751G.00/1–652: Telegram

The Minister at Saigon (Heath) to the Department of State1


1331. Rptd info Paris 507, London 22. Re Paris tel to Dept 3796 Dec 262 et seq.

Paris tel most useful to understanding evolution Fr public opinion and its effect IC policies and Fr Govt. We in Saigon concur that situation here warrants concern Fr people and govt, and agree that forthcoming tripartite talks shld be used as opportunity to inventory polit, econ and mil position in detail to discover means improving it.
Fr and Assoc States public and official opinion in IC does not seem as pessimistic as that in France and there little reflection here of withdrawal psychology apparently gaining ground in Paris. Polit and commercial position of France in these states still paramount not only because she defends and finances country but because it secured to her by preferential covenants which Fr Govt seems have no intention modifying.

Considerations prestige and honor, strategy and history, which persuade Fr Govt stay on in IC despite faltering public opinion at home operate even more powerfully on French here. At same time they buoyed up by De Lattre‘s will and less conscious competitive claims Eur def on Fr resources.

Despite cost IC to Fr taxpayer, Fr investor here doing good business and there actually measure of new investment.

Altho margin of mil security narrow and polit progress has been slow, anyone who left here 5 years ago and came back today wld be heartened at what he sees: More order and security in towns, active commercial life, busy ports, new and self-conscious Viet Govt workers and depts, masses new Amer mil equip and Marshall Plan works and uniform of new Viet army.
Fr Govt also must measure progress by these signs even while it counts cost. It must do what it can sustain these advances which due in no small part to Amer assistance. Therefore, we think it reasonable to suppose that they underscore difficulties and dangers of situation to make good case for more Amer help.
It wld however be fatal error to overlook precarious basis on which progress rests. We unable judge Chi Commie capabilities but if frontier remains open and if our increasing heavy aid can be matched by overland deliveries to travel-light coolie armies of VM we do not foresee end war in IC for years. Present holding operation [Page 11] can perhaps be continued indefinitely but never securely and always depending upon continued Fr and Amer support; we here cannot evaluate claims of IC theatre in competition with actual and potential commitments elsewhere around perimeters Sino-Sov power but we increasingly of opinion that solution can not be found while Commies in Chi left to consolidate their powers and prepare their southward advance without being powerfully molested by Western world.
Even without Chi aid mil balances still delicate. Recent month long action within Tonkin Delta and on Black River has shown that VM regular forces have not declined in strength or spirit and that they can infiltrate Delta while conducting masking frontal attacks. Fr resistance has been everywhere successful, but at considerable cost due VM reaction to Fr move to Hoa Binh3 does not make one too confident that Fr offensive in near future can go far. And 20 fighters and as many bombers used systematically by VM or Chi cld jeopardize even holding operation.
Viet army, of which major portion still constituted by troops transferred from Fr Union forces rather than new drafts upon population, still has only rudimentary complement offs and staff. Altho its first battle tests on battalion scale have been satis, it must be reckoned an unknown quantity.

It also true that De LattreBao Dai,4 Franco-Viet formula has failed stimulate much “mil-politico dynamism” in the country. Fr put security and mil operations first. They confess that present Huu5 Govt commands little popular support, but admit inability find reliable and able Viets who wld join new govt and cooperate loyally in frame of Franco-Viet understanding Such popularity as Huu has enlisted has been largely by scoring off Fr and is result of approachment between him and certain groups such as Cao Daists and “third force natlists” whom Huu began seek out when he recently fell into disfavor with Bao Dai and De Lattre.

One of least commented and most important recent polit phenomenon has been rise of third force movements, notably Cao Daist Col The6 with several thous armed adherent. Govt and Fr reluctant tackle them militarily at this time and they exercise gravitational pull on Huu Govt toward weakening Fr tie, as well as kind of suspense veto on important measures such as mobilization in areas which they control.

“Dynamism” still feeble because of inability to solve problem Franco-Viet relations or because Viets fail or refuse believe that it [Page 12] has been solved. While France cannot now materially relax its fin and mil control there much that can be done to make Viets believe that Govt his govt, to confer on him certain elementary econ and polit rights, and convince him that he has something to fight for. Fr will be handicapping themselves unnecessarily until they can get govt with some popular support. De Lattre sees this problem. We assume tripartite mtg will go into polit premises of tripartite action here including domestic Franco-Viet relationship.
Before his departure Gen De Lattre reaffirmed with force and sincerity that he cld decide issue here in 15 to 18 months. Bao Dai and Huu echo this estimate, but probably on basis exaggerated anticipation of Viet army accomplishments. New Premier Pleven, whom Emb describes as seeing no end in sight, has advanced De Lattre’s estimate in debates on Fr budget. Whether, since recent VM counterattacks and stepped up Chi aid, De Lattre cld maintain this forecast with same sincerity I do not know. From Saigon we see no Fr Gen other than De Lattre who cld make good this time table with means at hand and in prospect.7
We believe that Fr leaders inclined consciously or unconsciously to disculpate themselves in advance of responsibility for possible deterioration in situation by minimizing amount US aid laid down in IC and over-stating promises they claim have recd. Strenuous efforts shld be made in tripartite talks and publicly in Wash, Paris and Saigon to set records straight. We preparing here to issue review of US mil aid, but we believe some public statement shld be made around time tripartite talks by principal govt of giving dol figures for our over-all aid to France and IC.
No one more fully appreciates efforts and sacrifices required of Fr maintain IC than do we. We not persuaded that abandonment IC within next few months might not create as many problems for Fr as it wld solve, in permitting Sov world to increase, its pressures at other points, some of them involving France’s vital interests. With recently increased Amer aid and with sustained high leadership, this not moment for defeatism with ref IC. If Chi come in stakes become urgently world wide with US biggest stake holder.
We find it difficult know what Fr Govt leaders have in mind as they reflect on internatlizing problem of IC. If they envision some kind multipartite negots, including Chi Commies and VM, Leg wld reiterate that this merely means installing Commies in power in IC. We cannot visualize any UN arbitration or award on issue IC that wld not produce awkward divisions among friendly nations. Settlement establishing [Page 13] truncated IC in Kor pattern wld do little more than delay collapse of anti-Commie position.

Internatlizing probably boils down to stipulating use US force if burden becomes too great for France or if Chi invades. We concur with Paris that we will probably and eventually be faced with situation in which we will have to offer new commitments if we wish Fr maintain effective resistance. We have already suggested that supreme effort be made reconsider all aspects Chi policy, including our reaction in case further expansion and we assume tripartite talks will explore possibilities increased aid.

We will offer our suggestions for agenda and positions in subsequent tel.

  1. This telegram was transmitted in two parts.
  2. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. vi, Part 1, p. 573.
  3. In November 1951, French paratroops occupied the strategically located town of Hoa Binh, 40 miles southwest of Hanoi. They were soon heavily engaged by Viet Minh forces.
  4. Chief of State of Vietnam.
  5. Tran Van Huu, Prime Minister of Vietnam.
  6. Trinh Minh The.
  7. General de Lattre de Tassigny had departed for France on Nov. 19, 1951. He died of cancer in Paris on Jan. 11, 1952.