156. Summary Record of the 532d Meeting of the National Security Council1

The agenda of the meeting, which included presentations on U.S. assistance to Indonesia and U.S. policy toward Panama, was cancelled. The bipartisan Congressional leaders had been invited by the President to attend the Council session to hear reports by Secretaries Rusk and McNamara.

[Here follows Rusk’s brief summary of the NATO meeting he attended with specific reference to France and Cyprus.]

3. United Nations—A report on what we are doing in South Vietnam accompanied by a plea to the NATO members to assist in the effort against the Viet Cong. About half a dozen States may register their presence in South Vietnam. It is important that more flags appear in South Vietnam. The contribution which additional states will make helps the war effort but also has a beneficial effect on the morale of the South Vietnamese government. The resistance among NATO members to assisting in Vietnam is an echo of the past and recalls colonial disputes in which European nations believe we worked against them.

[Here follow discussion by Rusk of the U.S. position on overflights of Cuba as presented at the NATO meeting and his brief summary of NATO discussions concerning tripartite talks on German reunification.]

Secretary McNamara then summarized the report he had prepared following his most recent visit to South Vietnam.

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1. The situation in South Vietnam has worsened since his last visit. The number of people under Viet Cong control’ and the amount of Vietnamese territory they control is increasing. The Viet Cong holds the initiative in the military action. The Khanh government is fragmented and a religious crisis is brewing. South Vietnamese efforts involve clear and hold exercises, the oil spot program, and pacification programs. Khanh controls eight out of fourteen million South Vietnamese. His major problem is not military but civilian and religious. He does not feel that he should strike north before his security situation in the south is improved, possibly by this Fall. No strike to the north is required now, but there may be a psychological requirement to hit North Vietnam at a later time. He feels that because the reaction of the Communists to an attack on North Vietnam is unknown, he must have a U.S. guarantee of protection, i.e., the introduction of U.S. forces, before such an attack is initiated.

In response to the President’s question, General Taylor said that if we attack North Vietnam, there would be a strong reaction by the Viet Cong in the south. It is difficult to estimate what the North Vietnamese and the Chinese Communists would do. The Chinese Communists could intervene but probably would not. The larger the U.S. attack, the greater chance of Communist reaction. The level of the attack would be the determining factor on the Communist reaction.

The President pointed out that Khanh’s support of any attack on North Vietnam would be essential.

Secretary McNamara said that the most important thing to do now is to back Khanh solidly. He suggested that we could help Khanh in the following ways:

Increase the South Vietnamese force level.
Help get his budget approved and implemented.
Provide financial support to ensure the stability of the South Vietnamese economy. More foreign aid in 1965 will be needed, as well as additional military equipment.
Train Vietnamese pilots in order to provide crews for the increased number of U.S. planes which we should send to Vietnam.

In answer to a question, Secretary McNamara said that U.S. military personnel would be training Vietnamese and would not be in combat. However, U.S. men are exposed to fire on the ground and in the air during their training time. He referred to Jungle Jim, an Air Force program to train a Vietnamese force for counterguerrilla activity. As to U.S. planes given to the Vietnamese earlier, he said there was a sound case for sending the T–28s. Propeller-driven planes are more appropriate to Vietnam than jets. The size of the airfields is small. The T–28s had been used to provide air cover for helicopters. U.S. experts agree that the T–28s are the best type of plane for the Vietnamese war. Fatalities were low, considering the large number of sorties flown.

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Secretary McNamara said, in summary, that we would be obliged to increase our previous level of economic and military assistance. In answer to Senator Dirksen’s question, Director Bell said total U.S. assistance amounted to about $500 million a year.

Senator Dirksen recalled Secretary McNamara’s earlier report to the Congressional group2 and asked whether the Vietnamese had been able to enlist or conscript the additional soldiers called for under their program. Secretary McNamara said the present goal is 75,000 more men by the end of the year. In fact, 150,000 recruits are needed but it is unlikely that this number will be obtained.

In answer to a question by Senator Dirksen as to the effect of our increased assistance on the economy of South Vietnam, both Secretary McNamara and Mr. Bell agreed that the effect would be little. This year’s rice crop is expected to be good.

In answer to Senator Dirksen’s question about the Cambodian border incident,3 Secretary McNamara said it was very difficult to determine the specific facts. Apparently there were two different incidents involving the crossing of the border by South Vietnamese. Secretary Rusk added that the Viet Cong felt free to move across the border into Cambodia. He added that we may try to use the Cambodian appeal to the UN to get UN observers on the Cambodia/South Vietnam border. Director McCone noted that both sides have crossed and recrossed the border. These crossings are not deep and are in areas where the border is not clearly identified.

The President summarized the McNamara report by saying that the situation in South Vietnam was deteriorating and caused us to be extremely alarmed. The religious situation is explosive. A great effort will be necessary to turn the tide back to our side.

Senator Saltonstall asked whether U.S. soldiers will be engaged in fighting under the new program. He also asked whether U.S. planes were being adequately maintained, adding that many people had expressed their concern to him on this point.

Secretary McNamara replied that U.S. soldiers are not engaged in combat except in the course of their training Vietnamese. The number of our fighter pilots in South Vietnam has not been greatly increased. The bulk of the air effort is by South Vietnamese forces and does not involve exposing our men.

Congressman Jensen asked whether our allies are helping us. He wanted to know why the U.S. is carrying so much of the load and why our allies can not be forced to contribute more.

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Secretary Rusk replied that we are carrying almost all of the load but are getting some assistance from Germany, France, the U.K. and Australia. The U.K., however, is involved in Borneo and in Malaysia. Some twenty nations have been asked to help us in South Vietnam.

Congressman Jensen made clear that he thought we are merely puttering around instead of launching a campaign against the Red Chinese. He is convinced that we have to deal with the Red Chinese. He is unhappy because he believes our allies really do not give a damn about Communist aggression in Southeast Asia.

Secretary McNamara repeated his view that effective action must be taken in South Vietnam. Attacks on North Vietnam may become necessary, but our purpose would be to make possible the carrying out of present programs in South Vietnam. The Viet Cong is being hurt in South Vietnam now. We are trying to get our allies to help, but many of them have severe limitations. However, the Australian effort is much too small. Because their entire defense budget is so low, the Australians would be able to put only a token force in South Vietnam.

Secretary Rusk pointed out that Prime Minister Menzies can now increase his defense budget because, in a recent election, he gained sufficient additional political support to make this action possible.

Congresswoman Bolton asked when we began training South Vietnamese pilots. Secretary McNamara replied in January 1962. He added that in two and one-fourth years twenty-eight U.S. lives have been lost, but that Vietnamese sorties had increased eight times. He cited additional facts to refute criticism that the Vietnamese are not fighting and that U.S. soldiers are actually carrying on the war.

When Secretary McNamara finished, Mrs. Bolton requested that his information be made public. She said she is getting a tremendous amount of mail criticizing our actions in South Vietnam. Secretary McNamara said we are making the information he had summarized available to the public and he had given some of it during his testimony before Congressional committees.

In response to a question from Senator Dirksen as to the location of the Seventh Fleet, Secretary McNamara said elements of the Fleet are off the coast of South Vietnam, within forty-eight hours steaming time of Saigon.

In response to a question by Senator Dirksen as to whether Communist China is increasing the number of weapons shipped to South Vietnam, Secretary McNamara replied that there had been no increase in weapon shipments above the March level.

Senator Dirksen asked for a description of the routes of supply from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. Secretary McNamara described several of the routes, adding that 90–95% of Viet Cong forces are recruited in South Vietnam. Only cadres are sent from North Vietnam.

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Speaker McCormack said that the Administration was doing everything it could to get help from our allies. He pointed out that if South Vietnam goes, all of Southeast Asia will fall to the Communists. It is in our national interest to keep Southeast Asia non-Communist.

Congressman Jensen agreed that the U.S. has an interest in Southeast Asia but firmly restated his view that so do others who are not now helping us. He asked about the position of Thailand.

Secretary Rusk replied that Thailand is focusing on the problem in Laos and has moved some of its forces to northeast Thailand. This helps the situation in South Vietnam. In addition, the Thais are worried about the activity of Sihanouk. The South Vietnamese do not want Thai forces in their territory. The Thais are giving us good political support, but we have not pressed them to send military forces to South Vietnam.

Secretary Rusk called attention to the fact that the Vietnamese problem is ten years old. We have been committed to help Vietnam remain independent since 1954. In 1959, U.S. aid to Vietnam was increased when it became clear that Hanoi was intensifying its efforts to overthrow the South Vietnamese government.

The President said that a request for a supplemental appropriation to pay for increased economic and military assistance to South Vietnam would come from the Bureau of the Budget to the National Security Council and then be sent to Congress. The amount required was more than could be covered by the contingency fund. The specific amount was not yet known. The President requested that information on this point not be made public

Senator Saltonstall asked what could be said. The President replied that we would say that Congressional leaders had been asked to attend the National Security Council meeting to hear a briefing by Secretaries Rusk and McNamara. It was clear that more U.S. funds would be required for the Vietnamese program, but no details should be given out because they were still considered confidential.

In response to a question, Secretary McNamara said that Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins were in full agreement that more U.S. effort was needed in South Vietnam.

The President concluded the meeting by commenting that even with increased U.S. aid the prospect in South Vietnam is not bright.

Bromley Smith 4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings, Vol. 11, Tab 4. Top Secret. Drafted by Bromley Smith. A list of attendees is ibid,. Memos to the President. McGeorge Bundy, Vol. 4.
  2. See Document 107.
  3. Reference is to a South Vietnamese armed incursion of Cambodia on May 7 and 8 in pursuit of the Viet Cong. (Memorandum from Samuel E. Belk to McGeorge Bundy, May 15; Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. IX)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.