43. Draft Memorandum of the Conversation of the Second Meeting of the Presidential Task Force on Vietnam, the Pentagon1


  • Meeting of the Presidential Task Force on VietNam


  • State: Mr. George Ball (B); Mr. McConaughy (FE); Mr. Seymour Weiss (B/FAC); Mr. Robert Cleveland (FE);
  • Defense: Mr. Gilpatric; General Lansdale; Colonel Black; Mr. Hand; Mr. Haydn Williams (ISA); Admiral Heinz (ISA); Colonel Flesch (ISA);
  • JCS: General Bonesteel; Colonel Levy;
  • ICA: Mr. Sherwood Fine (FE);
  • CIA: Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Colby;
  • Office of the President: Mr. W.W. Rostow; Bu. Budget: Mr. Hansen;2
  • Treasury: Mr. Leddy and Mr. Diehl;
  • USIA: Mr. Sorensen.
Mr. Gilpatric opened the meeting by announcing that the Task Force proposal would not come up for consideration at Friday’s NSC meeting as originally proposed.3 He suggested instead that a revised draft of the current paper4 be developed for consideration by the Task Force on Saturday morning, with its subsequent circulation [Page 116] to all interested parties, in anticipation of an NSC meeting on this subject early next week. He pointed out that this would provide a more adequate period of time for studying the full implications of the Task Force proposals. Mr. Gilpatric also suggested that the form of the paper be altered in order to identify at the outset the specific action steps to be taken, leaving the explanatory background and discussion to a separate annex. He further suggested that this annex also embody the funding discussion in the paper. He proposed that two people, one from State and one from DOD, be assigned principal responsibility for undertaking this revision. This responsibility was assigned to General Lansdale for Defense and Mr. Cleveland for State.
In turning to the revised Task Force draft, Mr. Gilpatric stated that while he hoped it would be possible to work out a maximum area of agreement we need not be inhibited from showing a split position on major points of difference if such points emerged. In this connection, however, he stated that he personally accepted without question the interrelated nature of the military and nonmilitary actions which were required if the problem represented by Viet-Nam was to be successfully addressed. The need was not to establish an absolute priority of one above the other. We need both working toward the same objective.
On the organizational problem, Mr. Gilpatric indicated that agreement had been reached to accept the State proposal as contained in the Task Force draft, as revised by the Dept. of State, which vests the continuing responsibility for the inter-departmental Task Force in the Department of State. He suggested, however, that Defense preferred to have General Lansdale act as its representative rather than as deputy director of the Task Force.5
In turning to the specifics of the revised Task Force paper, Mr. Gilpatric suggested that the necessary position papers and related backstopping for the Vice President’s trip should be handled by the State Department and not, at least in any detail, be embodied within the Task Force paper. However, to obtain a comprehensive picture of the Viet-Nam undertaking, the Vice Presidential trip could continue to be reflected in general in the Task Force paper.
As a second point of immediate interest, Mr. Gilpatric stated that the Defense Dept. was concerned over the relationship between [Page 117] the proposed 14-nation conference on Laos6 and the suggestions which had been advanced for the deployment of additional U.S. forces to VietNam. He expressed the fear that once the conference is initiated the effort will be made by the Communists to tie the negotiations to a general discussion of Southeast Asia which could result in a freeze of forces into and out of the area. He pointed out that a marine brigade could be in Viet-Nam in 12 hours and that this could be further reinforced by army forces in Hawaii over a somewhat longer period of time as requirements demanded. Particularly in light of the projected May 12 starting date for the conference Mr. Gilpatric felt that this point would have to be placed before the President which the Dept. of Defense proposed to do independently of the Task Force paper, although he indicated his feeling that the matter should be referred to by the Task Force as well.
Ambassador Young indicated that in discussions with the Secretary of State this morning7 consideration was being given to the possibility of a postponement of the opening date of the conference, a position apparently independently arrived at by the French government. In the event of a postponement of the opening date, the urgency of reaching a decision on U.S. troop deployment would be somewhat alleviated though the basic problem remained for resolution.
In turning to the question of the formal disavowal of the Geneva Accords, Mr. Ball referred to a memorandum prepared by Mr. Chayes, the Department of State legal advisor,8 pointing out that the whole structure of the Indochina partition rested on the Accords. As Mr. Ball explained it, the issue was not whether we removed the inhibitions which the Accords have heretofore placed upon our actions but rather the manner and the degree to which we took such action. Mr. Ball stated that he was fully in accord with the need to move fast on developing a definitive position on this point which he undertook to do.
Mr. Rostow stated that he felt that it was necessary to carefully consider our basic strategy, particularly in connection with the pending conference and in connection with the proposal for troop deployment. On the first point he felt that we might consider a focus of attention on the inability of the ICC to protect frontiers developing a highly aggressive offensive to be used in the conference. [Page 118] Mr. Cleveland and Ambassador Young pointed out that precisely such a position was in process of development with extensive materials being gathered to bolster the effort. On the second point, Mr. Rostow stated that it was essential that we have a maximum degree of clarity both as to the types of U.S. troops which were required in Viet-Nam and as to the precise missions which they would be expected to fulfill. He pointed out that this might be a “plate glass window” or “trip wire” function but that in this event we would want to be sure that our forces had a clear function and relationship to the counter-insurgency effort.
Mr. Gilpatric agreed, pointing out that the availability of U.S. combat troops in Viet-Nam could result in the release of indigenous forces pursuing the counter-insurgency effort.
Mr. Rostow indicated that he felt that there were largely three alternative rationales for the supply of U.S. forces: (1) a step-up in our previous activities directed against the insurgency movement by involving additional training forces, etc., (2) provision of sufficient force to act as a trip wire and (3) sufficient forces to meet an anticipated major ChiCom invasion.
General Lansdale injected to ask how many individuals Mr. Rostow was thinking of in terms of increasing the force capability to meet the first objective, i.e., the counter-insurgency problem, for example, hundreds? Mr. Rostow indicated that hundreds might be appropriate but to be applied gradually as they could be effectively absorbed. He pointed out that he felt that such an acceleration in our current efforts was quite a different matter from putting in U.S. combat units. He stated that this latter action particularly required clarification in connection with Ambassador Young’s 14-nation conference.
Mr. Gilpatric asked if the Chiefs had addressed the question of U.S. combat troop deployment to VietNam. General Bonesteel said the Chiefs had made an assessment in terms of the Lao situation but not specifically in terms of the proposal for deployment in VietNam. Mr. Gilpatric stated he would like to have the Chiefs’ assessment. Ambassador Young stated that it would also be useful to get a JCS judgment on the ability of choking off the VietCong from infiltrating into South VietNam. Both General Bonesteel and Mr. Colby stated their doubts as to the ability to effectively shut off the 1500 mile border. Ambassador Young said that this then raised a question as to why we should pour hundreds of millions into Viet-Nam if we can’t choke off the problem. General Bonesteel stated that he believed this brought the discussion to the central point which is, how seriously are we to take the objective which represents the Task Force’s basic term of reference, viz. preventing Communist domination of VietNam. He stated that if we are to [Page 119] take this seriously, we should recognize that it posed a major requirement for very sizeable force commitments. Mr. Gilpatric asked what was behind Admiral Burke’s view that a marine brigade would be very useful. General Bonesteel said he could not speak for Admiral Burke but believed that he meant that it would carry important symbolic value as an indication of U.S. willingness to fight. Mr. Rostow stated that it was important that the kinds of commitments and U.S. aid which we provide be clearly directed toward whatever we consider our basic objectives to be. For example, if the threat is from overt aggression from North Viet-Nam we need one sort of a plan. If it is to meet the insurrection we need another plan. Or if it is to choke off infiltration at the border we need still another plan. Mr. Colby referred to the important positive psychological advantages which the introduction of troops into the area would have. General Bonesteel stated that the Chiefs would need as clear a statement of the real national intent as possible in order to give clear policy guidance concerning the commitment of forces. For example, even the commitment of one marine brigade tied down a significant amount of U.S. land combat power and it was therefore necessary to know whether this should be considered a permanent commitment. Alternatively, if we envisage the possibility of “pulling them out” with a clear knowledge and evaluation of the impact thereof, this would be important to know. He stated that he felt that if our interest as a nation is to resist a further Communist encroachment beyond the line drawn in Laos and if we are willing to fight for this objective then the commitment of U.S. combat forces would be worthwhile though a major undertaking.
Mr. Gilpatric expressed the view that the Task Force papers should address themselves to these broad implications and various alternatives to troop deployment suggesting that they be thoroughly explored but that the body of the recommendations in the paper be primarily limited to whatever was necessary to meet the insurgency problem. Mr. Rostow said that we must be honest in assessing the ability of U.S. military power to be effectively employed against the Viet-Cong guerrilla effort. General Bonesteel pointed out that it was by no means solely a military effort to handle the insurgency problem and, moreover, that much depended on the nature of the Laotian settlement. He expressed the view that if we wanted to put down the insurgency effort in VietNam, if we had a reasonably workable settlement in Laos, bolstered by the barrier between Laos and Viet-Nam and along the 17th parallel, we could probably succeed. He cited our experiences with the Greek civil war pointing out that such an effort cannot succeed by partial steps. Mr. Rostow commented that in the Greek situation we were dealing with a unified public and eventually with a disaffection of Tito (which [Page 120] closed off assistance to the guerrillas). Mr. Ball suggested that we not lose sight of the French experience in fighting guerrillas in Indochina. He also stated that the difference between the insertion of U.S. combat forces as such, as distinct from U.S. forces training the VietNamese, posed the implication of the U.S. vs. Communists as the principal protagonists as against the VietNamese fighting an internal effort supported by the Communists. General Bonesteel in commenting on the French experience, said that the French lost the Indochina effort because of an unwillingness to train indigenous forces above the grade of corporal because of a fear that the forces once trained would eventually throw them out. Obviously the indigenous forces under foreign leadership had no incentive to fight.
Ambassador Young stated again that it was necessary to get a clear decision as to what it would take if we decided to hold firm and fight in VietNam. He indicated that he felt the area needed to be looked at as a whole though he acknowledged General Lansdale’s point that there were differences as between the neighboring countries, in the people, in their language, etc. He still felt that the area was linked together.
General Bonesteel noted that if our policies resulted in the loss of Southeast Asia this would have an impact on all other areas of the world where the credibility of our guarantees to protect nations would be open to serious doubt. He specifically mentioned Latin America and the Near East. Mr. Rostow reiterated his view as to the need to focus on the three most logical alternative objectives for the application of military force (i.e. to fight the insurrectionist movement, as a trip wire and to resist massive invasion). Mr. Gilpatric reiterated that this problem should be recognized in the Task Force paper although its major focus should be on the insurgency problem.
General Bonesteel raised a question concerning the statement of our objectives particularly as regards the emphasis which should be placed upon political action in relation to military actions. Mr. Gilpatric stated that he recognized that the two objectives existed side by side with “no clear bright line between them.” He stated that the exact blending of the two actions would have to be worked out. Mr. McConaughy questioned whether the two points of view were in basic opposition and Mr. Rostow agreed with the implication of the remark, that certainly this was not true at all or even at a majority of points. Mr. Fitzgerald believed that there still was an unresolved conflict, citing that the 20,000 troop increase had heretofore been held out as a carrot for VietNamese concessions. Mr. Gilpatric and Mr. Ball both stated that this matter was settled, that the troop increase was approved and that its exact manner of communication to the VietNamese would be worked out in the [Page 121] negotiation. Mr. Fitzgerald asked how long the negotiation was to go on. Mr. Gilpatric said that would be handled by the people in charge.
Ambassador Young raised questions concerning the communication to President Diem. It was agreed that Ambassador Young would identify the key elements in the Task Force proposal which would be communicated to President Diem in a letter from President Kennedy which would be delivered by Vice President Johnson. Mr. Ball suggested that Defense should focus on this letter with State, and Mr. Gilpatric asked General Lansdale to do so for Defense. General Lansdale stated that if it was implied that the letter from President Kennedy to Diem should contain an insistence on Diem’s “being a good boy” and otherwise insisting on various conditions this would be exactly contrary to Asian psychology and would place Ambassador Nolting in “the same trap as Ambassador Durbrow found himself in.” Both Ambassador Young and Mr. Cleveland indicated that this was not to be the tone or nature of the letter and Mr. McConaughy stated that it was intended to make the letter essentially non-controversial and that Vice President Johnson did not want to get into a detailed debate with Diem. General Bonesteel asked if the letter would have specific reference to the U.S. force contribution which seemed to be implied in the State redraft. Mr. Weiss indicated that it was not intended that this be contained in the letter since the timing would preclude the careful consideration of the serious issues raised by the troop deployment proposal, as indicated by the discussion at this meeting. Mr. Gilpatric said that it would be best to permit State to come up with a draft which Defense could then react to. He indicated in response to an inquiry that the proposed letter would not require NSC consideration.
Mr. Hansen referred to the proposal regarding the development of VietNamese/Cambodian relationships, asking what would happen if the improvement of relationships failed. It was agreed that this should receive further exploration in the revised draft to be prepared for the Saturday Task Force meeting.
Ambassador Young pointed out that we would have to face the implications of what we do with regard to the Geneva Accords, particularly if this involved deployment of U.S. forces as this affected our position in the 14-nation conference, to take action in opposition to the Accords would inhibit our position in the Conference where we might be trying to benefit from the terms of the Accords. The point being that we would have to decide the relative political and military advantages to be gained.
Admiral Heinz indicated that we now had firm recommendation on the approval of the four jet trainers for Cambodia which were mentioned in the Task Force paper. It was indicated that the [Page 122] inclusion of this item in the Task Force paper was not intended to inhibit going ahead with that proposal and Mr. Gilpatric agreed that the item should be retained in the paper.
Mr. Fitzgerald stated that the recommendation for UN observers was of dubious practical value. Mr. Cleveland agreed but felt that it was useful to include it and Mr. Ball pointed out that it helped to make the record clear. The question was raised as to whether the observers would be in both North and South Viet-Nam with the indication being that State had been thinking solely of South Viet-Nam on the grounds that this is presumably where the insurgent action was observable. The general consensus was, however, that UN observers should be requested for both North and South VietNam.
Mr. Gilpatric noted that the question of a third country contribution was advanced by State. Mr. Williams stated that General McGarr and CINCPAC were opposed on the grounds that this would divide responsibility for training. Mr. Cleveland pointed out that the UK was anxious to come in and assist even if in a small way, that they had a special capability for doing so stemming from their Malayan experiences and that it was to our advantage to share the responsibility with our allies. General Bonesteel stated that his concern was that the British would use this as a means for exercising control over our freedom of action. Mr. Weiss indicated that the British contribution would be quite limited in numbers and size, thereby hardly warranting a major voice in policy formulation. He asked General Bonesteel whether there would be any objection if the British were prepared to provide their technical aid under direct U.S. control. Mr. Gilpatric said he did not see why we should keep the British out and in fact saw advantage to bringing them in. Mr. Rostow stated that in the last analysis he thought that we had our allies “over our shoulder” when it came to facing up to the need to fight. The problem was not in keeping the British out but rather in getting them in and sharing the problem with us. General Bonesteel stated that he did not want to be misrepresented. The U.S. military do not want to fight a war but believe the best way to avoid such a contingency is to show strength early and did not want the British or others to dilute our position. Mr. Gilpatric agreed, but felt that we should see if we can’t bring the British in more closely and get their contribution. Mr. Hansen raised the question concerning adequacy of staff available to the Ambassador to carry out increased actions proposed. Mr. Weiss stated it was intended that Ambassador Nolting include an assessment of staff requirements in his initial review of the situation. It was agreed that this matter would be mentioned in the Task Force report. Mr. Rostow stated that he felt a review of current ICA field activities was also needed to see if lesser [Page 123] priority items could not be deferred to make people available for higher priority objectives.
Mr. Leddy supported the position taken in the State draft, particularly that of tying together the total economic and social problem for overall review. He indicated that he also believed we would need a sizeable package to negotiate with the VietNamese and suspected that the $50 million development fund was probably understated. He suggested that our position on this be kept flexible. Mr. Fine agreed that the figure was arbitrary and could be considerably larger. Mr. Leddy suggested that the paper might reflect recognition that depending on outcome of monetary reforms “substantial funds may have to be committed over period of years.” General Bonesteel stated that as a serious student of this sort of situation, the question was raised in his mind as to whether emphasis on various economic programs might not “be doing too much too fast,” thereby distracting attention from fighting. He alluded to our experience in this connection in the early part of the Greek program. Mr. Gilpatric and Mr. Ball agreed that the economic efforts should be pursued as set forth in the State draft but that the long-range development program and stabilization program should be reversed in order of treatment in the paper.
  1. Source: Department of State, G/PM Files: Lot 64 D 354. Top Secret. Drafted by Weiss.
  2. Kenneth R. Hansen, Assistant Director, Bureau of the Budget.
  3. At the NSC meeting on Friday, May 5, the Council noted that efforts should be made to reassure Diem that the United States was not abandoning Southeast Asia and that the number of U.S. training troops in South Vietnam, which was included in the Task Force report, would be considered by the NSC at its meeting on May 12. (Memorandum from the Secretary of Defense to the Service Secretaries, May 9; Washington National Records Center, RG 330,OASD/ISA Files: FRC 64 A 2382, Asia 1961-000.1)
  4. Regarding the two drafts under consideration by the Task Force, see Document 42 and footnote 4 thereto.
  5. In a memorandum to McNamara, May 3, Lansdale set forth “his strong recommendation that Defense stay completely out of the Task Force directorship as now proposed by State.” He concluded his memo as follows: “The U.S. past performance and theory of action, which State apparently desires to continue, simply offers no sound basis for winning as desired by President Kennedy.” (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD (C) (A) Files: FRC 77-131, VN Task Force (Folder 1) 1961)
  6. Reference is to the 14-nation conference on Laos that opened May 15 at Geneva.
  7. According to his Appointment Book, Rusk met with Young at 9:04 a.m. and with Bowles, Ball, McConaughy, Achilles, and Johnson at 9:19. No record of these meetings has been found. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Books)
  8. Not found.