23. Memorandum of Discussion at the 232d Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, January 20, 19551
The following were present at this meeting of the Council: The President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Secretary of State (for Item 5); the Secretary of Defense; the Director, Foreign Operations Administration; and the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Attorney General (for Items 1, 2 and 5); the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; the Under Secretary of State (for Items 1 through 4); the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; Robert Cutler, Joseph M. Dodge, and Nelson A. Rockefeller, Special Assistants to the President; the NSC Representative on Internal Security (for Item 1); Robert R. Bowie, Department of State; the White House Staff Secretary; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.
There follows a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the main points taken.
[Here follows discussion of agenda items 1–4: “Continental Defense (Port Security),” “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security,” “United States Objectives and Courses of Action with Respect to Korea,” and “United States Objectives and Courses of Action With Respect to Indonesia.”]
5. Chinese Nationalist Offshore Islands (NSC 5429/5; NSC 5503)
Since Secretary Dulles and Admiral Radford were now present, Mr. Cutler suggested that the Director of Central Intelligence brief the Council on recent developments in the Tachen Islands.
Mr. Dulles began with a prediction that the loss of Ichiang Island in the Tachens group to the Chinese Communists would shortly be followed by Chinese Communist attacks on the main group of the Tachen Islands.
In the action against Ichiang, Mr. Dulles said that the Communist forces had consisted of one regiment and two battalions of Chinese Communist troops, numbering between 3000 and 4000. Against this force the Nationalist garrison on Ichiang had consisted of just under 1000 guerrillas. The island had been captured after about two hours of fighting. The Communists had handled the action with considerable skill. They had had very careful cover so that there had been little warning, either of the landing forces or of the Communist [Page 70] air sorties, which had numbered 60. All U.S. personnel on the Tachens, numbering eight, had been evacuated except one individual.
With the capture of the island, Mr. Dulles pointed out, the Chinese Communists were in a good position to shell the main Tachen Islands, which were only seven and a half miles distant from Ichiang. The Nationalists were obviously preparing to risk further losses of naval vessels in order to support the garrison on the main Tachen Islands. This move was necessary, however, if the morale of the garrison, which was not very good in any case, was to be kept up.
According to other reports, the Generalissimo was now considering the desirability of evacuating the Chinese Nationalist forces from the remainder of the Tachen Islands. Unfortunately, there was some question as to whether he would be able to withdraw these garrisons even if he desired to, except in the unlikely event that the Chinese Communists voluntarily permitted these forces to be evacuated. In any event, the loss of the Tachen Islands would have a very unfortunate effect on the morale of the Chinese Nationalists.
Mr. Dulles indicated that the Nationalists had retaliated yesterday for the attack on Ichiang, by a series of air strikes on Communist ports and shipping, especially in Swatow, where they had apparently sunk a British flag vessel of some 1700 tons. From Quemoy the Nationalists had yesterday bombarded two adjacent islands held by the Chinese Communists. There had been no substantial Chinese Communist attacks on Quemoy during the last few days.
At the conclusion of Mr. Dulles’ briefing, Mr. Cutler called on the Secretary of State to speak.
Secretary Dulles said that he was sorry indeed to have to inaugurate the second year of the Eisenhower Administration with a recital of serious problems. However, he had come to the conclusion, over the last few days and hours, that the situation in the Tachens and on the other islands held by the Chinese Nationalists had deteriorated so rapidly that it was very unlikely that any of these islands could be defended against Chinese Communist attack in the absence of U.S. armed support on a very considerable scale. Since the United States had not proposed to offer the Chinese Nationalists any assistance in the defense of these islands which would involve the armed forces of the United States, the time had come for a reconsideration of our policy of refusing to participate in the military defense of any of the Nationalist-held offshore islands. The loss of the Tachen group of islands would have very serious psychological effects not only on the Chinese Nationalists, but in other areas of the Far East such as Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, unless this loss were accompanied by a clearer indication than was now available of United States intentions and where we stood ourselves. If it were indicated [Page 71] that the Communists were free to seize all these offshore islands, the result would be very bad indeed.
Accordingly, continued Secretary Dulles, it had seemed to him wise to suggest that the evacuation of the Tachen island group should be offset by a stated willingness on the part of the United States to assist with its armed forces in holding the Quemoy Islands and possibly the Matsu group. These two groups of islands covered the harbor entrance of Amoy and Foochow, respectively, whence a Chinese Communist invasion of Formosa would probably be mounted. Moreover, the Chinese Communists invariably related their attacks on these offshore islands to their determination ultimately to “liberate” Formosa.
So, said Secretary Dulles, the United States is faced with what is in fact a series of Communist military operations which are ultimately directed toward the capture of Formosa. He therefore concluded that it would have a very grave effect throughout all the nations of free Asia if we were to clarify a U.S. position which in effect amounted to abandonment of all the Nationalist-held offshore islands. People would of course pose the question of why it is necessary for the United States to clarify its position on these islands. We had decided not to do so up to the present in the hope of confusing the Chinese Communists as to our real intentions vis-à-vis these islands. This policy of obscuring our intentions had, however, begun to backfire, and the Chinese Communists were apparently confident in the belief that the United States was unwilling to fight in order to save any of these islands. Accordingly, Secretary Dulles could see no further advantage in the policy of obscuring our intentions, and insisted that further pursuit of it would embarrass U.S. prestige in the Far East.
This being so, the next question was what to do. It seemed to him, said Secretary Dulles, fundamentally unsound for the United States to try to assist the Chinese Nationalists to hold the northern groups of islands. The Tachens and the other islands in this area were simply too difficult to defend. On the other hand, Quemoy and the Matsu group could be readily protected by U.S. air power, including such air power based on Formosa. Accordingly, the Administration might well consider a new policy which would involve (1) the use of U.S. armed forces to assist the Chinese Nationalists to evacuate their garrisons from the northernmost islands, and (2) support of the Chinese Nationalists in the defense of Quemoy and perhaps the Matsu Islands, so long as the Chinese Communists professed to be preparing to attack Formosa.
If we could make this proposal clear and at the same time push through quickly the mutual defense treaty with Formosa, and if we are truly determined to hold Formosa and related areas needed in [Page 72] order to hold Formosa, all this would be the best possible way to avoid a steady deterioration of the U.S. position in the general area, and specifically would provide the best means of defending Formosa and the Pescadores.
At the same time, continued Secretary Dulles, the United States should encourage, or at least acquiesce in, UN actions designed to bring about a cease-fire in this general area. Secretary Dulles then alluded to the directive, given to him at the Denver meeting of the National Security Council last summer,2 to undertake negotiations with respect to possible UN action to stabilize the situation in the area. He had followed out this directive, and as a result we had on hand a program for UN action which had been carefully worked out with the British and New Zealand. This program had now been on the shelf, however, for some months. While he could not, therefore, guarantee that the British were still in favor of such a procedure, he had made inquiries of London, and expected word of the British attitude today. Meanwhile, his guess was that the British would continue to support this program for action in the UN. While he doubted very much whether the Chinese Communists would accept any UN action unfavorable to themselves, such a UN action might nevertheless have at least some deterrent effect on the Chinese Communists.
Secretary Dulles then informed the Council that he and Admiral Radford had just met with various leaders of Congress to discuss the subject of our policy toward the offshore islands. These Congressional leaders had included the Majority and Minority heads of the two Foreign Relations Committees and the two Armed Services Committees, as well as Senator Knowland, the Minority Leader of the Senate, and Mr. Clements, who had taken the place of Senator Lyndon Johnson.3 Also present were the Majority and Minority Leaders of the House.
In the course of describing the existing situation to these members of Congress, Secretary Dulles said, there had been considerable discussion of the President’s authority to commit U.S. armed forces to the task of evacuating the northern group of islands and of assisting in the defense of Quemoy. Secretary Dulles himself described the President’s authority to do this as “now rather vague”. This power had stemmed from the existence of hostilities in Korea, but since the armistice in Korea the President’s war powers had been “subject to considerable attrition”. Inasmuch as we might very well have to use our armed forces in order to evacuate the garrison on the Tachens, and since this might well involve actual conflict between the American [Page 73] forces and the Chinese Communists, Secretary Dulles had indicated his opinion that it would be best to meet this situation by a clear enunciation of, and a grant to the President by the Congress of, the power to commit the armed forces of the United States to the defense of Formosa and related areas.
Secretary Dulles said that he had pointed out to these Congressional leaders that the United States certainly did not plan any permanent commitment of the armed forces of the United States to hold these offshore islands, nor was there any intent whatsoever to enlarge the area of the mutual defense treaty. This area, however, not only covered Formosa and the Pescadores, but also covered “attacks directed against Formosa and the Pescadores”. The latter, it could be argued, could cover U.S. action in Quemoy and the Matsus. Furthermore, Secretary Dulles had argued that even if the proposed mutual defense treaty were at present actually in force, the President would desire, if time permitted, a Congressional grant of authority for the use of the armed forces of the United States in the circumstances described. If Congress were not in session, or time did not permit, Secretary Dulles believed that the President could act. A lack of adequate authority at the present time could be very dangerous indeed in view of possible contingencies in the near future.
In sum, said Secretary Dulles, the discussion with the members of Congress had been extended—from 9:00 a.m. until nearly 11:00. In the course of the discussion the problem had been pretty fully explored, and the Congressional leaders had asked many questions, especially of Admiral Radford. He and Admiral Radford had drawn the conclusion that the members of Congress had generally recognized the dangers inherent in the situation and the great importance of an unequivocal statement of the U.S. position—unequivocal both as it applied to the Executive and the Legislative Branches of the Government. Secretary Dulles also believed that there was little doubt that the Congress would promptly give the President the powers which he needed to meet the situation, although it might be necessary for the President to appear personally before a joint session of the two houses. Likewise, continued Secretary Dulles, the members of Congress with whom he had talked seemed in general to approve the course of action which he had outlined above, except in the case of Senator Wiley, and even Senator Wiley, thought Secretary Dulles, was unlikely to persist in his opposition. A minority of the Congressional group, thought Secretary Dulles, apparently favored an effort by the United States to hold all the offshore islands. The majority, however, thought that his balance was sound.
At the conclusion of Secretary Dulles’ statement, Mr. Cutler inquired if Admiral Radford wished to add anything. Admiral Radford [Page 74] said that he believed that Secretary Dulles’ statement had been so detailed and so accurate that he himself had nothing to add to it.
The President inquired which of the Congressional leaders had expressed the view that the United States should assist in the defense of all the Nationalist-held offshore islands. Admiral Radford and Secretary Dulles replied that, in so far as they had been able to understand him, this had been the view of Senator Wiley. Admiral Radford added that the House Majority Leader, Mr. McCormack, had expressed strongly the view that the President now had, without further Congressional action, all the powers he needed to hold the offshore islands in the face of Communist attacks.
The President said that a decision by the United States to give up the Tachen Islands, which the Joint Chiefs of Staff were already on record as having said were not vital to the defense of Formosa, would at least have the merit of showing the world that the United States was trying to maintain a decent posture. At the same time, the proposed policy would make clear that this U.S. concession with respect to the Tachens would not mean that the United States was prepared to make any concessions with respect to Formosa and the Pescadores. The particular problem, continued the President, with respect to the defense of the Tachens was the lack of a safe port for our ships in this area. As a result, it would be very difficult for us to sustain the garrisons in the Tachen Islands. All in all, concluded the President, an announcement of a decision to evacuate the Tachens garrison, together with a statement of our determination to hold Formosa and the islands “in front of it” (Quemoy and the Matsus), would appear to be the best course of action.
Secretary Dulles then explained that he had had a discussion on this subject yesterday with George Yeh, the Foreign Minister of the Chinese Republic. He expected to receive a reply some time today, and while he anticipated that the Chinese Nationalists would profess to be greatly saddened at not being able to hold all the offshore islands, they would be quite willing to accept something less than all. The President commented that he thought that they would be glad to do so because the new arrangement would tie in Nationalist China very actively with the United States.
Mr. Cutler then observed that he wished to call the Council’s attention to the exact language of the present policy of the United States with respect to the offshore islands, and thereafter to ask the Secretary of State a question. Mr. Cutler then proceeded to read paragraph 5–c of NSC 5429/5, as follows:
“c. Ratify the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Republic of China covering Formosa and the Pescadores, and jointly agree upon appropriate safeguards against Chinese Nationalist offensive action. Pending the ratification of such a Treaty, continue the existing unilateral [Page 75] arrangement to defend Formosa and the Pescadores (excluding the Nationalist-held off-shore islands). For the present, seek to preserve, through United Nations action, the status quo of the Nationalist-held offshore islands; and, without committing U.S. forces except as militarily desirable in the event of Chinese Communist attack on Formosa and the Pescadores, provide to the Chinese Nationalist forces military equipment and training to assist them to defend such offshore islands, using Formosa as a base. However, do not agree to Chinese Nationalist offensive actions against mainland Communist China, except under circumstances approved by the President. Agree to Chinese Nationalist actions against Communist China which are prompt and clear retaliation against a Chinese Communist attack; provided such retaliation is against targets of military significance which meet U.S. criteria as to feasibility and chance of success and which are selected with due consideration for the undesirability of provoking further Chinese Communist reaction against Formosa and the Pescadores.”
Mr. Cutler then put his question to the Secretary of State: Would not an American commitment to employ its armed forces in the defense of Quemoy and the Matsu Islands almost certainly involve the United States in military actions on the mainland of Communist China? Would not there be inevitable hot pursuit far inland? Accordingly, it seemed to Mr. Cutler that if the United States were to adopt the policy proposed by Secretary Dulles, we should be very clear indeed that by so doing we are greatly enhancing the risk of war with Communist China. Had the Secretary of State gone into these long-range consequences in his discussions with the members of Congress?
The President said that he disagreed with Mr. Cutler’s fundamental premise. The proposed course of action would not merely not enhance, it would actually decrease the risk of war with Communist China which we are now running under our existing policy. Secretary Dulles also argued that there was greater risk of war in leaving our position unclear with respect to the offshore islands than in making it clear, as he proposed to do.
Mr. Cutler repeated his insistence that if the Chinese Communists attacked Quemoy and the Matsus, and the United States assisted the Chinese Nationalists to resist the Communists, our aircraft would certainly go in hot pursuit of enemy aircraft, and the danger of one incident leading ultimately to another and ultimately to war with China seemed very clear to him. The President commented that of course if the Chinese Communists wanted to make general war out of anything the United States did, there was nothing we could do to prevent it.
Secretary Humphrey said it was very hard for him to understand, and even harder for him to justify, the proposal to retain the Quemoys, which were set right down in the middle of a Chinese [Page 76] Communist harbor. Quemoy was a “hot spot” right in the middle of Chinese Communist territory.
Secretary Dulles indicated that the answer to Secretary Humphrey’s misgivings was as follows: As long as the Chinese Communists insist that they are going to take Quemoy as part of their operations for the ultimate seizure of Formosa, all this put Quemoy in a very different light. If we wait to mount our defense of Formosa until we have lost all these islands, and much of our prestige as well, we would be fighting at a terrible disadvantage. That seemed to be the choice which now confronted us.
Mr. Allen Dulles interrupted this exchange by pointing out that the most probable Chinese Communist action, if the United States determines to hold Quemoy, would be to resort to constant artillery pounding of the Quemoy defenses until these defenses had been pulverized. Admiral Radford, however, said that such pulverization of Quemoy’s defenses by the Communists would not be possible in the face of Chinese Nationalist air attacks on the surrounding Chinese Communist areas.
The President commented that unless we were prepared “completely to discount Formosa”, further delay in making up our minds would result in rapid and serious deterioration of the situation. He still insisted that the chances of general war with Communist China would be less under the course of action now proposed by the Secretary of State than the “dangerous drift” which we are now in.
Secretary Humphrey said that yes, this might be the case until and as long as the United States refuses to draw a clear and sensible defense line and abandons any attempt to defend territories lying outside this defense line. The real question, however, was where to draw this defense line, and why Quemoy should be included within it.
Secretary Wilson said that prior to the time at Denver when Secretary Dulles had proposed his plan for UN action to stabilize the situation on the offshore islands, he himself had had a proposal which had appealed to him but which he had abandoned in deference to Secretary Dulles’ UN proposal. His own idea had been that the only reasonable hope of stabilizing the situation in the Far East was a determination by the United States to hold Formosa and the Pescadores. There could be no “cooling off of the hot situation” vis-à-vis Communist China so long as these other close-in islands remained in the hands of the Chinese Nationalists. To let them remain in Nationalist hands was simply to invite Chinese Communist military action against them. Accordingly, if we make a new move now, we should get the Chinese Nationalist garrisons off just as many of these small islands as we can, and should explain that the sole reason [Page 77] that we are assisting in holding any of the islands at all is that they are vital to the defense of Formosa.
Secretary Wilson added that he thought it was foolish to fight a terrible war with Communist China simply in order to hold all these little islands. It was plain that there was no hope in the world that the Chinese Nationalists could overcome and supplant the Communist regime on mainland China. He therefore repeated that our only reasonable hope of stabilizing the whole U.S. position in the Pacific was to evince our determination to hold the great offshore island chain and let the rest go. In short, we should defend only Formosa and the Pescadores and let the others go. The alternative seemed to him to be general war with Communist China. As Secretary Humphrey was expressing his agreement with Secretary Wilson, the latter added that once we had got off the smaller offshore islands we should make it clear to the Chinese Communists that if they attacked Formosa it would mean war with the United States.
Governor Stassen expressed agreement with the policy advocated by the Secretary of State, not only for the reasons which Secretary Dulles had given, but for other reasons as well. As the Chinese Communists continued to build up their power and prestige and took more and more of these islands, they inevitably set in motion a deterioration of the position. He greatly feared the psychological effect on the free nations of Asia of the gradual loss of all these islands.
The President intervened to say that it seemed clear to him that Quemoy and the Matsus were the outposts for the defense of Formosa.
Secretary Dulles explained that he by no means disagreed with the position taken by Secretaries Humphrey and Wilson “over the long period”. However, these things are largely a matter of timing. We must now deal with a practical situation which is on our hands, and this was certainly not the moment or the occasion to inform the Chinese Nationalists that we would not assist them to hold any of the offshore islands. To do so would at present have a catastrophic effect on Chinese Nationalist morale. However, if later on the situation cooled down and the Chinese Communists renounced their intention of seizing Formosa, the United States would then be in a position to give up these other islands, as Secretaries Humphrey and Wilson were recommending.
The President pointed out that Secretary Dulles had indicated that we would only assist in holding these offshore islands until the UN acted to stabilize the situation or the intentions of Communist China toward Formosa had changed. Secretary Dulles agreed with the President that this was an accurate description of his position.
Secretary Wilson said that on the contrary, he could not but feel that the Chinese Communists were very logical in their determination [Page 78] to seize the offshore islands. The Chinese Communists simply felt that they were putting the finishing touches on a victorious civil war. The President inquired how Secretary Wilson knew that in this event the Chinese Communists would stop short of Formosa. Secretary Wilson replied that he did not know this. Secretary Dulles added that the whole policy of the Chinese Communists with regard to the offshore islands was ultimately directed against Formosa.
The Vice President at this point inquired as to the mechanics of making clear our new intentions regarding the offshore islands. Who would announce the decision of the United States to assist in the evacuation of the northern group of islands and the holding of others?
In answer to the Vice President, Secretary Dulles suggested that the President would make such an announcement in the form of a message to the Congress, which would state in effect that it had become necessary for the Chinese Communists to regroup and consolidate their forces on these offshore islands. The precise details would not be spelled out, but the President’s statement would convey the idea that some of these islands would be evacuated and that others would be held because they were related to our determination to defend Formosa. The Presidential statement would likewise make reference to action in the UN and to the desirability of a ceasefire.
The Vice President explained that the reason he had asked his question was that if the announcement were made in person to the Congress by the President, certain political difficulties could surely be anticipated. The President added that he was personally opposed to appearing before the Congress, and thought that this part of the plan should be played down.
Dr. Flemming said that while of course we did not wish to become involved in a war with Communist China over Quemoy, neither did we wish to get involved in such a war over Formosa. We therefore must be sure that in trying to avoid the first we do not bring on the second. With respect to the point made by the Vice President on the form of the President’s statement, Dr. Flemming also expressed the hope that the President would not feel it necessary to deliver his message to the Congress in person. The impact of such a personal appearance would be so strong as almost certainly to set in motion trends toward inflation and a hue and cry for the imposition of controls on the economy.
Secretary Humphrey said that so far as he could discern, the members of the National Security Council were all in favor of the same general policy respecting this problem, except that they did not agree on “where the line should be drawn”. The President added—“and when the line should be drawn.” Secretary Humphrey went on [Page 79] to say that if the purpose of the Secretary of State’s policy was simply to defend Quemoy until the Chinese Nationalist garrison could be evacuated, he was glad to accept such a proposal. He was, however, firmly opposed to any U.S. commitment which contemplated holding Quemoy indefinitely. Secretary Dulles added that of course the United States could not forcibly remove the Chinese Nationalist garrison from Quemoy without starting a war with Nationalist China. Governor Stassen pointed out to Secretary Humphrey that it was not only Formosa and Quemoy which we were talking about, but a lot of other countries in the Far East. The United States must take a strong position which will have a bracing effect on the free countries of the Far East. Secretary Humphrey countered with the statement that nothing in the world would please Soviet Russia so much as to get the United States involved in hostilities with Communist China. The President said that he could not agree more.
Mr. Cutler commented that it seemed to him that most of the members of the National Security Council were determined to look only on the rosy alternative as to what was likely to happen if this new proposed course of action were adopted. The Council was refusing to face up to the darker alternative—namely, that war with China was a very real risk if the United States were to commit itself militarily to the defense of Quemoy.
The President again brought the discussion back to the problem of Congress and of Presidential authority to take action on the offshore islands in order to defend Formosa. Secretary Wilson inquired whether the President felt that he had now sufficient authority to order the commitment of U.S. forces to assist in the evacuation of the Tachen Islands. The President replied that in any case it was necessary to draw the line. Admiral Radford pointed out that after all, the United States had warmly encouraged the Chinese Nationalists to continue to hold all the offshore islands.
The President then raised the question as to the whereabouts of the units of the Seventh Fleet, and whether it would not be desirable to move some of the aircraft carriers in the general direction of Formosa. Admiral Radford expressed the opinion that it might be desirable to move some of our carriers toward the area of the Tachens at once.
The President explained his opinion that it was not that any of these offshore islands was going to be easy to defend, but that the psychological consequences of abandoning these islands were so serious. It had long been the general policy of this Administration to help build up indigenous forces to defend on the ground against Chinese Communist attacks. It would be the role of the United States merely to supply air and naval support in the event of overt Communist aggression. We were now confronting a concrete test of this [Page 80] policy, and we must be concerned with the morale of those soldiers who might well be called upon to defend Formosa if the Chinese Communists attacked it.
Secretary Humphrey said that on the contrary, it looked to him as though in this new policy toward the offshore islands, the United States was actually trying to seize Chinese Communist territories. Expressing agreement with Secretary Humphrey, Secretary Wilson repeated that he was more than willing to defend Formosa, but certainly not these “darn’ little islands”. The President said that this was all very well, but we probably couldn’t hold Formosa if Chiang Kai-shek gives up in despair before Formosa is attacked. Secretary Humphrey said that while that was the bad feature on one side of the argument, the bad feature on the other was the prospect of war with Communist China.
Secretary Dulles insisted that what the President was pointing out is sure to happen if we abandon all these islands. The resultant effect on morale on Formosa would be terrible. Moreover, as for the chances of this policy involving the United States in war with Communist China, he thought there was less than a 50-50 chance, because the Chinese Communists didn’t want to “get tough with us in a big way” at this time. What they wanted to do was to erode our position in the area.
Secretary Humphrey added that nevertheless he wished the United States could trade Quemoy for the captured American flyers.
The Council then briefly discussed the reliability and the fighting spirit of the Chinese Nationalist garrison on the Tachen Islands. Mr. Allen Dulles described it as “rather poor” as a result of the January 10 attack. Admiral Radford, on the other hand, thought that morale seemed very good when he had discussed it on his recent trip, and he believed that the defense position on the Tachen Islands was so strong that it would cost the Communists a lot to take it. Governor Stassen pointed out that once the Chinese Communists begin their attacks, they would almost certainly expend whatever resources were necessary to seize these islands.
Secretary Dulles said that in any event the United States must now make its position crystal clear. We must decide now on what territories to hold, and hold them. He did not believe that we could give up all the offshore islands. We could give up the northern Tachen group and perhaps also the central Matsu group. This would leave us with the bare bones of Quemoy. This, however, we must certainly keep, or else we should be faced with a very serious situation all the way from Tokyo to Saigon. Secretary Wilson said that he would go as far as to fight for Formosa, and at the same time would make clear that the only reason that we were holding on was to assist in the defense of Formosa. But just as soon as the Chinese [Page 81] Communists renounced their intention of attacking Formosa, he would abandon Quemoy.
The President said that he wished to ask Admiral Radford a question: Suppose, in the course of our movements, Chiang Kai-shek should tell us that he was prepared to abandon these offshore islands. What effect would such a move have on the U.S. strategic position in this area? Admiral Radford replied that he would favor holding on to these islands if we really meant to defend Formosa, because of the importance of their location at the harbor entrances of Amoy and Fuchow. To lose these islands would make the defense of Formosa a great deal more difficult, even though the U.S. Chiefs of Staff have agreed that their retention was not vital to the defense of Formosa. The islands, added Admiral Radford, were especially important for our air reconnaissance of China.
The President commented that it seemed possible to him that we could word our intentions respecting these islands in such fashion as not to tie ourselves down on them forever. On the other hand, he simply could not believe that it was possible to go to the Generalissimo, ask him to give up every single one of these islands, and then expect him to turn around and defend Formosa itself.
Secretary Wilson explained that a practical problem had arisen in his mind. If the Chinese Communists go ahead with additional military action against the offshore islands, do we or do we not supply military equipment to the Chinese Nationalists to replace their combat losses? Mr. Cutler explained to Secretary Wilson that it was present policy to replace such losses.
Secretary Humphrey then inquired of the Secretary of State whether there was any way by which we could force action in the United Nations designed to stabilize the situation on the offshore islands. Secretary Dulles explained to Secretary Humphrey that we had held off on the UN action because both the British and the Chinese Nationalists, for quite opposite reasons, desired a delay. Moreover, until recently there had been no heavy Chinese Communist military operations against these islands. Now, however, we can move pretty quickly in the UN if we desire to. He had to admit, however, that the Congressional leaders with whom he had talked earlier had not shown much enthusiasm for the proposed action in the United Nations.
Summing up, the President suggested that the following was the best course of action for the Council: Arrange another short meeting of the Council between nine and ten tomorrow morning before the Cabinet meeting, and have ready for his consideration the precise sequence of actions to be taken to carry out Secretary Dulles’ proposal, as well as the list of individuals who were to carry out these actions. By tomorrow morning the President believed that Secretary Dulles [Page 82] could produce such documents, since he would have heard from both Yeh and Eden. The President said he did very much want the British to go along with us because, after all, in a crisis they were good sturdy old allies. Moreover, upon thinking it over, Chiang Kai-shek himself might come to have a different feeling over the abandonment of some of these islands, inasmuch as by this new course of action he would have the United States firmly tied in with him.
In this connection, said the Vice President, the Council should bear in mind the problem of Congressional opinion. Congressman McCormack’s comment with respect to the President’s having sufficient authority already to defend these offshore islands, appeared to the Vice President to indicate the likelihood that politics would be played by some members of Congress. Secretary Dulles said that he was in agreement that you might well have a revolt on your hands in the Congress if the Administration proposed to abandon all the offshore islands. The President agreed, and said that there was hardly a word which the people of this country feared more than the term “Munich”.
Secretary Dulles indicated that he would have ready by tomorrow morning at nine o’clock a draft of the President’s statement to the Congress. The President again expressed grave doubts as to the wisdom of any personal appearance before Congress. What we wanted to stress, he said, was the continuity of our policy, and not to indicate by his appearance some sudden new departure.
The National Security Council:
- Noted an oral briefing by the Director of Central Intelligence on the situation with respect to the Chinese Nationalist offshore islands.
- Noted and discussed an oral report by the Secretary of State on his current analysis of the situation with respect to the Chinese Nationalist offshore islands and his views as to U.S. policy regarding these islands.
- Noted the President’s request that the Secretary of State present to a special Council meeting to be held on January 21, 1955, an outline of the courses of action which he would propose the U.S. adopt regarding the Chinese Nationalist offshore islands.4
Note: The action in c above subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of State.5
[Here follows a note concerning agenda item 1.]
- Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Gleason, except for the portion concerning agenda item 1, on January 21. According to the President’s appointment diary, the meeting took place at 10 a.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Appointments)↩
- On September 12, 1954; for extracts of the memorandum of discussion, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xiv, Part 1, p. 613.↩
- Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, Senate Majority Leader.↩
- The lettered subparagraphs constitute NSC Action No. 1311. (Department of State, S/S–NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95)↩
- In a memorandum of January 20 from Lay to Dulles. (Ibid., S/S–NSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5429 Series)↩