187. Summary Record of a Meeting1
I. OPENING PLENARY SESSION TO REVIEW THE SITUATION IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Secretary Rusk opened the meeting by stating that the purpose this morning was to assess the situation in Southeast Asia as it exists today. He was seeking information as to where we stand and what are the problem areas which would have a bearing on future policy decisions.
A. South Vietnam
General review of the political situation. Ambassador Lodge opened the discussion with an over-all review of the situation in South Vietnam. He characterized it as being still generally unsatisfactory. He does not think that General Khanh has actually extended government control over an additional two million more Vietnamese as he recently claimed. Long An and Hai Nghia are two particularly bad provinces. While the intensity of GVN activity has stepped up, the VC have also increased the level of their operations with the result that such gains as GVN has achieved have been offset by the VC.
Within Saigon the police are as effective as they have ever been in maintaining internal security, yet more Americans are being killed there all the time. This is due, of course to a greater level of VC activity in the capital City.[Page 413]
When discussing Vietnam it must be remembered that we are not talking about a unified country in any sense of the word. Internal divisions are manifold. It is a country where many discordant elements live together. Catholics, Buddhists, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, Montagnards, etc. It is characterized by a general lack of patriotism and public spirit. In a sense, it is a case of every man for himself with the Devil taking the hindmost. With this as a background, we have to remember that what America is trying to do is to pull this undeveloped country into the 20th Century as fast as we can.
Although we were able to get through Buddha’s birthday on May 26 without serious incidents, the possibility of religious trouble is always present. Credit for getting over this anniversary was due primarily to General Khanh’s patience and hard work with both Catholic and Buddhist leaders, as well as extensive activity by the Embassy.
All in all, it would not be prudent for us to think that the situation in South Vietnam can be expected to improve in the near future without our introducing something new and significant into the equation.
General Khanh has managed to halt the general deterioration of political stability in the country which began with the 8 May 1963 Buddhist disorders in Hue. He has injected new pep into the army. He travels around the country making a major effort to give the general population a psychological “shot in the arm” and raise their morale. He is trying to build up the strength and esprit of the Civil Guard and the SDC. He is giving command emphasis to the problem of improving the over-all psychological attitude of the people and is making some headway in this regard. He appears to have emerged successfully from the religious crisis stemming from discrimination against the Buddhists, which he inherited from the Diem regime, and recently seems to have gotten himself “off the hook” on the crisis of the four generals, although here he has exchanged one political problem for another political problem of a different character. He has released the generals from prison and has constituted them into a special staff to work together in Dalat. Of course these four are under surveillance 24 hours a day, but at least they are not under lock and key. In general, Ambassador Lodge’s assessment of Khanh was that he is an able man, who like his country has high potential.
In assessing the release of the generals, Ambassador Lodge felt that they were well under control at present, that they had no possibility of organizing a coup in the near future, that their popularity in the Army seemed to be exaggerated, and that in any event, General Khanh had a sufficient following within the RVNAF to keep him in power.[Page 414]
Secretary Rusk asked if there seemed to be any widespread feeling in South Vietnam in support of the Communist aims; was there any general revolutionary movement among the population with direct loyalty to Hanoi? Ambassador Lodge said he did not think so. A number of Vietnamese consider Ho Chi Minh a great leader, but any support for the VC in the country-side is a direct result of their terrorism campaign which is extremely effective. As soon as some “counterterrorism measures” can be initiated by the GVN, we can expect to see this popular support for the VC change. By counter-terrorism measures, Ambassador Lodge explained that he did not mean indiscriminate saturation bombing of North Vietnam. That would have a bad effect on public opinion in the South. However, he is convinced that the South Vietnamese would welcome a selective bombing campaign against military targets in the North. This would bolster morale and give the population in the South a feeling of unity and a sense of accomplishing something in the war.
Secretary Rusk asked if there were any private groups or popular movements in the GVN that could be persuaded to come out publicly in support for the government program and if there were, what would be the best way to get them to speak out? Ambassador Lodge said that the strongest anti-Communist group in South Vietnam is the Catholics. In his judgment this would have to be the core around which a really effective anti-Communist political force would be built. The Hoa Hao and Cao Dai are also influential groups totaling from two to three million people. At present they support General Khanh. The Buddhists, while they have never denounced the VC publicly, still have been able to prevent the VC from seriously infiltrating their ranks. Both the Buddhist and Catholic leadership are cautious about taking a public position against the VC for fear that their priests and bonzes in the villages might become targets for VC terrorist attacks. There is also Mr. Buu’s labor union, as well as numbers of rice farmers and rubber plantation workers. The latter two labor groups can be expected to follow the lead of Mr. Buu and his union. As far as “political parties” in South Vietnam are concerned, there are only two of any importance, the Dai Viet and the VNQDD. Both of these are relatively small groups most of whom are personal friends. Some have returned only recently from exile in France. Neither are political parties in the U.S. sense of the word. They have no appeal to the masses or any real mass base.
Secretary Rusk asked if United States had any inventory of trained Vietnamese personnel living outside of Vietnam. Ambassador Lodge stated that General Khanh knew of some that he would like to bring back, however past experience with this type of intelligentsia has not been overly successful. The problem is that when they return to Vietnam they generally feel they have not been given high enough [Page 415] positions to warrant their remaining. GVN has asked UNESCO to survey this personnel problem and it is hoped that a specific placement program for this type of trained Vietnamese can be developed. Mr. Colby pointed out that there were a couple of hundred thousand Vietnamese living in France as French citizens. However, very few of these are particularly interested in returning to South Vietnam and we cannot expect to find many recruits among them. In fact Ambassador Lodge pointed out that more and more of the educated Vietnamese are leaving the country to seek their future elsewhere.
Mr. McCone asked if there was not some political approach that might be made to the Vietnamese leadership which would cause them to put aside their differences for the duration of the war and work together in a unified way against the VC. Ambassador Lodge said there was more national spirit today than there was five years ago. He was of the opinion that if we bombed Tchepone or attacked the Swatow boats and the Vietnamese people knew about it, this would tend to stimulate their morale, unify their efforts and reduce the quarreling among themselves as it would focus their attention on a common enemy and enable Khanh to make more effective his appeal to put the whole country on a war footing. Ambassador Lodge stated that the Papal Delegate in SVN and Archbishop Binh of Saigon were both good men. On the Buddhist side he said that the Venerable Tam Chau is a good man, and that Tri Quang is a natural politician and a very important man in the country. Ambassador Lodge has tried to impress upon Tri Quang the importance of sharing a more active responsibility for the fate of his country. He has told Tri Quang that he could be a world figure if he was prepared to step forward and assume a greater responsibility for events.
Secretary Rusk asked if there was any major personality or leader on the Vietnamese scene. Ambassador Lodge said that he did not see any. Aside from General Khanh himself, there is always “Big” Minh, but in Lodge’s judgment the latter fills the bill of a natural leader even less today than he did in the early days of the war. The most prominent figure, Deputy Prime Minister Hoan, does not have any substantial personal following either.
Secretary Rusk asked if there would be any merit in the suggestion that the Office of the Chief of State might be made more important and used in some way to create a greater sense of Buddhist and Catholic unity. Ambassador Lodge has already explained to Khanh that the art of politics was the art of inclusion, not exclusion of divergent views. Khanh has made a real effort to include both Catholic and Buddhist and other elements in high positions in government today. In fact he has done about as much as he can to bring together all points of view. The Ambassador’s feeling was that it would be better to leave [Page 416] things as they are for the time being and not try to inject a new emphasis on the Chief of State role or reorganize the government. It seemed preferable to leave the Ministers where they were and to work around them if necessary.
Secretary Rusk asked if General Khanh himself felt the situation had deteriorated since he took office. Ambassador Lodge said no. Khanh thinks that what has happened is that both sides have stepped-up the intensity of their activities. This applies not only to in-country VC activities, but external factors also.
Secretary McNamara expressed concern that things were going badly in South Vietnam, citing desertion rate increases as a case in point. He was of the opinion that this unfavorable trend of events will not be reversed unless something new is injected into the situation to cause a change.
Secretary Rusk asked whether the general administrative ineffectiveness of the government was due to defective administrative procedures or poorly trained administrative personnel. Ambassador Lodge thought the fault lay in the antiquated administrative procedures, most of which were inherited from the French Civil Service System, rather than personnel. Mr. Manfull added that since the November coup, bureaucrats have been reluctant to assume responsibility for fear of another sudden change of administration. Moreover Vietnamese administrative personnel work on a different and much more leisurely time frame than we are accustomed to in the United States. As far as the administration in the country-side is concerned, there is the perennial problem of lack of trained personnel to work at the district, village and hamlet levels. We cannot look forward to any quick improvement in this area.
- Military and security situation: General Westmoreland presented a brief overview of the military situation in Vietnam under the subheadings of Control, Personnel Management, Resource Management and Operational Effectiveness. Control is important as both the goal and the measurement of success. Government control of rural population continued to decline during the first quarter of calendar year 1964. It fell from 79% on 31 December 1963 to 75% on 31 March 1964. But the rate of decline slowed and the trend in April started to rise slowly, yes—but this indicates that while the situation is grim, the prospects are not.
Hamlets of New Rural Life (formerly called Strategic Hamlets) as a program and reflection of Government control made gains in areas open to US impact where money and material could help. However, in the more significant aspects of control, i.e., mutual trust (in the government by the people and in the people by those in authority) there was a failure to meet objectives and an actual decline. This is best shown in the decline in the percent of MAP supported hamlet militia [Page 417] programmed to be armed which have actively been armed, and in the percent of completed hamlets having their authorized number of armed hamlet militia squads. No doubt the VC understood and exploited this situation because, although the trend line in VC attacks declined, the VC initiated incident line continued its upward course.
The brief analysis of selected indicators of control shows the need for long duration pacification operations to establish firm separation of the population from the VC and restore the confidence of the people in the ability and desire of the government to protect them from the VC.
A major problem facing MACV is that of personnel management in the Vietnamese Armed Forces. The review and analysis of the last quarter of year 1963 touched upon the demoralization of the middle level of management in the Vietnamese Armed Forces following the loss and replacement of military and civil leaders after the 1 November coup. Their discontentment when neither progress nor leadership materialized and the apathy when General Khanh took over on 30 January appeared to have reached the ordinary soldier in the first quarter of calendar year 1964 and the desertion rate rose in an alarming fashion. There are some indications of slight improvement. Volunteers in April-almost a thousand-exceeded the entire total for the first quarter 1964 and the increase in desertion rate slowed in April but the trend line continues to rise and points up the demoralization of the Armed Forces. The combat unit level is where the strength declines more rapidly than elsewhere because combat losses compound the desertion problem and could rob us of the means to execute a sound and comprehensive national pacification plan. This is the number one problem for joint GVN/US action.
Resource Management is one aspect of the military situation in Vietnam which is improving and improving at a steady rate. Forces are being allocated to weigh the critical provinces and major pacification efforts. General reserve forces have been released in greater numbers to Corps and the Corps have used them well. The 3rd Regiment was moved out of I Corps and used in the highly successful Ara Solour operation in III Corps. It is now engaged in supporting 7th Division pacification operations in Dinh Tuong Province. Two A1H fighter squadrons are coming into operational use with the third one scheduled to be flying before the end of the calendar year. Another step forward is the reorganization of the paramilitary forces. Decrees signed on 7 and 12 May redesignate the Civil Guard as Regional Force and the Self Defense Corps and Hamlet Militia as the Popular Force. The headquarters of both these forces are under the Ministry of Defense and command arrangements are provided for down to the subsector level.[Page 418]
As to operational effectiveness, massive US effort to accelerate the tempo of military operations has been successful in spite of the dislocations caused by two changes in government. Although there was a slight downward trend in air support caused by the training necessary for the activation of the third A1H squadron, the number of small unit operations tripled in the first quarter of this year and battalion size operations doubled. Battalion operations with contact rose to 58% also but small unit operations with contact declined and remains at about 2%.
Here we note a paradox. The number of GVN operations of all types rose dramatically above the rate of increase of VC initiated incidents, but there was no corresponding increase of population or area under Government control. In fact, Government control continued to decline. This establishes the fact that there is no direct relationship of between operating tempo and extension of control. Further, the failure to show an increase in the effectiveness of operations in terms of contact in small unit actions highlights the problem. If no contact indicates a VC disability incurred by increased presence of Government forces, why was there no corresponding increase in area and population under Government control?
The strength decline in the Armed Forces and high desertion rates in both the regular and paramilitary forces also need to be considered. Canvassing alternatives and integrating professional observations of the advisory effort, it is concluded that operations must be aimed at retention and extension of control and this means more clear and hold operations and fewer “safaris” with large formations which start from a secure area, sweep through a contested area, then return to a secure area-and with no lasting contribution to pacification. All things considered, there must be more attention to pacification oriented tasks together with carefully selected morale building attacks against the VC when the weight of good intelligence, planning and firepower are on the side of GVN forces. In short, the philosophy and concepts of the Chien Thang National Pacification Plan need to be translated into operational techniques.
One clear fact arises from this analysis. The GVN responded to the massive US advisory pressure to increase the tempo of operations. Therefore, there is good reason to believe that the GVN will respond to a massive, continuing US advisory program aimed at pacification-oriented operations which result in control. This will be the prime objective and the major theme for US advisory efforts in the months ahead.
In summary, General Westmoreland expressed the view that the entire military situation in Vietnam today is tenuous, but far from hopeless. We have developed a means for translating the good philosophy [Page 419] of the Chien Thang Plan into itemized requirements which wild guide planning and measure the progress of our efforts towards national pacification.
In response to a question by General Taylor, General Westmoreland indicated that the chain of command for pacification operations ran from General Khanh to General Khiem (the Secretary of Defense) to the Corps, the Divisions and then to the Provinces or Sectors
Secretary McNamara asked if there was a clear understanding on pacification matters as to the chain of command and responsibilities of the division commanders and the province chiefs. The discussion revealed that this matter had been clarified by General Khanh who had decided that the Division Commander would be in the chain.
General Westmoreland indicated that he had considered a possible elimination or reorientation of the III Corps headquarters with the 5th and 7th Divisions functioning as independent divisions for operations in the critical provinces in the heart of the country. He would give highest priority to pacification operations in the key areas immediately surrounding the capital and would defer any major effort in the IV Corps area until later.
Secretary McNamara said he would like to go back to General Westmoreland’s summary. For the sake of discussion, he thought we should consider the military situation worse than tenuous. It was approaching the hopeless category. Desertion rates are higher than ever, the GVN was falling behind in recruiting to meet any of the force goals agreed upon at our mid-March meeting. Morale in the armed forces is generally very poor and not getting any better. The GVN has yet to deploy adequate forces into the key provinces to meet the critical VC situation there. The three facts that seem to be unmistakably clear are: (1) An average of 17,000 new recruits per month are needed, but at present the rate is running around 1,000. (2) There is no evidence of any increase in either area or population under government control. (3) The administration of the overall pacification effort is very ineffective. As of today the GVN has only about 10–12 clear and hold operations underway in the whole country and the gist of the reports on all of these operations is that they are making little if any progress.
General Westmoreland stated that MACV had urged General Khanh to initiate an intensive recruiting campaign. Nevertheless, during the month of May the percentage recruited as compared to the goals indicated shortages of anywhere from 50 to 80%. There have been at least two instances where a group of draftees have elected to join the VC rather than the government. One of the propaganda themes of the VC is that Vietnamese who join their ranks will be able to remain at their homes and will not be sent to other parts of the [Page 420] country as is the case if they join the government. The fact of the matter is that the government is in serious competition with the VC for recruits.
General Westmoreland pointed out that it is easier to recruit for the Civil Guard and the SDC than it is for the regular Army as these units are not required to move from their home area. His idea is that an attempt should be made to recruit for the regular Army from the Civil Guard and SDC, taking personnel from those units who have indicated a desire to follow a military career. Regular troops could then be deployed around the country where needed. Regional and Popular Forces would be deployed as near where they were recruited as possible, with the mission of securing cleared areas.
Secretary Rusk noted that morale is generally considered to be a function of leadership. He asked for a report on measures being taken by General Khanh to improve the low morale. General Westmoreland cited General Khanh’s use of a more liberal promotion policy, better pay, and prompt recognition of valor by awarding medals to deserving soldiers. He went on to say that MACV studies indicated dependent housing is one of the key factors affecting Vietnamese Armed Forces morale and that MACV hoped to be able to submit specific recommendations on this problem within two weeks. Secretary Rusk said that if this would improve morale we should get on with it as soon as possible. He wondered, for example, if there would be any advantage in announcing some approval in principle of this idea within a week. General Westmoreland pointed out that any construction in Vietnam involved a lot of red tape and it would probably take at least six months to get anything going under the Vietnamese system. For that reason, MACV is even exploring the possibility of using U.S. prefabricated housing to cut down this time lag. Secretary Rusk said that this was something we should push through the planning stage as fast as possible so as to produce some tangible results quickly.
In response to a question from General Taylor as to whether the Vietnamese officers and soldiers are willing to fight, Ambassador Lodge provided the Secretary with a paper on this subject which had been prepared in Saigon.2
General Westmoreland distributed a “spread sheet” which indicated MACV’s concept as to how to translate the Chien Thang National Plan, which was soundly conceived, into specific actions. The chart includes three phases-Phase I, Clearing; Phase II, Securing; Phase III, Developing. Secretary Rusk asked what the difference was [Page 421] between a pacified area and a cleared area. General Westmoreland explained that a pacified area was one in which the VC infrastructure had been completely eliminated whereas a cleared area was one which had been swept clear of VC regular or guerrilla forces.
[Here follow sections entitled “South Vietnam, Economic situation and USOM status, Psychological factors and programs;” “Laos, The military situation, Political situation;” and “Thailand, Political situation and attitudes, Military appraisal.”]
D. North Vietnam.
1. The military situation: CINCPAC J2 presented a briefing on the North Vietnamese Armed Forces which currently include some 225,000 fighting troops.
Secretary McNamara asked if the North Vietnamese had any mode of transport for their divisions. The answer was that their divisions are not motorized in the U.S. sense and generally moved from one location to another by foot. Each division has some 150 2–1/2 ton trucks to move their supplies.
As to the general disposition of the PAVN deployments, the current order of battle indicates they are neither disposed for offense or defense but rather are deployed administratively as are U.S. forces in continental USA. The majority of their divisions are located in the Red River delta. Their Air Force consists of some 76 aircraft, forty of which are light transport. None are fighters or jets. There are five jet-capable airfields in North Vietnam. Ambassador Lodge observed that the current deployments of PAVN units seemed to be designed more to help the government maintain its control over the people than anything else.
General Taylor inquired as to the status of North Vietnamese air defense. He was told that it was relatively ineffective against high-flying jet aircraft but would be effective against helicopters and prop-aircraft. Although NVN AC&W system was overlapped by the Communist Chinese air defense system, there is no evidence to date that a combined North Vietnamese-Chinese Communist air defense control center has been established. It was pointed out that the AC&W and AAA were centered in the Hanoi-Haiphong industrial area.
With respect to possible air operations against North Vietnam, General Smart stated that our aircraft could probably go in and hit targets without any losses in an initial attack. Secretary McNamara emphasized that whatever air defenses the North Vietnamese may have, they are only effective where their guns are positioned. No missiles (SAM) are known to be located in NVN. They simply do not have the air defense resources to provide air defense for all their key targets. Consequently, it should certainly be possible to plan an air attack on targets in North Vietnam which would avoid running into [Page 422] their defended areas. Secretary McNamara asked that one of the working groups specifically examine the proposed target system in North Vietnam from the point of view of the North Vietnamese air defense capability.
Admiral Felt reminded everyone present that the North Vietnamese army did defeat the French and this fact has certainly not been forgotten by the Thais and the Lao. As far as these two countries are concerned, the Viet Minh soldier seems to be “one hundred feet tall”.
Secretary Rusk inquired whether there were any reports of ChiCom displacements of air units towards the South of China. He was told that no such reports had been received, however, the fact that the North Vietnamese possessed five jet-capable fields lends a ready potential for deployment of Chinese Communist jet aircraft to North Vietnam at some future date. Secretary Rusk brought the morning meeting to an end at 12:30 p.m. by reminding those present that there would be no statements made to the press today. Some form of communiqué would be issued at the end of the meeting and this would be a problem for Mr. Rowan’s working group to consider.
- Source: Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAMs. Top Secret. Prepared by CINCPAC. An attached list of partidpants is not printed. In all, 55 persons attended the conference. After this plenary session, a group of approximately 15 principals met in restricted discussions (see Documents 188 and 189). The rest of the participants formed four working groups, each to discuss one of the following issues: Program for wider actions; Matters pertaining to South Vietnam; Logistical support problems; and Psychological and informational actions. Summary reports of these working groups, prepared by CINCPAC, are not printed.↩
- Not found. In telegram 2336 from Saigon, May 28, Lodge asked the Department of State to inform McNamara that he had asked MACV to prepare a “definitive essay with detailed examples, facts and 6gures to support our claim that the Vietnamese are brave, effective fighters willing to sacrifice their lives in defense of their country.” Lodge hoped to bring it with him to Honolulu. (Ibid., Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)↩