15. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs Naval Aide (Bagley) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)1


  • South Vietnam

One thing it is to be hoped will emerge from the future recommendations of the JCS Military Mission to SVN is a critical appraisal of current restrictive political policies in SEA.2 There is sufficient evidence available to suggest that, in the situation which prevails, radical reinforcement and increased support will not gain decisive combat superiority. Other factors, on the strategic plane, will continue to exert a controlling influence.

The first of these factors is the question of satisfactory isolation of South Vietnam from external support. This is largely a political problem and is twofold:

The ability of a neutral Laos government to prevent use of the Panhandle for infiltration from NVN into SVN.

The willingness of Sihanouk to deny use of northeast and east Cambodia to the Viet Cong.

Souvanna has not been able to exert any governmental control over, or even access into, the Panhandle. Despite assurances to Harriman [Page 31]by Pushkin,3 the Soviets are making no visible effort to prevent DRV exploitation of this avenue of support to the Viet Cong in SVN. There have been recent reports that 1000 regular DRV troops infiltrated to the south. Our own capability to evaluate and meet the infiltration problem is hindered by political decision to halt air and ground reconnaissance and harassment in Laos. Thus our political willingness to remain passive to these breaches of faith in the name of supporting Souvanna is jeopardizing our military position in SVN.

The border control problem in Cambodia is essentially academic if the Laos question is not addressed. Freedom to move into Cambodia is a matter of convenience to the Viet Cong. If Laos is open, support can enter SVN-without use of Cambodian territory. If Laos borders are sealed, it should be easier politically to focus Sihanouk’s attention to the remaining and lesser problem.

The second factor is the matter of US willingness to take actions to discourage further DRV support for the Viet Cong. This issue also is related to strengthening Souvanna control in the RLG. If a truly neutral regime can be fostered in Laos, DRV support would lose its most effective route of support and the need for US pressures to dissuade DRV subversion in SVN would decrease. On the other hand, if the Laos situation continues in its present form, the DRV problem sharpens. We may be faced with a decision as to the relative advantages between chancing escalation of covert actions against NVN and pressing for strict observance of the Accords in Laos.4
The last major factor is the state of the political climate in SVN. No amount of military effort can succeed if the parallel political action program to include economic and social reform is not positive and enlightened. To measure this factor requires varied shades of information perhaps not available. It is clear that the economic and social side is getting unprecedented attention. If a responsible political evaluation were made and was adverse, the question of how to achieve corrective action that was not politically disruptive to the GVN would remain. On balance, this factor probably should remain secondary to the first two for the time being. This may not be possible, however, because this rather intangible issue that on the surface can be confronted without risk of war (while the alternatives cannot) is the first target of those who would question US policy in SVN.
The doubters continue to wait in the wings and there are some signs that they are becoming restless. Dispatch of the Wheeler Mission affords them sustenance because it implies some concern with the [Page 32] military situation. If the mission recommends more of the same equipment and support the US is now providing SVN, and the proposals are made in isolation from, or in acceptance of, these other factors, I would expect an uprising of despair. It is of vital importance that the mission address the questions of external support to the Viet Cong and the effectiveness of the GVN. The dual line of preaching patience in SVN and patience in Laos will not long be tenable for the two policies are in fact contradictory. The entire circle will be further aggravated by what will surely be the mission view that subversion in Thailand is on the rise, sustained from a Lao base.
It is interesting that analysis of the several factors which limit the effect of our efforts in SVN comes back to the matter of a neutral Laos. There is a legal base for stronger political action in the Accords. Evidence exists that our power position in SEA is influencing Communist moves there. What is needed is a review of the possibilities and risks of enforcing the Geneva Accords on Laos through strong diplomatic pressures to avoid a long war in SVN, escalation in NVN, and a new war in Thailand. The returning Wheeler Mission affords a reason to reopen this matter.
I recommend you make this reasoning an essential part of evaluating the Wheeler Report and press State on the entire Laos situation as it affects the US position in SVN and Thailand.
W.H.B. 5
  1. Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-240-69. Secret.
  2. See Document 26.
  3. Harriman reported these assurances in telegram 882 from Rome, September 13, 1961. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-1361)
  4. For text of the Declaration and Protocol on the Neutrality of Laos, signed at Geneva on July 23, 1962, by representatives of Burma, Cambodia, Canada, the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, France, India, Poland, the U.S.S.R, the United Kingdom, and the United States, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1962, pp. 1075-1083.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.