424. Memorandum of the Meeting of the Executive Committee1


  • Secretary Rusk
  • Secretary McNamara
  • Mr. McCone
  • General Wheeler
  • Mr. Ball
  • Mr. McGeorge Bundy
  • Mr. William Bundy


  • Issues Raised by Papers on Southeast Asia

This memorandum records the consensus or majority view of key issues discussed at this meeting, pending discussion with Ambassador Taylor.

Basic Issues

There was a consensus that, if the DRV did withdraw its effort, the security situation in the south could be handled in time if the government could maintain itself. However, the struggle would still be long
There was a consensus that the South Vietnam situation would deteriorate further under Option A even with reprisals, but that there was a significant chance that the actions proposed under Option B or Option C would improve GVN performance and make possible an improvement in the security situation.
There was a consensus that any negotiating outcome under Option A (with or without US negotiating participation) was likely to be clearly worse than under Option C or Option B.
There was a divided view as to whether Option B was in fact (as the draft paper2 states) significantly more likely to lead to major escalation than Option C. Mr. McCone undertook to review this question.
There was a consensus that it was not true, as the draft paper states, that Option B, in the light of all factors, has the best chance of attaining our full objectives. (Draft paper, page 21, pare H. 1.)
There was a consensus that the loss of South Vietnam would be somewhat more serious that stated in Section II of the draft paper, and it would be at least in the direction of the Joint Staff view as stated in the footnote to page 7 of the draft.
There was a consensus that the requirement of Option C—maintaining military pressure and a credible threat of major action while at the same time being prepared to negotiate—could in practice be carried out. The difficulties and domestic pressures were noted, but it was felt that continuing military actions could handle such pressures and also pressures for premature negotiations or concessions.
There was a consensus that the danger of military defeat in the south, or serious damage, was not serious under the various options provided that adequate security measures were taken.

Immediate Courses of Action

(Section VII of draft)

It was reported that our reprisal planning provided proper latitude for any gradation of action that might be required either in the immediate courses of action or under the options.
It was agreed that we needed further work to define the types of incident we would use as a basis for reprisal. DoD is doing the initial work on this, and we will consult with Ambassador Taylor.
It was agreed that the Saigon intelligence study,3 indicating substantial increases in infiltration both this year and in past years, required careful review and briefing in Washington. We must not be open to the charge of framing evidence to suit our policy, and senior Cabinet officers must be in a position to explain strongly why our earlier and lower estimates have now been found wrong. CIA is taking the lead on this.

Execution of Option B

It was agreed that the early hitting of major targets was central to this option.
It was agreed that the question of an ultimate limited ground invasion of the DRV—not yet formally proposed by the JCS—should be further examined to produce an assessment of its risks and gains. For the time being, this should be treated as a “detachable” element in the military sequence.

Execution of Option C

The question of whether ground forces should be introduced into South Vietnam at an early stage was discussed without any consensus emerging. The arguments for and against this element (pp. 24–25 of the draft) were reviewed, and there was some sentiment for introduction of such forces into northern South Vietnam as a preemptive [Page 945] action. The introduction of forces for security purposes was also discussed, with a somewhat more negative initial reaction but with agreement that this should be reviewed with Ambassador Taylor.
There was a consensus that, under Option C, our early military actions against the DRV should be determined, but low in scale, but that some higher-damage actions should be included under the reprisal heading.


It was agreed that, subject to the approval of the President, the group at this meeting should constitute an Executive Committee for continuing action on this matter.
  1. Source: Department of State, Bundy Files, Working Papers, Nov 1964, Vol. 1. Top Secret. Drafted by William Bundy on November 25. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1983, 000555. Bundy’s handwritten notes on the meeting show that items I C and E, IV C, and V A provoked the most discussion. (Department of State, Bundy Files Master Papers, Late Nov 1964)
  2. Document 418.
  3. Document 392.