124. Summary Record of the 528th Meeting of the National Security Council,1

Secretary Rusk chaired the meeting in the absence of the President and reported on his recent trip.

The SEATO meeting in Manila—French Foreign Minister Couve de Murville made clear in bilateral conversations that the French have no specific plan for the neutralization of Southeast Asia. The French are convinced that our policy in Vietnam will not succeed but they don’t want South Vietnam to fall into the Communist camp. The French think we must either enlarge the war, which they oppose, or negotiate a settlement. Therefore, French policy aims at keeping flexibility so that it can promote negotiations at the earliest possible moment. Couve did not veto the SEATO communiqué but merely added his disagreement with the conclusion reached by all the others with respect to the importance of defeating the Communists in Vietnam.
Discussion with General Chiang Kai-shek—The most interesting point was Chiang’s passionate statement that nuclear war in Asia would be wrong. Chiang does not think that the U.S. will put only conventional forces on the Mainland and that, therefore, his military capability is limited to that under his control in Formosa. However, Chiang thinks that disorders on the Mainland would break out when he invades, thus, making it possible for his forces to defeat the Communists. U.S. military advisors in Formosa are not certain how Chiang’s army would react if it were ordered to invade the Mainland because 90% of his army now consists of Formosans.
South Vietnam—Most of the recommendations he has made on South Vietnam are being worked on.
Khanh is a very impressive person who realizes fully that his problem is not just military.
We need to get more flags flying in South Vietnam. We need to help persuade other countries to provide assistance to Vietnam, not only for the value of assistance, but also because of its importance to Vietnamese morale.
The Vietnamese need to fill diplomatic posts in several major capitals so that their point of view can be put across to other countries.
The relationship between Khanh and Big Minh is not entirely satisfactory. Ambassador Lodge is trying to bring these two men closer together. If some of Minh’s followers are taken care of and put in jobs abroad or in Vietnam, it is possible that Minh will actively support Khanh
Khanh needs to seek a broader civilian base for his government. A non-governmental organization has been formed to try to produce greater unity among the civilians.

Psychological warfare in Vietnam is very spotty. Mr. Rowan studied this problem and has made some recommendations as to what should be done.2

(Mr. Rowan, in response to the Secretary’s request, commented that the critical information need is to train South Vietnamese. The Vietnamese information service is very weak in the provinces. Limited physical facilities exist but maintenance is very poor. A great improvement can be made with the expenditure of a very small amount of money. The USIA in Vietnam is now working on a joint basis with the Vietnamese and it is hoped that progress will result from the joint effort.)

Limitation of funds-we may not be doing some things that we ought to be doing in Vietnam because we still think we must limit expenditures. As compared to the cost of a war or our withdrawal, the amount of money we are spending in Vietnam is small. Ambassador Lodge says he has enough U.S. funds but this may not be so. We should look again at our programs and examine all ideas without thinking whether or not they can be done without increasing our expenditures.
The Defense Department is studying several new military recommendations made by the group.
We are anxious to get a new Canadian member on the International Control Commission. This Commissioner would be visiting Hanoi and seeing Ho Chi Minh every few weeks. [1–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

Secretary Rusk asked Assistant Secretary William Bundy to comment. Mr. Bundy said that we are now getting good reporting in both the political and military fields. Newspaper reporters have been misleading us. Unrest within the South Vietnam government has been exaggerated. The security situation is much better than as reported in the press. In the most recent large engagement. the Vietnamese stood and fought very well.

General Wheeler said he agreed. He called attention to a page one story in the New York Times which was quite misleading in that it left the impression that the Viet Cong had achieved a major victory over the Vietnamese. Viet Cong losses in this battle were sizable. A1though the week has been bloody, it has been pretty successful for the Vietnamese. Among the military advisers there is a growing sense of accomplishment even though the war is hotting up. The Viet Cong forces are tending now to stand and fight harder but the Vietnamese are also fighting much better. We should be encouraged by the progress which was being made.

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Secretary McNamara said he was impressed by two things, one, our restriction on funds, and two, our restriction on people. As to funds, he thought we were unduly conservative. We are keeping the Vietnamese under too much financial pressure by insisting that they pay for certain projects, They are not doing things they should be doing because they do not have sufficient funds. This is especially true in the difficult areas where we should be building the infrastructure, such as schools and roads, because the Vietnamese cannot do so. As to the restrictions on people, we do not have enough U.S. civilian advisers to show the Vietnamese how to do some of the things they should be doing.

Secretary Rusk said that because of the critical security problems in many areas, we have been concentrating on military activity. The result is that we tend to take for granted the provinces which have been pacified. We should be building up the pacified provinces and exploiting our opportunity to carry on activities helpful to the people, such as providing doctors and schools, etc.

Secretary McNamara said that to accomplish its task AID had one-fourth of the people that the military had to accomplish its objective. We may be wasting some people and some money in Vietnam, but this is unimportant because of the critical nature of the task. The country team is too restrictive. AID is doing a great job and the AID people are true heroes, but there are too few AID people.

Director Bell acknowledged that neither money nor people should stand in the way of our achieving our objectives in Vietnam. However, AID officials in the provinces are not asking for more U.S. citizens, but they want people from third countries, especially Filipinos. AID is trying to get in third country people and is currently engaged in recruiting many of them. However, Ambassador Lodge has limited the number of people that AID could send.

Secretary McNamara acknowledged that Lodge had done this and it was an attitude of mind of his. Despite this, we need many more people in Vietnam.

Assistant Secretary Bundy interjected to say that Lodge had recently changed his mind on this point.

Director Bell said that he had instructed American officials to ask for what they need. He added, however, that the Vietnamese must do the job. What we need is more Vietnamese who exercise leadership rather than more Americans. We must keep the heat on the Vietnamese to do the job themselves.

Secretary McNamara said we can’t find enough Vietnamese. He said we need a great deal more training by USIA. We need an increased program for the civil administration school. Director Bell said that in addition to numbers we need Vietnamese leaders and administrators. [Page 261] Secretary McNamara said there appeared to be a new mood in Saigon which would result in Vietnamese being used more extensively.

Secretary McNamara said we were right on the margin in Vietnam and that he could not guarantee that we would still be there six months or twelve months from now. Therefore, we should pour in resources now even if some of them are wasted because of the terrific cost that would be involved if we had to use U.S. forces. He said the Defense Department, with its $50 million budget, must somehow be used effectively in Vietnam.

Mr. Rowan commented that there was a joint U.S.-Vietnamese plan which called for a field service center. Nothing had been done because more people were required to organize this center. USIA is now sending people to help the Vietnamese organize radio programs aimed at North Vietnam.

Mr. Rowan said he had had long discussions with U.S. correspondents in Saigon. He asked why they did not write affirmative stories and why their leads could not be on Viet Cong losses rather than on Vietnamese losses. He said the correspondents complained that they were not being helped; for example, that military information officers are not even in their offices on weekends. Mr. Rowan added that the USIA chief there could not be very helpful because he had been told by Ambassador Lodge that he should have no contacts with the press since the Ambassador would handle all such contacts, as he had always done in his long government experience.

Secretary McNamara said that we were just now getting organized to aim black broadcasts into North Vietnam. White broadcasts were not yet being made. He expressed irritation at the length of time that it took to get these broadcasts organized primarily because of a lack of radio programmers and Vietnamese technicians.

Director Bell said that up until recently he had been unable to use former Peace Corps Volunteers in Vietnam. He had just succeeded in reaching agreement that former Peace Corps Volunteers could be recruited by AID and used throughout the world, including Vietnam.

Secretary McNamara said we need up to 200 more civilians in Vietnam now. He was prepared to take out one military person for each civilian added. He has made military personnel available to AID, allowing them to work in civilian clothes. In his view, only one-fourth of the civilians needed by AID in the provinces are now there.

Secretary Rusk called attention to the importance of providing basic health services for the Vietnamese. He cited simplified methods being used successfully by AID and suggested that military health officers and doctors be allowed to work with the Vietnamese.

Mr. Sullivan commented that we are asking our allies, especially the Filipinos, to make available civilians for service in Vietnam.

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Secretary McNamara said he wished to cite another illustration, namely, the Vietnamese coastal railroad. If we spend enough money we can get this railroad running even though the Viet Cong continues to sabotage it. We are pouring money into Korea which is not now critical and we are not spending enough in Vietnam.

Secretary Rusk agreed that we need a rapid expansion of our programs and should not consider a money limitation.

Mr. McGeorge Bundy suggested that a telegram containing the new proposals be sent to Ambassador Lodge.3 So far, we have asked for his approval on all matters and have been successful in persuading him to go along with Washington proposals. We should continue our method of persuasion.

Secretary Rusk noted that if we go in with new expanded programs we might prompt the French, as well as Sihanouk, to change their attitude of pessimism.

General Wheeler said he wished to comment that in his view more military personnel would be required in Vietnam shortly. More air forces will probably be required as well. We will have to train more people and this is difficult to do.

The President joined the meeting. Secretary Rusk suggested that Assistant Secretary Bundy report on his trip to Laos.

[Here follow William Bundy’s briefing on Laos and discussion of cutbacks in nuclear production.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings, Vol. 1, Tab 9. Top Secret
  2. Document 122.
  3. Apparent reference to Document 129.