275. Memorandum From the Secretary of State to the President1

“The key is not making this an operation in itself but carefully coordinating it with and making it an incidental part of larger operations for resettlement of the Montagnards, the setting up of an effective border control force, and the ability to mount an effective military operation in Zone D. We must also stay away from the term ‘chemical warfare’ and any connection with the Chemical Corps, and rather talk about ‘weed killers’. Defense and the Chemical Corps entirely agree on this.” (Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316,NSAMs)


  • Defoliant Operations in VietNam

I concur with the attached memorandum from Mr. Gilpatric on the foregoing subject.2 The use of defoliant does not violate any rule of international law concerning the conduct of chemical warfare and is an accepted tactic of war. Precedent has been established by the British during the emergency in Malaya in their use of helicopters for destroying crops by chemical spraying.

We will, of course, be the object of an intense Communist “germ warfare” campaign which may be picked up by some neutrals. You will recall that this was the case during the Korean war although the Communist charges had no factual basis whatever.

On the other hand, I am satisfied that successful plant-killing operations in VietNam, carefully coordinated with and incidental to larger operations, can be of substantial assistance in the control and defeat of the Viet Cong.

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Carrying out of the operation will be carefully planned and coordinated between State, Defense, USIA, CINCPAC, the Country Team, and the GVN. Detailed plans in this regard have been formulated.

Therefore, I recommend that you approve the undertaking of such operations in accordance with Paragraph 8 (b) of Mr. Gilpatric’s memorandum; that is, “to go ahead with a selective and carefully controlled program starting with the clearance of key routes, proceeding thereafter to food denial only if the most careful basis of resettlement and alternative food supply has been created, and holding Zone D and the border areas until we have realistic possibilities of immediate military exploitation.”

I also concur in Mr. Gilpatric’s recommendation that this should be done only after careful prior consideration and authorization from Washington of the plans developed by CINCPAC and the Country Team.3

Dean Rusk4
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Viet-Nam Country Series, Reports &Memos. Top Secret. A handwritten note on the source text indicates that the “original” was given to Rostow and the “enclosure” to McGeorge Bundy. A draft of the memorandum, prepared by U. Alexis Johnson, was submitted to the Secretary of State for his signature under cover of a memorandum of November 22, in which Johnson wrote:
  2. For text, see Declassified Documents, 1978, p. 50B.
  3. For the President’s approval of the State-Defense proposal on Defoliant Operations, see NSAM No. 115 in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 11, p. 425.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature.