423. Memorandum From the Chairman of the National Security Council Working Group (Bundy) to the Secretary of State1


  • Issues Raised by Papers on Southeast Asia

Although the official comments are not all in at this writing, I think it will be useful for your meeting this afternoon to have a list of the issues that appear to one mind to warrant priority discussion. Some are explicitly disagreed, others have been lurking and should be surfaced in my judgment.

1. Basic Issues as Between the Options


Is it true that the South Vietnam situation would deteriorate further under Option A even with reprisals, but stands a significant chance of improving under Option B or Option C?

Comment: Advocates of A maximize the chances of decay even under B and C, advocates of B and C think the lift from greater action could really take hold and move us forward in South Vietnam, whereas A is doomed. All concede there is some chance that the GVN would come apart under any Option.


Is the negotiating outcome under Option A (with or without US negotiating participation) likely to be clearly worse than under Option C?

Comment: Advocates of A doubt that it would be.

What are the best estimates of the risks of major conflict under Option B and Option C? If, as the intelligence paper states,2 they are about the same as between Option B and Option C at its highest, is there enough chance that C would succeed before it reached this point to make a real difference on the risk factor?
Is it true, as the draft paper states,3 that Option B has the best chance of attaining our full objectives?

As to our stakes in SEA, is the paper valid as written, or should it be revised in the direction of the Joint Staff comments4 that loss of SVN would be necessarily catastrophic? Is the analysis of the attitudes of non-Asian key allies right, and what weight should we give to this?

Comment: The point of the Joint Staff comments really is that greater risks of major conflict are worth accepting in view of their view of the stakes. The Joint Staff view would also implicitly assign less weight to key non-Asian allies, and still less to the non-aligned countries.


Can Option C be carried out in practice under the klieg lights of a democracy, in view of its requirement that we maintain a credible threat of major action while at the same time seeking to negotiate, even if quietly?

Comment: this is a key point raised by advocates of A. The parallel to Korea in 1951–53 is forbidding. Even advocates of C concede the difficulties.


Are we safe in assuming that SVN can only come apart for morale reasons, and not in a military sense as well?

Comment: The intelligence estimate is not confident on VC “burst capabilities.” The President’s repeated concern on protecting the south has not really been met in these papers, but we have all felt that the purely military aspects of the VC could be contained. This is a first question to ask of Ambassador Taylor.

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II. Issues Relating to the Immediate Courses of Action (Section VII)


Is our reprisal planning in proper shape to produce varied options on demand? Does it provide adequately for GVN participation?

Comment: CINCPAC Frag Order No. 3 is the current basis of planning. It provides for optional clusters of targets, but no one option calls for less than about 175 strikes, under very high damage criteria. Such a high order of action could throw off all calculations based on the theory of “squeeze” under Option C and even under Option B. As to GVN participation, the latest plans do crank this in, at some sacrifice of destructiveness.


What do we mean to take as a basis for reprisal?

Comment: We all agree that another Bien Hoa would call for reprisal, but it would help to refine our thinking somewhat further. Incidents not solely directed at the US would be desirable for political reasons. What kind might these be?


What sort of high-level statement is needed if we adopt the immediate program?

Comment: Should it be generalized, with the infiltration evidence speaking for itself separately, or should it make express use of the infiltration evidence? Is the latter wholly ready for surfacing? Is the new Jorden Report?5

III. Issues Concerning the Execution of Option A


Can this Option really be extended to include continued (non-reprisal) actions against the DRV even at a low scale?

Comment: The longer draft6 had so extended it. Most of us think this is a mistake in definition, in that any continued actions against the DRV create international and other pressures and are an effect the early stages of Option C.


Could or should ground forces be put into northern SVN even under this Option?

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Comment: Advocates of A urge this as a bargaining counter. Most of us think that, apart from lacking any military necessity in the absence of attacks on the DRV, it would appear as a bluff and not help any negotiation.


Assuming the situation does deteriorate under this Option, should we let Vietnamese negotiations develop, or ourselves seek a forum?

Comment: This is a less urgent issue, and perhaps cannot be answered now.

IV. Issues Concerning the Execution of Option B


Should we hit major targets, especially airfields, at once, or only after and if the DRV has hurt us from them?

Comment: Even under this Option, many of us feel the actions should be progressive, with the prospect of more to come at least as important psychologically as present damage. We all accept the will of the DRV as the real target.


Is ground invasion of the DRV (at Vinh per present plans) a military necessity or advantage that outweighs the increased risks the Chicoms would then come in force? (This applies to C as well as B.)

Comment: The intelligence estimate (p. 9 of “Probable Communist Reactions,” dated 19 November) highlights this as significantly raising the odds. It would also tend to change our objectives in the eyes of the world. Is it worth it?


At what stage, if ever, might nuclear weapons be required, and on what scale? What would be the implications of such use?

Comment: This is clearly a sensitive issue. The President may want a more precise answer than appears in the papers.

V. Issues Concerning the Execution of Option C


Should ground forces be introduced into northern SVN at the early stages?

Comment: The pros and cons of this are argued in Section VII of the long draft.


Is our early targeting properly thought through?

Comment: This is partly the question of whether to hit Phuc Yen early. But also some individual comment has highlighted the possible utility of focusing at length on low-key targets, not so much for the sake of damage as to show how helpless the DRV is, cause it to strain [Page 942] its security apparatus, and ask for help from the Chicoms in ways the Chicoms may not be able to give effectively. Also to keep our losses low. Such an undramatic “water drip” technique would, in the opinion of many Chicom experts, both hit DRV will harder than more dramatic attacks and strain the key DRV-Chicom relationships more. Put differently, this school of thought argues that dramatic acts, with probably higher US losses, would tend to knit the DRV people and the DRV and Chicoms; US losses are also a key factor in DRV morale, as their propaganda has shown for months. If we were acting with impunity, this would have a major effect, and the falseness of their propaganda would become a major weakness in their hold over their people.


How do we handle any early negotiations?

Comment: This is the least satisfactory part of the present script. To keep up our show of determination and at the same time listen for nibbles is a tough job in any case. We need to consider use of third countries at the outset perhaps more.


Do we even listen to nibbles till we have established a clear “common law” pattern of attacks?

Comment: The point is not made as clear as it should be. I think not.

VI. Action Issues Applicable to any Decisions

White House statement.
High-level speech.
Congressional consultation, including whether Ambassador Taylor should testify if Committees ask.
Key Allies—UK, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines. Individually or would we now form a group as in Korea? (I am inclined against a formal group, with or without publicity—the interests are too diverse.) SEATO?
US Government machinery. Do we not need a designated ExCom now, with a subordinate working group?
William P. Bundy7
  1. Source: Department of State, Bundy Files, Working Papers, Nov 1964, Vol. 1. Top Secret. Also sent to McNamara, McCone, Wheeler, Ball, and McGeorge Bundy. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 646–650. McGeorge Bundy’s copy of this memorandum bears his handwritten notes reflecting the discussion of these issues at the meeting at 5 p.m. on November 24. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Courses of Action in SEA) For a record of the meeting, see Document 424.
  2. A copy of this paper, “Probable Communist Reactions to US Options B and C” (TS# 185782-a), November 19, is in Department of State, Bundy Files, Working Papers, Nov 1964, Vol. 1.
  3. Document 418.
  4. Document 420.
  5. The first Jorden Report was released on December 8, 1961; see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. I, pp. 725–726. In the fall of 1964, a new report on infiltration was being considered. Sometimes called the new Jorden Report, it was published on February 27, 1965, under the title Aggression From the North (Department of State Publication 7839).
  6. Presumably Bundy is referring to the 100-page draft paper.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.