174. Special National Intelligence Estimate1

SNIE 50–2–64


The Problem

To estimate the consequences of certain US and US-sponsored actions against North Vietnam and Communist-held Laos, the objectives of which would be to induce the DRV to bring about a major reduction of Viet Cong insurrectionary activity in South Vietnam and to respect the 1962 Geneva agreement on Laos.


The actions to be taken, primarily air and naval, would begin with GVN (US-assisted) operations against the DRV and Communist-held Laos, and might subsequently involve overt US military actions. They would be on a graduated scale of intensity, ranging from reconnaissance, threats, cross-border operations, and limited strikes on logistical targets supporting DRV efforts in South Vietnam and Laos, to strike (if necessary) on a growing number of military and economic targets in the DRV. In the absence of all-out attacks by the DRV or Communist China, the measures foreseen would not involve attacks on population centers or resort to nuclear weapons.
That these actions would be accompanied by these US moves:
Through various channels, conveying the limited nature of US intentions to Hanoi, Peiping, and Moscow.
Stationing initially some 5,000 US combat troops and certain additional air elements in northeastern Thailand, with a possible increase at a later stage.
Giving the enemy tangible evidence of US seriousness of purpose by readying and deploying strong US strike units—naval, air, and ground assault—to the Western Pacific and the South China Sea.
Providing increased military support, including air defenses, to South Vietnam. Further, stiffening over-all GVN military and administrative capabilities by the infusion of substantial additional US personnel.
Acting diplomatically to avert a new Geneva conference, at least until it was judged that the above actions had improved the bargaining position of the US and its associates.


DRV reactions to US reparatory and low-scale actions-force deployments, serious threats, or GVN/Farmgate attacks on outlying targets in Communist-held Laos or in the DRV-would probably be to rouse world opinion against the US, hoping that a new Geneva conference or UN action would result and bring a cessation of attacks. We think that the DRV, while taking various precautionary measures, would order the VC and PL to refrain from dramatic new attacks, and might reduce the level of the insurrections for the moment. Communist China and the USSR would both support this course. The Communists would probably indicate that the outcome of a conference should be to stabilize the situation in South Vietnam and Laos. Their intention, however, would be to preserve Communist gains and assets in these two countries and to resume the insurrectionary campaigns at a later date.
If these initial responses did not succeed, and attacks on North Vietnam continued, it is likely that the Communists would intensify their political action efforts against the US course. Hanoi might intermittently step up the tempo of the insurrections in South Vietnam and Laos, while still seeking a negotiated settlement. If these tactics, too, failed, the scale of attacks broadened, and North Vietnam began to suffer considerable destruction, the DRV leaders would have to ask themselves whether the tactics they were pursuing were worth the destruction of their country. We are unable to set any meaningful odds for the course DRV leaders would adopt at this juncture, though we incline to the view that they would lower their terms for a negotiated outcome; they would do so in the interests of preserving their regime and in the expectation of being able to renew the insurrections in South Vietnam and Laos at a later date. There would nevertheless be a significant danger that they would fight, believing that the US would still not be willing to undertake a major ground war, or that if it was, it could ultimately be defeated by the methods which were successful against the French.
Communist China almost certainly would not wish to become involved in hostilities with US forces. It would accordingly proceed with caution, and though it would make various threatening gestures, would not risk any major ground action unless US forces attacked Chinese territory or US ground forces moved deep into the DRV. We believe that the USSR would refrain from military actions in the area, and would not provoke a major crisis with the US elsewhere. Its primary concern would be to exert its influence in a manner to insure a negotiated settlement.
Clear-cut achievement of the US objectives as stated in the Problem would signify not that the Communist threat in Southeast Asia was removed, but simply that time had been gained for further constructive action to deal with the threat. The US commitment would in itself improve anti-Communist morale and improve the chances for such action. On the other hand, to the degree that the consequences of the US action were ambiguous or unsuccessful, there would almost certainly be a strong tendency for morale and discipline in South Vietnam and Laos to deteriorate rapidly-perhaps more rapidly than if the US had not begun its intensified effort. The deterioration would be felt generally through non-Communist Asia.

[Here follows the “Discussion” section.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. X, Memos. Top Secret; Limited Distribution; Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the cover sheet, the CIA, the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, and NSA participated in the preparation of this estimate. This estimate was submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence and concurred in by the U.S. Intelligence Board, with the Directors of INR, DIA, and NSA concurring and the representative of the AEC and the Assistant Director of the FBI abstaining on the grounds that the subject was outside their jurisdiction. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1978, 30A.
  2. These assumptions have been given to the intelligence community for the purpose of this estimate and are not meant to represent the full range of options open to the US. The intelligence community is not asked to assess the consequences either (1) of undertaking other broad courses, or (2) of not undertaking the general course discussed in this estimate. [Footnote in the source text.]