261. Memorandum From the Legal Adviser (Chayes) to the Secretary of State 1
- Report of Taylor Mission on VietNam2
I have reviewed General Taylor’s report on Viet-Nam and the proposed action documents stemming from it (draft instructions to Embassy Saigon and draft letter from President Diem to President [Page 630] Kennedy).3 Attached is a memorandum (Tab A) which examines the proposed actions from the legal point of view. This memorandum concludes that, apart from any measures involving military operations deep into North VietNam, the proposed actions do not present legal problems incapable of being dealt with and surmounted. The memorandum suggests some changes that ought to be made in the planning for these actions if it is decided to proceed with the general course plotted out by the Taylor Mission. These changes would be designed to improve the defensibility of our actions and to avoid consequences that would be prejudicial to the interests of South Viet-Nam and the United States. There is also (Tab B)4 a suggested revision of certain paragraphs of the draft letter from President Diem.
Thus, apart from the possibility of long-range attacks into North VietNam, the issues in deciding on our future course of action are essentially political. But we must remember that the extent to which resort to direct self-help, rather than to the procedures and institutions for peaceful settlement of international problems, has an important bearing on the prospects and effectiveness of the rule of law in the world. Because of my deep concern with these matters, I should like to give you my thoughts on the less technically legal issues in relation to VietNam.
General Taylor’s analysis of the situation in South Viet-Nam shows that the basic causes of deterioration and threatened collapse of non-Communist authority are not military but political. But the remedies proposed would undertake to cope with the situation principally by military and semi-military means. The central feature of the course would be the initial introduction of substantial numbers of United States troops to help in pacifying the country. It is said that to embark on this course we must be prepared to escalate, if necessary, to the dimensions of a Korea-type conflict. In assessing the prospects for this course the long history of attempts to prop up unpopular governments through the use of foreign military forces is powerfully discouraging. The French experience in this very area, as well as our own efforts since 1955, reveal the essential inadequacy of the sort of program now proposed. The drawbacks of such intervention in Viet-Nam now would be compounded, not relieved, by the United States penetration and assumption of co-responsibility at all levels of the Vietnamese Government suggested in the Taylor Report.[Page 631]
In my view, a more promising course of action would be to seek to internationalize the problem with a view to a negotiated settlement or a United Nations solution. I believe we should take advantage of Ambassador Harriman’s presence at Geneva and his working relations with Pushkin to sound out the Soviets on the possibility of a negotiated settlement in VietNam. Mr. Harriman has discussed this problem with me and has shown me the memorandum which he has given you on this subject.5 I concur generally in his proposals.
If Ambassador Harriman’s efforts should produce no affirmative result we should also consider the advisability of taking the Viet-Nam problem to the United Nations. We would particularly seek to establish in the United Nations the facts of foreign intervention in VietNam, and to enlist the United Nations’ assistance in protecting the independence and integrity of VietNam. Attached at Tab C6 is a memorandum outlining a course of action in the United Nations.
You have often said with reference to the Berlin question that, in view of the magnitude of the stakes, we owe it to ourselves, to the American people and to our allies and associates in the free world, to exhaust the possibilities of a negotiated or peaceful settlement which will be consistent with our interests and responsibilities. The alternative to such a settlement is no less grave in Southeast Asia.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/11-1661. Top Secret. Drafted by Chayes and sent to the Secretary through S/S and Johnson (U). Initialed by both Chayes and Johnson. Attached to the source text is the following note of November 16 from Chayes to the Secretary: “This preparation of this memorandum and its attachments was undertaken before yesterday’s NSC decisions. I believe that the analysis and observations given below will continue to be relevant, both in the carrying out of those decisions and in deliberations on further steps in the future.”↩
- Document 210.↩
- Drafts of telegram 619 to Saigon (see footnote 2, Document 257) and the letter quoted in Document 257.↩
- Not printed.↩
- Apparently a reference to Document 239.↩
- Not printed.↩
- [Tab A] ↩
- Top Secret. No drafting or clearance information is given on the source text.↩