342. Letter From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman)1

Dear Averell: This relates to our conversation2 concerning the putting of pressure on North Viet-Nam with a view to making a sort of Tito3 out of Ho Chi Minh.

  • First, as you requested, I enclose the text of the notes from which I read.
  • Secondly, it has occurred to me that one possible channel would be from me to D’Orlandi, the Italian Ambassador here, from D’Orlandi to Maneli, the Polish representative on the I.C.C., and from Maneli to Pham Van Dong or Ho Chi Minh.

I have gotten to know D’Orlandi very well and believe he can be trusted. He is also an extremely precise man and well able to handle an idea in all its various refinements and shadings. This is something for you to consider. I realize you may have a better way.

With all my best wishes,

As ever yours,

Cabot L.



This is a proposal for study and analysis in Washington in the light of the much greater store of information available there. While it does not purport to be a finished proposal, I hope it will stimulate thinking, which will eventually lead to such a proposal.

H.C. Lodge

The McNamara-Taylor judgment, announced at the White House on October 2,5 that the U.S. could complete the major part of [Page 657] its task in South Viet-Nam (SVN) by 1965, with the implication that withdrawal of most U.S. military personnel would then be possible, could create an opportunity for a U.S. demarche toward North Viet-Nam (NVN).
This paper seeks to describe this opportunity. It therefore does not consider the merits of the question of whether or not the U.S. should withdraw by 1965. And, it certainly does not foreclose our right not to withdraw if this seems like the prudent course to follow at the time.
There are straws in the wind which indicate that there is an off-chance that the present may be a favorable moment for such a demarche. One is the apprehension in NVN, so frequently reported, concerning an increase in ChiCom influence because of the Sino-Soviet split. Another is the acute food shortage. Still another would be found in [document number not declassified],6 if true, regarding the departure of Soviet technicians. Finally, there is a remark made by the North Viet-Nam Ambassador to Laos on September 16 to UPI reporter Ray Herndon. After Herndon had asked the Ambassador whether NVN would be interested in negotiating with SVN, the latter is reported to have replied: “Why deal with the son when we can deal with the father?” (The “son” being SVN and the “father” being the U.S.)
What follows is also not a scheme to unify North and South Viet-Nam; it is still less a scheme to neutralize South Viet-Nam. On the contrary, it aims at a ChiCom rollback; it is a move towards neutralizing NVN alone; it should tend to strengthen the anti-Communist position in SVN; it seeks to contend with the Communists over what they (the Communists) have rather than contending with them over what we have.
Now for the proposal itself. If, pursuant to the McNamara-Taylor announcement, we undertake a definitive withdrawal of U.S. troops from Viet-Nam, to be completed by a certain date, we will be doing something which NVN strongly desires. We should, therefore, seek maximum leverage from such withdrawal and use it to put pressure on and to obtain concessions from NVN. Available information indicates NVN strongly desires U.S. troop withdrawal.
They should, therefore, be made to pay for it and not give it to them for nothing. One concession we should insist on would be cessation of support for Viet Cong and Pathet Lao. (I doubt that they could bring about a VC cease fire, even if they tried—unless it was a mutual cease fire, involving both VC and GVN.)

I do not visualize a neutralized and united Viet-Nam; on the contrary, I look for a militantly anti-Communist SVN with a Yugoslavia-like neutralist nation to the north. I do not propose a negotiation; I [Page 658] propose that they be told: U.S. would like to unload—if terms were right-perhaps leave some economic aid, but withdraw troops, provided NVN stops supplying Viet Cong and Pathet Lao and tries for a cease fire. A long-term food agreement might be possible.

From another quarter they could be told that if they don’t stop aid to VC and PL, they will suffer.

One example of what we might hope for from such a demarche would be sealed borders into Laos and South Viet-Nam in the manner of the Greek-Yugoslav border at the time of the civil war there. Surely this would make our work in SVN very much more manageable.

As a carrot to NVN, substantial offers of food support, both from the U.S. and SVN, might be tendered. As a stick, NVN could be informed that American patience with their continued support of VC and Pathet Lao is wearing thin and that their supply bases supporting Communist efforts in Laos and SVN may not be indefinitely permitted to operate from the sanctuary of NVN. Perhaps this point would be made believable if CAS were one night to destroy one NVN supply depot. Others better informed than I must estimate risk which this action would incur of bringing more ChiCom influence into NVN than is there already.
Other thoughts on the matter: The neutralization of NVN might be attractive to the Soviet Union, as counterbalancing the ChiCom influence in Albania. Our reputation among Communists for impatience and impulsiveness might make our proposal plausible to a North Viet-Nam official who is looking for something with which to counter ChiCom hegemony. Also, Ho Chi Minh has a unique prestige and may be one of the few who could pull off such a change of course. Perhaps we should hurry up and try to use him while he is still around. The report from French Delegate General at Hanoi (Paris No. 55, November 137) quoting Pham Van Dong as saying U.S. will tire of fight may mean that McNamara-Taylor report has convinced NVN we really might get out and thus makes this proposal particularly believable.
Is it not doubtful that SVN can ever know true peace and tranquillity without neutralization of NVN? And if NVN, thinking that they are winning in SVN, rejects what is here proposed, what have we [Page 659] lost? We will not, in case these ideas lead to nothing, have in any way prejudiced our right to keep our troops in SVN after 1965 if this seems like the wise thing to do at the time.
  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 72 D 219, TIGER Basic File. Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. No record of this conversation has been found.
  3. President of the Republic of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito.
  4. Secret; Eyes Only. Reviewing his papers after retiring as Assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern Affairs, William P. Bundy described this proposal by Lodge as follows: “A bizarre aberration. Never considered or taken seriously by anyone, so far as I know.” (Department of State, Bundy Files, Chronology, 1964)
  5. See Document 170.
  6. Not found.
  7. Reference is to telegram 2324 from Paris, repeated to Saigon as telegram 55, November 13. It reported that French sources indicated that DRV Prime Minister Pham Van Dong stated that the coup in Saigon was a “step in the right direction,” and that the “U.S. would tire of the fighting and in that case DRV would show itself as supple as it is now rigid. It is still not the moment for negotiations.” (Department of State, Central Files, POL 32-4 VIET) The reference to this November 13 cable in a document dated October 30 leads to the conclusion that Lodge revised this paper after October 30 to include the Dong remarks.