388. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)1
- Courses of Action, Southeast Asia
- In view of the recent estimate of the deteriorating situation in South Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that strong military actions are required now in order to prevent the collapse of the US position in Southeast Asia. The agreed judgments expressed by the intelligence community in SNIE 53–2–642 have implications which are particularly grave when note is taken that such judgments in the past have consistently been characterized by restraint and moderation. The promulgation of this judgment by the intelligence community requires prompt and responsive recognition by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- Ambassador Taylor, by message JPS 303, DTG 161030Z October 1964,3 advised the President concerning the worsening situation in Southeast Asia. He has drawn attention to the increased rate of infiltration into South Vietnam and stated that with the advent of the dry season this problem will assume a magnitude and urgency that will require immediate attention.
- The Joint Chiefs of Staff recognize that the lack of stability in the central government, the low state of morale of the leadership, and the poorly trained civil service in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) militate against early success and that the solutions, primarily political, to these problems are also critical to the eventual termination of the insurgency.
- The struggle in South Vietnam is a combination of political and
military action and there is an interaction between the two that
permits a political success to be exploited militarily and vice
versa. Accordingly, a program of military and supporting political
actions with respect to the RVN has
been developed on the basis that US withdrawal from the RVN or Southeast Asia is not an
acceptable course of action. This program envisages the requirement
now for accelerated and forceful actions both inside and outside of
the RVN to support a strategy of:
- Depriving the Viet Cong (VC) of out of country assistance by applying continuously increasing military pressures on the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRY) to the extent necessary to cause the DRV to cease support and direction of the insurgency.
- Depriving the VC of assistance within the RVN by expanding the counterinsurgency effort—military, economic and political—within the RVN.
- Continuing to seek a viable effective government in the RVN based on the broadest possible consensus.
- Maintaining a military readiness posture in Southeast Asia
- Demonstrates the US will and capability to escalate the action if required.
- Deters a major communist aggression in the area.
- The proposed courses of action now recommended in support
of the above strategy include both new actions and certain
actions previously recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The recommended courses of action are appended as follows:
- Actions within the RVN, Appendix A.
- Actions outside the RVN, Appendix B.
- The military actions in Appendices A and B are arranged in a general ascending order of severity. The military course of action which would contribute most to defeating insurgencies in Southeast Asia remains the destruction of the DRV will and capabilities as necessary to compel the DRV to cease providing support to those insurgencies. Consequently, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the first six courses of action in Appendix A and the first eight courses of action in Appendix B should be implemented concurrently, now. While many of the remaining actions can also be taken concurrently, the lists are arranged so that any of the actions may be selected, implemented, and controlled, as required, to produce the desired effect while analyzing and estimating the communist reaction. The Joint Chiefs of Staff advocate adoption of the program of military and political courses of action as a means of applying increased pressures at all available points. In the event our objectives are achieved during the course of the program, it could, of course, be curtailed or terminated; however, the entire program of courses of action may be required in an effort to destroy the DRV will and capability to support the insurgency in the RVN and in Laos.
- The Joint Chiefs of Staff, having noted the latest Special National Intelligence Estimate, SNIE 10–3–64, dated 9 October 1964,4 believe that there is not a high risk of introduction of Chinese communist ground force combat units unless major US/RVN ground units [Page 849]had moved to occupy areas of the DRV or communist. held territory of Northern Laos, or possibly, the Chinese communists had committed their air and had subsequently suffered attacks on their bases. Further, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that because of the present favorable balance of power it is within the capability of US force to deal with large-scale aggression.
- In summary:
- The Joint Chiefs of Staff request authority to implement now the first six courses of action in Appendix A and the first eight courses of action in Appendix B. Further, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that courses of action 7 in Appendix A and 11 through 16 in Appendix B be implemented as required to achieve US objectives in Southeast Asia.
- The Chief of Staff, US Army, and the Chief of Naval Operations request authority to implement, as an extension of increasing pressures on the DRV, courses of action 9 and 10 of Appendix B, after appropriate implementation of the first eight courses of action.
The Chief of Staff, US Air Force, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps believe the judgment reflected in SNIE 53–2–64 forces the conclusion that, if indeed, time has not run out, it is fast doing so. Unless we move now to alter the present evolution of events, there is great likelihood of a VC victory. They see no useful alternative to initiating action against the DRV now through a planned and selective program of air strikes. Accordingly, they recommend that courses of action 9 and 10 (as revised) in Appendix B be implemented now, and that course of action 10 be revised to read:
“Selective air strikes against DRV to include air strikes on infiltration routes.”
They believe that the initial effort should be focused on targets of military significance and should be mounted in response to the next significant VC action in South Vietnam (SVN). In this regard, they consider that a battalion size VC attack in SVN or an act of VC terrorism against US personnel should be construed as significant. Additionally, Ambassador Taylor has reported infiltration by northern born conscripts, and that the Government of Vietnam (GVN) claims they come in organized units. He states “By any objective standard their presence in SVN constitutes an invasion by hostile forces into the territory of an ally of the US.” Action to verify this GVN claim should be undertaken as a matter of priority. If verified, it is considered a significant incident within the above context.
- The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports the requests and recommendations contained in subparagraphs 8 a and 8 b, above.
- In view of the grave implications outlined above, the Joint Chiefs of Staff request that these views be provided to the President at the earliest feasible time.5
Earle G. Wheeler
Joint Chiefs of Staff6
- Source: Department of State, Bundy Files. Working Papers. Nov 1964, Vol. IV, JCS. Top Secret; Sensitive.↩
- Document 368.↩
- Not found.↩
- A copy of this paper, entitled “Probable Communist Reactions to Certain Possible US/GVN Courses of Action,” is in Department of State. Ball Files: Lot 74 D 272 Vietnam Intelligence Estimates.↩
- In a memorandum to Wheeler, October 29, McNamara noted that he was sending a copy of JCSM–902–64 to Taylor for comments. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 69 A 926, Box 1) Taylor was advised along these lines in DEF 1342, October 29. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S; printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. 111, p. 586)↩
- Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.↩