252. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense1



  • Actions Relevant to South Vietnam
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered, as requested, those military actions which will:
Contribute militarily to the success of the counterinsurgency effort in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN);
Reduce the frustration and defeatism of the RVN leaders by undertaking punitive measures against the enemy outside the borders of the RVN;
Entail minimum risk of escalatory measures by the enemy; and d. Require minimum US participation in a combat role.
Of the many courses of actions examined, only three fall within the established parameters. These are air strikes against the infiltration routes through Laos into the RVN, cross-border ground operations against the infiltration effort, and selected air missions using non-US unmarked aircraft against prime military targets in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV).
As to the first, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that air strikes, to include armed reconnaissance missions, against communist installations and traffic in the Panhandle of Laos would reduce, but not stop, the flow of support to the Viet Cong and would also signal sharply to Hanoi and Peking that they must pay a higher price to continue the subversion effort. While such strikes could be mounted with the Vietnamese Air Force alone, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that, to obtain a desirable level of effort and ensure effective US direction of this sensitive operation in both planning and execution, Farmgate should also be employed. For details see Appendix A hereto.2
As to the second, reconnaissance and punitive cross-border ground operations into Laos could locate, harass, and, in some cases, destroy communist installations and troop formations. Even moderate success would increase the already sizable problems of the communists in supplying men and material to the Viet Cong and, additionally, would signal Hanoi and Peking. For any worthwhile effort of this kind to be mounted, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that US advisors must accompany RVN units. For details see Appendix B hereto.
As to the third, over the past several months, a modest, covert, psychological and punitive campaign has been directed against the DRV. However, as yet no air strikes have been mounted. Air missions by unmarked aircraft to mine selected harbors and rivers and to strike prime military targets in DRV could punish the enemy and signal sharply Hanoi and Peking. Non-US air crews would perform these missions. For details see Appendix C hereto.
The actions set forth above are not likely to trigger a communist response escalating the conflict in Southeast Asia beyond present levels; therefore, the Joint Chiefs of Staff do not recommend moving US combat units into or contiguous to the RVN at this time. Moreover, [Page 585] the introduction of US combat forces which would sit idle could well have a psychological impact on both friends and enemies the reverse of that desired.
In summary, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that implementation of the limited actions set forth above could prove militarily and psychologically beneficial to the war effort in the RVN, provided they do not siphon off needed resources and distract the attention of the RVN leaders from the counterinsurgency effort. In making this judgment, the Joint Chiefs of Staff advise that these actions would not significantly affect communist support of Viet Cong operations in South Vietnam and might have counterproductive results in Laos from a political point of view.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that Ambassador Taylor and General Westmoreland be queried as to the feasibility and desirability of undertaking the foregoing measures.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 69 A 7425, Vietnam 381. Top Secret. Notes on the source text indicate that Vance and McNamara saw this memorandum. A copy in the Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings, Vol. 11, Tab 9, indicates that McGeorge Bundy saw it.
  2. None of the appendices is printed.