168. Memorandum From the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant for Vietnam (Sullivan) to the Secretary of State 1


  • Consultations with the Canadians

The Canadian Embassy has, with some insistence, scheduled my visit to Ottawa for Thursday May 28. I, therefore, plan to depart in the afternoon of May 27 and return in the morning of May 29. I will be accompanied by Mr. Chester Cooper of CIA.

Attached is a draft talking paper which builds upon your original cables to Lodge concerning the terms of reference for the Canadian interlocutor. While it does not accept Lodge’s suggestions concerning “punishment of North Viet Nam” it does expound upon the massive military power of the United States available in the area and the vulnerability of North Viet Nam should that power be brought into play.

I would be most appreciative if I could have your approval or revision of this paper prior to May 27. Mr. Ball and Mr. Bundy have already reviewed and approved it.2

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  • Talking Paper for Canadians

It is our hope that Commissioner Seaborn, upon assuming his new duties in Viet Nam, will place much greater stress than heretofore upon the nature and frequency of Canadian contacts in Hanoi. Since Seaborn has had considerable experience in Communist countries, he should know the means to establish useful arrangements in Hanoi which will bring him into touch with significant officials of the North Vietnamese Regime. He should make it clear to these officials that he is a political personality who can be dealt with and is not merely an observer who functions as a customs inspector.

In the course of his initial rounds in Hanoi Seaborn should express considerable interest in attempting to understand the North Vietnamese motivations for their policy in South Viet Nam. He should perhaps begin by giving all North Vietnamese officials who so desire an adequate opportunity to express not only their policies but their various complaints and the rationale for the course of action they are pursuing.

In the course of these discussions, Seaborn should attempt to determine what the state of mind is among the various high functionaries in Hanoi. He should specifically be alert to:

Differences in attitude with respect to the Sino-Soviet split;
Frustration or war weariness with the slowness of the effort in the South;
Indications of the North Vietnamese desire for trade or other contacts with Western nations;
Evidences of cliques or factions within the Party and Governmental apparatus; and
Evidences of differing points of view between the political cadres and the military group.

Seaborn should additionally seek to develop the best information concerning the prevalence and the importance of the Chinese Communist presence in North Viet Nam. While it may not be possible for him to develop direct contacts with the Chinese Communist representation there he should learn as much as he can about the nature of that representation and particularly its relationship to other official representatives in Hanoi. Drawing upon his Moscow experience [he] ought to be able to establish contact with the Soviet Ambassador in Hanoi and draw him out on his evaluation of both domestic and international issues affecting the North Vietnamese regime.

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In addition to these efforts, Seaborn should also establish himself as the authority upon United States motivations and policies. He should use every convincing evidence, including his discussions with United States officials in Saigon, to present to the North Vietnamese the full measure of the United States commitment to South Viet Nam. He should make clear that the United States views the problem in South Viet Nam as something which affects its policies and its stature throughout the entire world. Because the United States holds this view he should make it resoundingly clear that we do intend to see the problem through in Viet Nam and not withdraw ignominiously. He should carefully and deliberately stipulate that, if it becomes necessary for the United States to choose an alternative to the course it is now pursuing, that alternative would be in the direction of enlarging the military action and escalating direct pressure against North Viet Nam. He should draw on examples of United States actions in other parts of the world and in other circumstances to underline this statement.

At the same time, he should make clear the limitations of United States ambitions in Southeast Asia. He should specifically state that the United States seeks no military bases or other permanent installations in that area. Our purpose instead is to assure that the South Vietnamese are able to live independently free from external aggression. He should point out that we know that the aggression against South Viet Nam is directed and controlled from Hanoi. He should state that we hold Hanoi directly responsible for the guerrilla action in South Viet Nam.

He should state that the United States evaluation of North Vietnamese intentions suggests that Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh truly hope to succeed to the territorial control exercised by France in its colonial regime over the Indo-Chinese states. He should therefore emphasize that the United States holds North Viet Nam responsible, in the execution of this ambition, for the evidences of Communist subversion and terror throughout all the Indo-Chinese states. He should specify that we have convincing evidence of North Vietnamese presence in Laos and participation in the aggressive actions against Souvanna Phouma’s Government. He should also stress that we are aware of flagrant North Vietnamese violations of Laotian territories in the course of infiltrating personnel and material into South Viet Nam. He can if he chooses use Wilfred Burchette’s public journalistic accounts of his use of the Ho Chi Minh trail complex in his clandestine trips into South Viet Nam. Finally he should stress the fact of our awareness that Viet Cong units under North Vietnamese control regularly and frequently violate Cambodian territory and constitute an irritating factor in the Cambodian-Vietnamese border region.

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He should underline the nature and the purpose of United States commitments in Southeast Asia. In doing this he should stress that our conviction is that Laos, Cambodia, and South Viet Nam have every right to be maintained free from the application of communist subversion. He should state that we believe these countries do not have the means within their own resources to resist this type of aggression but that the United States is determined to provide those means. He should point out that this is a matter of far greater significance to the United States than the parochial concerns of Southeast Asia. The United States, like the Chinese, understands the “three continent” approach that is inherent in the application of the Chinese doctrine of insurgency. Therefore, the position of the United States in Latin America and Africa, as well as the rest of Asia, is affected by the outcome of events in Southeast Asia. Consequently the United States does not view the Communist territorial nibblings in the scope of their immediate effect. The United States has long since become sophisticated in the doctrine of communist insurgency and indeed has developed a doctrine of counterinsurgency which it fully intends to apply to this area.

Seaborn can draw, however, upon many other examples of United States policy in other parts of the world to convince the North Vietnamese that we do generally accept the practice of peaceful coexistence and that we do tolerate “national Communism” as a fixture which it is not our purpose to subvert. The example of Tito, and our response to some of the recent stirrings in the East European Bloc may be used for this purpose. He could even go further to demonstrate that our policy encompasses the occasional provision of economic assistance, particularly food stuffs. He should cite the PL-480 agreements with Yugoslavia and specifically with Poland.

This sort of statement should be coupled with the frank acknowledgment that both official and public patience with North Vietnamese aggression is growing extremely thin. He should point out the bipartisan nature of this impatience in the United States and should stipulate that the existence of an election campaign in this country cannot be taken as the existence of a policy vacuum into which communist aggression can move at will. Hopefully, prior to Seaborn’s initial approaches with the North Vietnamese, tangible manifestations of this fact will have been made in the Congress and should be drawn upon to underline this point.

Insofar as Seaborn considers that it might be educational, he could review some of the military strength of the United States immediately available to the area of Southeast Asia and could graphically suggest the overwhelming ratio of forces which might be thrown against North Viet Nam if the United States crossed the Rubicon and decided upon a military punishment to North Vietnamese intervention. At the [Page 355] same time he might wish to indicate the well-known vulnerabilities of the North Vietnamese to American military power and the incapacity of the Chinese Communists to assist in resistance to this military power. In whatever manner he deemed most effective, Seaborn could paint a picture of the absolute havoc that would result in North Viet Nam if United States military power were brought to bear or indeed if North Viet Nam became a battlefield between United States and Chinese Communist military forces.

Again he could contrast this circumstance with the prospects that North Viet Nam could have for developing its own existence using not only resources indigenously available to it but also resources which could be introduced into a development of North Viet Nam both by foreign trade and by some degree of external technical assistance, perhaps even including assistance from international organizations and agencies.

In addition to these activities, which would be directed primarily toward North Vietnamese officials, Seaborn could apply his Eastern European experience to the cultivation of indirect influences, particularly with the Soviets and the Poles. In tracing some of the same general outlines suggested for his discussions with the North Vietnamese, Seaborn could elaborate with the Soviet and Polish representatives in an effort not only to have them use their influence upon North Vietnamese but also to modify their current actions with respect to the Geneva Agreements. Specifically, he should seek to convince the Pole that it is in Poland’s interest to disassociate itself from the reckless and irresponsible aggressive actions of the North Vietnamese. If the Pole can be convinced to vote even occasionally (perhaps not significantly) with the Indian and Canadian Commissioners on minor investigatory actions against North Vietnamese or Viet Cong violations, this would be progress.

In sum, the purpose of Seaborn’s mission in the North would be as an interlocutor with both active and passive functions. On the active side he should establish his credentials with the North Vietnamese and incidently with the East Europeans as an authoritative channel of communication with the United States. On the passive side he should function as a channel which could bring back either observances or direct communications concerning the North Vietnamese attitude toward extrication from or escalation of military activities. In each of his functions Seaborn should assume the posture that the decision as to the future course of events in Southeast Asia rests squarely with Hanoi and that the United States is looking to Hanoi for the signal which will determine the nature of events to ensue in Southeast Asia.

  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Negotiating Files: Lot 69 D 412, Vietnam Negotiations, Seaborn. Top Secret.
  2. No revisions have been found.
  3. Top Secret. Drafted by Sullivan on May 22.