51. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to the President1


  • VietNam NSC Paper2

You should be aware of the following factors bearing on the Viet-Nam paper.

Although we have no alternative except to support Diem now, he may be overthrown, as the accompanying cables suggest.3 If so, we should be prepared to move fast with the younger army types who may then emerge. Such a crisis is not to be sought, among other reasons because its outcome could not be predicted; but should it happen, we may be able to get more nearly the kind of military organization and perhaps, even, the domestic political program we want in Viet-Nam but have been unable to get from Diem.
For the time being our Ambassador must make a college try at reconciling Diem and his army, giving the army more scope to organize the battle systematically.
The paper urges (page 9) a series of domestic, political and economic moves in VietNam. It should be understood clearly that these are measures which we have pressed for a long time on Diem, without notable success; and that we have still to find the technique for bringing our great bargaining power to bear on leaders of client states to do things they ought to do but don’t want to do. In short, this crucial problem is not and cannot be solved in a staff paper. It is [Page 132] a question of diplomatic technique we shall have to learn and apply in Taiwan, Iran and Korea as well as VietNam.
We still have to think through the political, diplomatic, and other conditions under which it would be wise for us to put American troops into Viet-Nam (pp. 6-7).
We still have to think through the question of when it would be wise to raise the matter of Viet-Nam in the UN (p. 10); and how such a move might relate to the conference on Laos or the putting of U.S. troops into VietNam.
Further thought is also required on the question of precisely how we handle the question of the Geneva Accords in relation to Viet-Nam (pp. 11-12).
Except for these unresolved matters, the action program suggested seems, for the present, a useful way to proceed.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Viet-Nam Country Series. Secret. No drafting or clearance information is given on the source text.
  2. Reference is to a May 6 draft of “A Program of Action To Prevent Communist Domination of South Vietnam” (see Document 42) by the Task Force for South Vietnam. For text, see United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 11, pp. 70-130 (with annexes and under cover of a memorandum from Lansdale, May 8) and pp. 138-154 (without annexes), and Declassified Documents, 1977, p. 185B (with annexes).
  3. No telegrams were attached to the source text.