans necessary to carry out the courses of action indicated in paragraph 10 below.

c. In the event that information and circumstances point to the conclusion that France is no longer prepared to carry the burden in Indochina, or if France presses for an increased sharing of the responsibility for Indochina, whether in the UN or directly with the U.S. Government, oppose a French withdrawal and consult with the French and British concerning further measures to be taken to safeguard the area from communist domination.

10. In the event that it is determined, in consultation with France, that Chinese Communist forces (including volunteers) have overtly intervened in the conflict in Indochina, or are covertly participating to such an extent as to jeopardize retention of the Tonkin Delta area by French Union forces, the United States should take the following measures to assist these forces in preventing the loss of Indochina, to repel the aggression and to restore peace and security in Indochina.

a. Support a request by France or the Associated States for immediate action by the United Nations which would include a UN resolution declaring that Communist China has committed an aggression, recommending that member states take whatever action may be necessary, without geographic limitation, to assist France and the Associated States in meeting the aggression.

b. Whether or not UN action is immediately forthcoming, seek the maximum possible international support for, and participation in, the minimum courses of military action agreed upon by the parties to the joint warning. These minimum courses of action are set forth in subparagraph c immediately below.

c. Carry out the following minimum courses of military action, either under the auspices of the UN or in conjunction with France and the United Kingdom and any other friendly governments:

(1) A resolute defense of Indochina itself to which the United States would provide such air and naval assistance as might be practicable.
(2) Interdiction of Chinese Communist communication lines including those in China.
(3) The United States would expect to provide the major forces for task (2 above); but would expect the UK and France to provide at least token forces therefor and to render such other assistance as is normal between allies, and France to carry the burden of providing, in conjunction with the Associated States, the ground forces for the defense of Indochina.

11. In addition to the courses of action set forth in paragraph 10 above, the United States should take the following military actions as appropriate to the situation:

a. If agreement is reached pursuant to paragraph 7–e, establishment in conjunction with the UK and France of a naval blockade of Communist China.

b. Intensification of covert operations to aid anti-communist guerrilla forces operating against Communist China and to interfere with and disrupt Chinese Communist lines of communication and military supply areas.

c. Utilization, as desirable and feasible, of anti-communist Chinese forces, including Chinese Nationalist forces in military operations in Southeast Asia, Korea, or China proper.

d. Assistance to the British to cover an evacuation from Hong Kong, if required.

e. Evacuation of French Union civil and military personnel from the Tonkin Delta, if required.

12. If, subsequent to aggression against Indochina and execution of the minimum necessary courses of action listed in paragraph 10–c above, the United States determines jointly with the UK and France that expanded military action against Communist China is rendered necessary by the situation, the United States should take air and naval action in conjunction with at least France and the U.K. against all suitable military targets in China, avoiding insofar as practicable those targets in areas near the boundaries of the USSR in order not to increase the risk of direct Soviet involvement.

13. In the event the concurrence of the United Kingdom and France to expanded military action against Communist China is not obtained, the United States should consider taking unilateral action.


14. With respect to Burma, the United States should:

a. Encourage the Burmese Government to cooperate fully with the anti-communist nations, and be prepared to furnish to Burma military equipment, supplies and advice as appropriate.

b. Arrange to conduct a full and frank exchange of views with the British Government with the object of re-examining policy toward Burma and seeking any joint or coordinated action which might contribute toward an improvement in the situation in Burma. Urge the inclusion of elements from other Commonwealth countries in the British Services Mission, emphasizing participation by Asian nations, especially India.

c. Attempt to arouse the Burmese, Pakistan, and Indian Governments to the dangers of Chinese Communist expansion and to the need for effective military defense against it, including coordinated military action with other Southeast Asian countries.

d. Develop united action and cooperation among indigenous, anticommunist groups in Burma to resist communist encroachments. Make preparations for the establishment of guerrilla forces among suitable ethnic groups for possible use against the communists. Unless the Burmese Government should cease to be non-communist, however, the major consideration should be to take no action that would involve serious risk of alienating the Burmese Government.

e. Conduct as appropriate economic and technical assistance programs in Burma which will have a maximum favorable impact, particularly in the short-term, upon the Burmese people and government.

f. In the event of overt Chinese Communist aggression against Burma, take the following action:

(1) Support an appeal to the UN by the Burmese Government.
(2) Consistent with world-wide U.S. commitments take appropriate military action against Communist China as part of a UN collective action or in conjunction with France and the United Kingdom and any other friendly governments.
(3) Employ as desirable and feasible anti-communist Chinese forces, including Chinese Nationalist forces, in military operations in Southeast Asia, Korea, or China proper.

g. In the event of a seizure of power at the seat of government in Burma by local communists, activate to the extent practicable the guerrilla forces referred to in paragraph 14d above.

h. If, in spite of the preceding courses of action, communist control of all or a substantial part of Burma becomes inevitable, support any trustworthy elements capable of continued resistance to communism in order to delay the consolidation and exploitation of communist gains, and to minimize the psychological consequences of such a communist victory.


15. With respect to Thailand, the United States should:

a. Continue to assist the Government of Thailand in creating conditions of internal security, in becoming a stabilizing force in Southeast Asia, and in maintaining its alignment with the free world; and as appropriate conduct military and economic and technical assistance programs designed to support these ends.

b. In the event of communist domination of either Indochina or Burma:

(1) Immediately consider increasing the priority and volume of military aid to Thailand.
(2) Immediately put into effect whatever measures may be determined as feasible to forestall an invasion of Thailand or a seizure of power by local Thai communists.

c. In the event of Chinese Communist aggression against Thailand:

(1) Support an appeal to the UN by the Thai Government.
(2) Consistent with world-wide U.S. commitments take appropriate military action against Communist China as part of a UN collective action or in conjunction with France and the United Kingdom and any other friendly governments.
(3) Employ as desirable and feasible anti-communist Chinese forces, including Chinese Nationalist forces, in military operations in Southeast Asia, Korea, or China proper.


16. With respect to Malaya, the United States should:

a. Support the British in their measures to eradicate communist guerrilla forces and restore order.

b. In the event of Chinese Communist aggression against Malaya, in addition to appropriate military action contemplated against Communist China, the United States should assist in the defense of Malaya as appropriate, as part of a UN collective action or in conjunction with the United Kingdom and any other friendly governments.


17. With respect to Indonesia, the United States should:

a. Seek to strengthen the non-communist political orientation of the government, promote the economic development of Indonesia, and influence Indonesia toward greater participation in measures which support the security of the area and Indonesian solidarity with the free world.

b. If requested by the Indonesian Government, and as appropriate, make available military equipment and supplies necessary for the maintenance of internal security, and furnish technical assistance and supplies designed to assist in creating conditions essential for political stability and to make effective use of Indonesian resources.

c. In the event of a seizure, or attempted seizure, of power by internal communist action in Indonesia:

(1) Seek maximum international response to a request by the legal government for friendly nations to come to its assistance against the insurgents.
(2) Consistent with world-wide U.S. commitments, take appropriate military and other action to wrest the area from communist control.

d. In the event of Chinese Communist aggression against Indonesia, in addition to appropriate military action contemplated against Communist China, take appropriate military action to assist in the defense of Indonesia as part of a UN collective action or in conjunction with other friendly governments.

You should also read NSC-68: Birth of the Military Industrial Complex and NSC 5412 – Covert Operations.

Thank for reading,



NSC 124: 

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