416. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State’s Special Assistant (Ehrlich) to the Under Secretary of State (Ball)1


  • Viet-Nam

Mr. Bundy has circulated the attached papers concerning “courses of action in Southeast Asia” to Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, Mr. McCone, and General Wheeler.2 A meeting with Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, you, and McGeorge and William Bundy to review these papers is scheduled for next Tuesday.3 After further meetings next Thursday and Friday, a meeting with the President is scheduled for December 1.

I think that the approach taken in these papers will cause you serious concern. Three “broad options” are considered. First, to “continue present policies of maximum assistance with SVN and limited external actions in Laos and by the GVN coherently against North Viet-Nam;” and, possibly, specific individual reprisal actions. “Basic to this option is the continued rejection of negotiation in the hope that the situation will improve.” Second, “present policies plus a systematic program of military pressures against the north, meshing at some point with negotiation, but with pressure actions to be continued until [Page 913] we achieve our central present objectives.” Third, “present policies plus additional forceful measures and military moves, followed by negotiations in which we would seek to maintain a believable threat of still further military pressures but would not actually carry out such pressures to any marked degree during the negotiations.”

These papers conclude with a proposed recommendation to the President that we follow “a program of immediate actions within the next few weeks” and that, “if the Communist side does not respond favorably” to these actions, we adopt the third alternative early next year. The “basic ingredients” of the “immediate actions during the next few weeks” would be: (1) “talking tough;” (2) “vigorous actions within our current policy” including: (a) a strong 34–A MAROPS schedule; (b) continued strong air activity in the Panhandle area of Laos, including at least a few United States armed reconnaissance strikes; (c) continued strong air activity in central Laos; (d) perhaps a DeSoto patrol early in December; and (e) “consider explicit use of US air in South Viet-Nam if a lucrative target appears;” (3) reprisals in the event of future serious incidents; (4) “consultations with the GVN to improve its performance;” and (5) “miscellaneous actions clearly foreshadowing stronger actions.”

Nowhere in these papers is there a consideration of your proposal for negotiations within the near future and without increased military action (although with the threat of such action). In fact, the first option (to continue present policies) specifically excludes negotiations. Furthermore, although the outline of the papers calls for a separate section concerning “alternative forms of negotiation” no draft of this section was prepared.4 Rather, “various working papers on negotiations…5 have been woven into” the other sections.

I think there are a number of significant gaps in reasoning and questions unanswered throughout these papers. As we have discussed, the third option is full of dangers-I do not believe that they have received sufficient consideration in these papers. Most serious, however, is the lack of any real analysis of a negotiating track. In my judgment, at the very least, a paper on this track should be prepared as a fourth option.

I am particularly concerned because policy proposals like these seem quickly to develop a bureaucratic life of their own unless immediate action is taken.

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As the attached memorandum from Ben Read states, a noon meeting with the President will be held tomorrow to discuss the schedule outlined in Ben’s memorandum as well as other items including Congo policy. As to the schedule, both you and the Secretary will be away on December 1, the proposed date for a meeting with the President to decide which option to adopt. For obvious reasons, I think that the proposed date of the meeting should be changed.

  1. Source: Department of State, Ball Files: Lot 74 D 272, Courses of Action in Southeast Asia, Book One. Top Secret.
  2. No papers were attached to the source text. Regarding the paper Bundy circulated at the November 17 Working Group meeting, see Document 403.
  3. November 24.
  4. The paper Bundy circulated on November 17 stated that no paper on Section IV, “Alternative Forms of Negotiation,” was included since information on negotiations had been included in Sections V–VII. However, S/P had drafted a paper specifically for Section IV on November 4 and revised it on November 6. Copies of these drafts are in Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 70 D 199, Vietnam.
  5. Ellipsis in the source text.