85. Memorandum From the Director of the Viet-Nam Task Force (Cottrell) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (McConaughy)1

“The answers look generally all right to me. I do think that the Soviets would think several times about creating simultaneous crises in Berlin and South Viet Nam. They might have considerable trouble managing two crises at once, particularly in view of the fact that North Viet-Nam and Communist China have different interests in the Viet Nam situation. Moreover, they would probably worry about our ability to handle two crises simultaneously. They might fear that such a situation would produce a convulsive reaction on our part or other forms of irrational, unpredictable behavior.”


  • VietNam


  • Memcon dated June 21 between G-U. Alexis Johnson, and Professor Rostow2

In the reference conversation Professor Rostow raised certain questions which Ben Wood and I would answer as follows:

Q: Will not the communists put great heat on VietNam, perhaps timed for a crisis over Berlin?

Ans: We think this very possible. They might also time the “heat” to coincide with the end of the Geneva Conference on Laos.

Q: How are Diem’s administrative “reorganizations” progressing? Is he continuing to operate everything from his own desk?

[Page 202]

Ans: Reports indicate that Diem still exercises a tight, personal control but we hope this may be loosened gradually within the framework of the new organizations.

Q: Diem is now asking for a 100,000 force increase above our agreed 170,000. McGarr s endorsement3 sounds tike desperation. In reviewing this request, should we not look beneath the surface and figure out where we stand?

Ans: The President has informed Diem (Deptel 8 of July 34) that “the Department of Defense is urgently studying your request for support in a further long term increase to a 270,000 man force. In addition to exploring the usefulness, methods and procedures of such an increase we will both have to give the most careful attention to the large amount of funds which such an increase will involve for our two countries. I hope that the findings of Dr. Eugene Staley may provide helpful guidelines for both our Governments.”

At the present rate of mobilization the Vietnamese armed forces will not reach 170,000 until February 1962. This gives us time to study further increases. We believe that the following prerequisites to further increases in ARVN should be obtained: (a) assurances from Task Force Saigon after consultation with the GVN that the reforms which have been decreed in Viet-Nam to tighten the chain of command and to unify the intelligence function are actually being implemented, (b) that MAAG and the Vietnamese military work out an overall geographical strategic plan for driving the Viet Cong out of VietNam, (c) agreement with the GVN, after the Staley recommendations are received, on the basis of cost sharing between the U.S. and GVN.

In addition to the above affirmative action on the part of Diem, the question is whether a 270,000 force level makes any sense. The arguments are:

In Malaya a force of 400,000 was needed to bring the guerrillas under control. (The guerrillas did not have substantial outside help.) If the Vietnamese armed forces are increased by 100,000 the total size of the security forces including 270,000 ARVN 68,000 Civil Guard and 50,000 Self Defense Corps will be 388,000. If the Police Force is thrown in the total would be just about 400,000, the same size as was needed in Malaya.
In Malaya the job was easier for the following reasons: (a) a narrow isthmus frontier (b) the guerrillas were mostly Chinese and easily identifiable (c) the guerrillas could be starved out more easily because food is much less readily available than it is in Viet-Nam (d) experienced British officers were running the show far more directly than is the case in Viet-Nam where our MAAG still acts in an advisory capacity.
Given Viet-Nam’s long exposed flank adjoining southern Laos, which may soon be an open base for Viet Cong operations against VietNam, it may not be a sin but a necessity to increase the Vietnamese armed forces as rapidly as the Vietnamese military absorptive capacity permits.
As the Viet Cong step up operations in SVN, additional troops are necessary to guard villages, etc. The step-up may be greatly accelerated in the near future-too soon to train and field the additional 100,000-but the requirement for more troops will be urgent.
If the ARVN is called upon to operate in Southern Laos this will raise troop requirements.
The main reasons set forth by Diem for the increase are: a) to guard against a DRV drive across the 17th parallel, b) to set up effective border controls, c) to prosecute the counter guerrilla operations, d) to allow relief and retraining of his present troops who are fully committed.
MAAG, CINCPAC and JCS are now weighing the above and other factors to determine whether Diem needs 270,000. General Taylor has prompted an inquiry by JCS to MAAG and CINCPAC on whether the present training rate for the 20,000 increase cannot be accelerated.
JCS is requesting CINCPAC and MAAG to set forth their strategy for destroying the Viet Cong. This should reveal data applicable to the problem of whether the 270,000 force level makes sense.

Q: Are we getting prepared on a contingency basis if the Viet Nam question gets into the United Nations?

Ans: Task Force Viet Nam has requested INR to assemble a dossier (including photos) of DRV aggression in SVN. CIA will cooperate with INR.

Q: Would if be a good idea to request General Taylor to have a look on the ground at the military administrative program?

Ans: We think it would, if the General has the time.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Viet-Nam Country Series Secret. Drafted by Cottrell and Wood. The source text is attached to a typewritten note of July 11 from Robert H. Johnson to Rostow, in which he wrote the text was a “bootleg copy” for Rostow’s private information pending receipt of a copy through regular channels. Johnson gave the following appraisal of the memorandum:
  2. Reference is to U. Alexis Johnson’s memorandum of his telephone conversation with Rostow on June 21 in which Rostow expressed the view that “we were in a brief interval before great heat might be put on us in Viet Nam, and he wouldn’t be surprised if it should come to a head at the time of the Berlin crisis.” Rostow also expressed concern about the effectiveness of Diem’s administrative proposals and that McGarr’s support of these proposals reflected “desperation.” Rostow urged that “we should not look just on the surface of the request for 100,000 men, but look beneath it, and should really figure out where we stand and what we do.” Rostow suggested that if the President went ahead with his plans to name Maxwell Taylor as his military adviser, Taylor “might go out and take a thorough look on the ground at the military administrative program.” Johnson agreed with Rostow’s idea that the U.S. Government should prepare for the contingency that the Viet-Nam question would be raised in the United Nations by assembling evidence and preparing a case. Johnson said that “the material was around but had not been assembled for that particular purpose.” (Department of State, Johnson Files, Telephone Conversations)
  3. See Document 66.
  4. Document 84.