50. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson) to the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Dillon)1


  • Proposed Civil Guard Program for Viet-Nam

We understand that Mr. Smith, Director of ICA, is calling on you on Friday, January 9, to discuss the proposed Civil Guard program in Viet-Nam.2 The background and our recommendations on this program are as follows:

The Program. The Country Team in Saigon has recommended a three-year, $18.5 million program for re-training and re-equipping the Civil Guard to enable it to cope with Viet-Nam’s continuing internal [Page 129] security problem. The Country Team has on hand $3.6 million from prior years’ funds to initiate this program, and has requested an additional $6 million in FY 59 for the program. This sum would meet top-priority equipment needs. Further funding commitments for future years would not be made until the program had again been reviewed at the end of FY 59 after partial implementation. (Saigon’s Toica 393, September 9—Tab A3)

Viet-Nam’s Internal Security Problem. It has become increasingly clear that the Communists, no longer expectant that Free Viet-Nam will fall to their control through peaceful methods, are executing a carefully planned campaign of violence aimed at undermining the stability of President Diem’s government. The Communists and dissidents have for over a year maintained a campaign of assassination, especially of officials in rural areas, at the rate of about 15–35 per month. Attacks on rubber plantations and reported Communist plans to break up the land development, land reform and agricultural credit programs indicate deliberate efforts to interfere with Viet-Nam’s economic progress. The evident concentration of Communist activities in rural areas where communications and terrain make it difficult for the government to cope with the problem recalls the tactics; used by the Vietminh against the French during the Indochina War.

Negotiations with the Vietnamese Government. The Country Team has carried on negotiations with President Diem for over a year concerning an acceptable Civil Guard program which it could recommend to Washington. Originally, Diem wanted the Civil Guard supplied with heavy equipment which would have made it a virtual military force, but eventually agreed to tables of equipment proposed in a Country Team staff study. Diem also wanted to place the Civil Guard under the Department of Defense, but finally agreed to the Country Team view that it should be kept as a civil police organization and assigned to the Department of Interior. The Country Team also tried to get Diem to agree to an eventual reduction of the Civil Guard from its present strength of about 48,000 to 32,000, but Diem refused to make such a commitment on the ground that the internal security situation required the larger number for an indefinite period. The Country Team’s Civil Guard proposal provides, however, for the training and equipping by the United States of only 32,000. After this long history of negotiation (which Washington agencies have been well aware of) and Diem’s concessions on two of the three main points in dispute between him and the Country Team, failure of Washington now to approve initiation of the Civil Guard program would cause Diem to question seriously our good faith.

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OCB Consideration. The OCB discussed the proposed Civil Guard program on December 31 in connection with the semi-annual OCB Report on Southeast Asia. Its discussion is summarized in Tab B.4

Current Status. Despite urging by State and Defense staffs for months, ICA has not yet approved the Civil Guard program in principle, apparently because of Mr. Smith’s reluctance to provide equipment under civil police programs for other than training and demonstration purposes and his objection to ICA financing of a program which has certain paramilitary features. On the first point Ambassador Durbrow has pointed out no useful Civil Guard project can be mounted unless the U.S. is willing to furnish operating equipment as well as training and demonstration equipment. On the second point it is to be noted that the Civil Guard needs to be given equipment at least equal to that of the Communists and the dissidents if it is to handle effectively the internal security problem. It is not feasible to shift the Civil Guard program to funding and administration by the U.S. Defense Department for the following reasons: 1) Ambassador Durbrow would be highly embarrassed after insisting for more than a year and finally obtaining President Diem’s concurrence to keeping the Civil Guard under civilian control; 2) we have for important political reasons adhered to a ceiling on MAAG personnel since signature of the Geneva agreements in 1954, and recent consultations with allies regarding removal of this ceiling have thus far not yielded favorable results; and 3) propaganda advantage deriving from the existence of a military force level in South Viet-Nam which is only about half the level in the Communist North would be weakened. Mr. Smith may also indicate the undesirability of creating a police force in Viet-Nam which could become competitive with the army. We do not believe, however, there is any danger of this in view of the much smaller numbers in the Civil Guard and the absence of intention on our part to furnish it with heavy equipment.

In an effort to get this vitally needed Civil Guard program initiated without further delay, we have drafted a compromise cable (Tab C)5 in conjunction with ICA staff, and believe it has reached Mr. Smith. This cable would approve use of the $3.6 million in prior years’ funds and ask for the field’s revised estimate of FY 59 funds required for the program. It would also approve transportation and communications equipment, but in effect require re-screening and re-justification of arms needs.

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That you urge Mr. Smith to concur at a minimum in the compromise cable attached as Tab C.

  1. Source: Department of State, FE Files: Lot 61 D 6, Vietnam. Secret. Drafted by Mendenhall with clearances from SEA and FE.
  2. No record of this discussion has been found.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 31.
  4. Not attached, but see footnote 1, Document 47.
  5. The draft version of this cable was attached, but is not printed. For the cable as sent, see Document 52.