313. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the President1

The attached memorandum will be the main topic of discussion at the meeting scheduled for noon tomorrow, Friday. In the main, the paper speaks for itself, but you should know of a couple of important issues which it does not state directly.

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The most important section of the paper begins on page 7 and deals with possible limited pressures forward in the direction you indicated in the Monday meeting. Within this section, on page 8, there is a discussion of cross-border operations into the Panhandle, and you should know that General Taylor and many others would now like to move toward U.S. air operations against the infiltration routes. Bob McNamara is strongly opposed. I think you may want to hear argument on both sides on this issue. Max Taylor’s cable giving his view is attached at Tab A.2

On page 9 there is a discussion of the DeSoto patrol. There is difference of opinion on when this patrol should go back. Most of us here in Washington think it can wait ten days to two weeks (as the memo says on page 1). Max Taylor would like it to go almost right now, on grounds of signal to the Communists and encouragement to our friends. On this one also you may wish to hear argument.

More broadly, it occurs to me that this meeting may be a good time for you to emphasize again the priority we put on Saigon. At Tab B is a very private letter from Mike Forrestal to John McNaughton2 which shows that the Army is using rather routine assignment and reassignment methods there. A bit of questioning from you to Wheeler might do a lot of good on this point.

Finally, I will give you a one-sheet wrap-up on this before the noon meeting.



Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Bundy)3


I. Introduction

The next ten days to two weeks should be a short holding phase in which we would avoid actions that would in any way take the onus off the Communist side for escalation.

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We will send the DeSoto patrol back, will hold up on new 34A operations (continuing only essential re-supply of air-dropped missions, plus relatively safe leaflet drops), but will continue intensive reconnaissance of the DRV and the Panhandle (PDJ if necessary). Within Laos, the attempt to secure Phou Kout would continue (napalm may be used in discretion of Ambassador Unger), as would T–28 operations and consolidation of Triangle gains, but no further military action would be done or indicated. In view of possible Communist moves in Laos, road watch and other intelligence efforts should be intensified accepting some greater risks.

We are not yet sure what the Communist side may do in this period. They have introduced aircraft into North Vietnam, and may well send in at least token ground forces. VC activity could step up markedly at any moment. Although the volume of Chicom propaganda and demonstrations is ominous, it does not yet clearly suggest any further moves; if they were made, we would act accordingly. This paper assumes the Communist side does not go beyond the above.

II. Essential Elements in the Situation


South Vietnam is not going well. The mission’s monthly report (Saigon 377)4 expresses hope of significant gains by the end of the year. But it also says Khanh’s chances of staying in power are only 50–50, that the leadership (though not so much the people or the army) has symptoms of defeatism and hates the prospect of slugging it out within the country, that there will be mounting pressures for wider action “which, if resisted, will create frictions and irritations which could lead local politicians to serious consideration of a negotiated solution or local soldiers to a military adventure without US consent.”

In other words, even if the situation in our own view does go a bit better, we have a major problem of maintaining morale. Our actions of last week lifted that morale temporarily, but also aroused expectations, and morale could easily sag back again if the VC have successes and we do nothing further.

Laos, on the other hand, has shown real military progress—so much so that a Communist retaliatory move is a real possibility. If Phou Kout can be secured, present military areas of control are if anything better for Souvanna than the line of last April. T–28 operations have been a major factor, and really hurt PL morale. Souvanna’s internal position is also stronger, though the right-wing generals and colonels could make fools of themselves again at any time.
Laos negotiations may start to move in the near future whatever we do. Souvanna has accepted a tripartite meeting in Paris, and suggested August 24th. With his gains in hand, he has already indicated [Page 675] he is likely not to insist on his previous precondition of Communist withdrawal from the PDJ before agreeing to a 14-nation conference. The USSR (at least publicly), India, and France—and the UK and Canada only slightly less so—are pressing for a conference or at least clear motion toward one. Souphanouvong’s silence and other indicators suggest the Communist side may still not accept an early tripartite meeting or push for a conference, but we must recognize that, if they do accept a tripartite, it will be a real step toward an eventual conference. We can and will urge Souvanna to go slow, but our control will be limited.
Hanoi and Peiping, as of now, are certainly not persuaded that they must abandon their efforts in South Vietnam and Laos. The US response to North Vietnamese naval attacks has undoubtedly convinced the Communist side we will act strongly where US force units are directly involved-as they have previously seen in our handling of Laos reconnaissance. But in other respects the Communist side may not be so persuaded we are prepared to take stronger actions, either in response to infiltration into SVN or to VC activity. The Communists probably believe that we might counter air action in Laos quite firmly, but that we would not wish to be drawn into around action there.

III. Essential Elements of US Policy

South Vietnam is still the main theater. Morale and momentum there must be maintained. This means:
There is advantage in devising the best possible means of action that for minimum risks get maximum results in terms of SVN morale and pressure on DRV.
We must continue to oppose any Vietnam conference, and must play the prospect of a Laos conference very carefully. We must particularly avoid any impression of rushing to a Laos conference, and must show a posture of general firmness into which an eventual Laos conference might fit without serious loss.
We particularly need to keep our hands free for at least limited measures against the Laos infiltration areas.
It is in our interest to stabilize the Laos situation as between Government forces and the Communist side, and to reduce chances of a Communist escalating move on this front. (If such a move comes, we must meet it firmly, of course. We should also be stepping up Thai support to deter and prevent any Communist nibbles.) However, Souvanna should not give up his strong cards, particularly T–28 operations, without getting a full price for them. Moreover, we must seek to reduce as much as possible the inhibiting effect of any Laos talks on actions against the Panhandle.
Basically, a solution in both South Vietnam and Laos will require a combination of military pressure and some form of communication under which Hanoi (and Peiping) eventually accept the idea of getting out. Negotiation without continued military action will not achieve our objectives in the foreseeable future. But military pressure could be accompanied by attempts to communicate with Hanoi and perhaps Peiping-through third-country channels, through side conversations around Laos negotiations of any sort-provided always that we make it clear both to the Communists and to South Vietnam that military pressure will continue until we have achieved our objectives. After, but only after, we have established a clear pattern of pressure hurting the DRV and leaving no doubts in South Vietnam of our resolve, we could even accept a conference broadened to include the Vietnam issue. (The UN now looks to be out as a communication forum, though this could conceivably change.)

IV. Timing and Sequence of Actions

A. Limited Pressures (late August tentatively through December)

There are a number of limited actions we could take that would tend to maintain our initiative and the morale of the GVN and Khanh, but that would not involve major risks of escalation. Such actions could be such as to foreshadow stronger measures to come, though they would not in themselves go far to change Hanoi’s basic actions.

34 A Operations could be overtly acknowledged and justified by the GVN. Marine operations could be strongly defended on the basis of continued DRV sea infiltration, and successes could be publicized. Leaflet operations could also be admitted and defended, again on the grounds of meeting DRV efforts in the South, and their impunity (we hope) would tend to have its own morale value in both Vietnams. Airdrop operations are more doubtful; their justification is good but less clear than other operations, and successes have been few. With the others admitted, they could be left to speak for themselves-and of course security would forbid any mention of specific operations before they succeeded.
Joint US/GVN planning already covers possible actions against DRV and the Panhandle. It can be used in itself to maintain the morale of the GVN leadership, as well as to control and inhibit any unilateral GVN moves. With 34A surfaced, it could be put right into the same planning framework. We would not ourselves publicize this planning, but it could be leaked (as it probably would anyway) with desirable effects in Hanoi and elsewhere.
Stepped-up training of Vietnamese on jet aircraft should now be undertaken in any event in light of the presence of MIG’s in North Vietnam. The JCS are preparing a plan, and the existence of this training could be publicized both for its morale effect in the GVN and as a signal to Hanoi of possible future action.
Cross-border operations into the Panhandle could be conducted on a limited scale. To be successful, ground operations would have to be so large in scale as to be beyond what GVN can spare, and we should not at this time consider major US or Thai ground action from the Thai side. But for air operations there are at least a few worthwhile targets in infiltration areas, and these could be hit by GVN air. US reconnaissance missions in the Panhandle would of course continue in any event; suppressive missions might be considered at some point, but not until after the GVN has acted in this area. (Our Panhandle reconnaissance does not have the justification of a request from Souvanna, as our PDJ operations do.) Probably we should avoid publicity on air operations so as not to embarrass Souvanna; the Communist side might squawk, but in the past they have been silent on this area.
DeSoto patrols could be reintroduced at some point. Both for present purposes and to maintain the credibility of our account of the events of last week, they must be clearly dissociated from 34A operations both in fact and in physical appearance. In terms of course patterns, we should probably avoid penetrations of 11 miles or so and stay at least 20 miles off; whatever the importance of asserting our view of territorial waters, it is less than the international drawbacks of appearing to provoke attack unduly. The 20-mile distance would not appreciably change the chances of a North Vietnamese reaction, while it would deprive them of a propaganda argument (since a great many other countries also assert a 12-mile territorial waters limit.)
Specific tit-for-tat actions of opportunity could be undertaken for any special VC or DRV activity. As Saigon 377 points out, the VC have “unused dirty tricks” such as mining (or attacks) in the Saigon River, sabotage of major POL stocks, and terrorist attacks on US dependents. The first two, at least, would lend themselves to prompt and precise reprisal, e.g., by mining the Haiphong channel and attacking the Haiphong POL storage.
US Dependents. This has two aspects. If there were substantial terrorism against our dependents, we should consider some specific reprisal against the DRV; however, this has disadvantages in that it might appear that we were reacting only when US nationals were hit, and ignoring the regular pattern of terrorism against South Vietnamese. The second aspect, whether or not there are terrorist attacks, is the possible withdrawal of our dependents. If the situation should reach another intense point, withdrawal might be useful in itself as a signal to Hanoi that we were really getting ready for business.
The sequence and mix of US and GVN actions needs careful thought. At this point, we should emphasize both the GVN role in actions and rationales directly relating actions to what is being done to the GVN. Overt 34A actions should be the first moves, and the GVN would go first in air attacks against the Panhandle. But there are advantages in other respects to actions related to US forces. If we lost an aircraft in the Panhandle, we could act hard and fast, and of course similarly for any attack on the DeSoto patrols. Probably the sequence should be played somewhat by ear, with the aim of producing a slightly increased tempo but one that does not commit us prematurely to even stronger actions.
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Summary. The above actions are in general limited and controllable. However, if we accept—as of course we must—the necessity of prompt retaliation especially for attacks on our own forces, they could amount to at least a pretty high noise level that might stimulate some pressures for a conference. New DRV air and AA capability may also produce incidents.

These actions are not in themselves a truly coherent program of strong enough pressure either to bring Hanoi around or to sustain a pressure posture into some kind of discussion. Hence, we should continue absolutely opposed to any conference.

B. More Serious Pressures

All the above actions would be foreshadowing systematic military action against the DRV, and we might at some point conclude such action was required either because of incidents arising from the above actions or because of deterioration in the SVN situation, particularly if there were to be clear evidence of greatly increased infiltration from the north. However, in the absence of such major new developments, we should be thinking of a contingency date for planning purposes, as suggested by Ambassador Taylor, of 1 January 1965.

Our present thinking is that systematic action against the DRV might start by progressive attacks keyed to the rationale of infiltration routes and facilities, followed by other selected military-related targets. However, the mix is now hard to foresee and would obviously depend heavily on specific incidents and desired signal strength at any one time.

C. Handling Laos Negotiations

We would wish to slow down any progress toward a conference and to hold Souvanna to the firmest possible position. Unger’s suggestion of tripartite administration for the PDJ is one possibility that would be both advantageous and a useful delaying gambit. Insistence on full recognition of Souvanna’s position is another point on which he should insist, and there would also be play in the hand on the question of free ICC operations. As to a cease-fire, we would certainly not want this to be agreed to at the tripartite stage, since it would remove Souvanna’s powerful T–28 lever. But since Souvanna has always made a cease-fire one of his preconditions, we must reckon that the other side might insist on it before a conference was convened-which we would hope would not be for at least 2–3 months in any case.
If, despite our best efforts, Souvanna on his own, or in response to third-country pressures, started to move rapidly toward a conference, we would have a very difficult problem. If the timing of a Laos conference, in relation to the degree of pressures we had then set in motion against the DRV, was such that our attending or accepting the conference would have major morale drawbacks in South Vietnam, we [Page 679] might well have to refuse to attend ourselves and to accept the disadvantages of having no direct participation. In the last analysis, GVN morale would have to be the deciding factor.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Aides Files, McGeorge Bundy, Meetings on Southeast Asia, Vol. 1. Top Secret.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. Top Secret. The source text bears the typed note: “Third Draft.” The original draft of this memorandum has not been found, but a second draft, which is the same in format but missing some of the subsections, is printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 524–529. A memorandum from Robert Johnson to William Bundy, dated August 12, with comments on the second draft is in Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 70 D 199 R. Johnson Chron.
  4. Document 306.