419. Telegram From the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Sharp) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)1

230515Z. Next courses of action, Southeast Asia. A. Your 001931 DTG 170045Z.2 B. Your 002052 T–3 DTG 191603Z.3

My response to Refs A and B is being prepared and will be forwarded shortly.
While the new government of the RVN has just been organized, there is cause for hope that it may attain some stability and effectiveness. The RVNAF are barely countering and certainly not reducing the Viet Cong insurgency. If the government survives and achieves some unity amongst the various factions, the effectiveness of the armed forces should increase but increased U.S. action is required to provide the necessary momentum for the counter-insurgency.
We still have not made it clear to Hanoi and Peiping that the cost of pursuing their current objectives will become prohibitive. Our action after the Gulf of Tonkin incident caused apprehension in North Vietnam but to date our shooting activities have been those of response only and after the Bien Hoa attack there was no reaction. Thus the pattern is one which may cause the DRV to believe that they can continue their present aggression or even raise the level of action with impunity.

What is needed is a campaign of systematically and gradually increased measured military pressures against the DRV conducted in conjunction with a coordinated diplomatic and psychological program.

This campaign would aim to convince the Communists that destruction will continue to occur until they cease supporting the insurgency. It offers least provocation to the Chinese Communists and therefore the least risk of ChiCom intervention as the result of a calculation that it is incompatible with their national security. It would be conducted in a manner which would permit the U.S. to observe its effects concurrently in four areas as the campaign progresses: infiltration, NVN, Communist China, and the political situation in South [Page 931] Vietnam. It would not irrevocably commit the U.S. to pursue escalation to any particular level. It would, however, permit us to make ultimate decisions on how far and in what direction to go in Southeast Asia as we observed effects during the escalation.

The required military actions in this campaign call for initial air strikes on infiltration routes, moving to infiltration-associated targets and then expanding to other important targets. Geographically, the air strikes would commence in the Panhandle of Laos, move into the southern part of NVN and gradually move northward. The pattern would be systematic with progressive attacks of ever-increasing intensity and severity. However, sufficient time would be allowed between strikes to determine DRV and ChiCom reaction. These actions, which are geared to specific objectives, should be initiated in a pre-planned sequence with the follow-on action commencing when it has been determined that those actions currently underway are not attaining the objective.
Step 1. VNAF alone or assisted by Farmgate conduct air attacks on infiltration routes and targets in Laos.
Because of limited U.S. participation the effectiveness of this action will depend on the number of aircraft which can be taken away from pacification operations. Pacification operations would probably suffer so we should not stay at this level too long.
Step 2. U.S. forces conduct air attacks on infiltration targets in Laos and then in NVN.
These strikes would be an effective method of getting the message through to the DRV. The graduated nature of the attacks will cause maximum apprehension while at the same time making DRV decision to retaliate and ChiCom decision to intervene more difficult.
Step 3. In event our objectives are not attained in Step 2) U.S. forces conduct major air attacks on DRV.
This should convince the DRV to cease aiding Viet Cong and Pathet Lao. It might also cause him to recall his insurgents.
It would not be necessary to strike Phuc Yen until such time as planes based there start to interfere with our operations.
Those actions listed above which are directed at Laos are primarily concerned with air strikes on Panhandle infiltration routes and targets. I would leave the situation in the PDJ alone at this time realizing that if the Communists step up their military activities, certain specific U.S. actions can be taken to counter them.
The provocation for such a controlled series of attacks has been established. There is, moreover, reason to believe that the military activity in the Panhandle and along the route to NVN is becoming more significant. It is time to reverse this trend. Accordingly I recommend the initiation of the campaign outlined above.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 319, HQDA Message Center, Reel 12009. Top Secret.
  2. Dated November 16, this cable informed Sharp that “a controlled program of systematically increased military pressure against the DRV” was under consideration and asked for Sharp’s views on what U.S. forces might be deployed to Southeast Asia prior to initiating such a program. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, ICS Files)
  3. Dated November 19, this cable repeated the request for Sharp’s views on U.S. force deployments. (Ibid.)