435. Instructions From the President to the Ambassador to Vietnam (Taylor)1

I have now approved the following instructions for your personal guidance on your return to South Vietnam. I hereby authorize and request that from these instructions you prepare a full statement of the [Page 975] present position of the United States Government for appropriate use with the senior officials of the Government of Vietnam. I recognize that for written presentation you may wish to recast in somewhat less specific form the detailed improvements which we seek in the conduct of affairs by the Government of South Vietnam, but I expect you to communicate the essence of these instructions in whatever way you find most effective.

During the recent review in Washington of the situation in SVN, it was clearly established that the unsatisfactory progress being made in the pacification of the Viet Cong was the result of two primary causes from which many secondary causes stemmed: first, the governmental instability in Saigon, and the second, the continued reinforcement and direction of the VC by the North Vietnamese Government. To change the downward trend of events, it will be necessary to deal adequately with both of these factors.

It is clear, however, that these factors are not of equal importance. There must be a stable, effective government to conduct a successful campaign against the Viet Cong even if the aid of North Vietnam for the VC should end. While the elimination of North Vietnamese intervention will raise morale on our side and make it easier for the government to function, it will not in itself end the war against the Viet Cong. It is rather an important contributory factor to the creation of conditions favoring a successful campaign against the Viet Cong within South Vietnam. Since action against North Vietnam is contributory, not central, we should not incur the risks which are inherent in such an expansion of hostilities until there is a government in Saigon capable of handling the serious problems involved in such an expansion and of exploiting the favorable effects which may be anticipated from an end of support and direction by North Vietnam.

It is this consideration which has borne heavily on the recent deliberations in Washington and has conditioned the conclusions reached. There have been many expressions of admiration for the courage being shown by the Huong government, which has the complete support of the USG in its resistance to the minority pressure groups which are attempting to drag it down. However, the difficulties which it is facing raise inevitable questions as to its capacity and readiness to discharge the responsibilities which it would incur if some of the new measures under consideration were taken.

There are certain minimum criteria of performance in South Vietnam which must be met before new measures against North Vietnam would be either justified or practicable. At a minimum, the government should be able to speak for and to its people who will need guidance and leadership throughout the coming critical period. It should be capable of maintaining law and order in its principal centers of population, make plans for the conduct of operations and assure [Page 976] their effective execution by military and police forces completely responsive to its authority. It must have the means to cope with the enemy reactions which must be expected to result from any change in the pattern of our operations.

I particularly request that you and your colleagues in the American country team develop and execute a concerted effort to bring home to all groups in South Vietnam the paramount importance of national unity against the Communist enemy at this critical time. It is a matter of the greatest difficulty for the United States Government to require great sacrifice of American citizens when reports from Saigon repeatedly give evidence of heedless self-interest and shortsightedness among nearly all major groups in South Vietnam. I know of your own great interest and concern for this problem and you can be assured that in your efforts to deal with it you will have the energetic support of the government in Washington.

While effectiveness is largely a subjective judgment, progress in certain specific areas such as those listed below provides some tangible measure. The U.S. Mission should urge upon the GVN particular effort in these fields, not only because of their intrinsic importance to successful pacification, but also because of the indication of governmental effectiveness which progress, or the lack thereof, will provide:

Improve the use of manpower for military and pacification purposes.
Bring the armed forces and police to authorized strength and maximize their effectiveness.
Replace incompetent officials and commanders. Freeze the competent in place for extended periods of service.
Clarify and strengthen the police powers of arrest, detention and interrogation of VC suspects.
Clarify and strengthen the authority of provincial chiefs.
Make demonstrable progress in the Hop Tac operation around Saigon.
Broaden and intensify the civic action program using both military and civilian resources to produce tangible evidence of the desire of the government to help the hamlets and villages.
Carry out a sanitary clean-up of Saigon.

Throughout, it will be essential that the GVN and the USG cooperate closely and effectively as loyal allies dedicated to the attainment of the same objectives. These objectives in the broadest terms are to cause the DRV to respect the rights of its neighbors and to terminate the Viet Cong insurgency.

While progress is being made toward these goals by a government of growing effectiveness, the USG is willing to strike harder at the infiltration routes in Laos and at sea. In conjunction with the RLG, it is prepared to add U.S. air power as needed to restrict the use of Laotian territory as an infiltration route into South Vietnam. At sea, it favors an [Page 977] intensified continuation of the MAROPS which have proved their usefulness in harassing the enemy. In combination, these operations in Laos and at sea constitute the first phase of military pressures to reduce infiltration and to warn the DRV of the risks it is running.

While these intensified operations are going on, the armed forces of the GVN and the USG must be ready to execute prompt reprisals for any unusual hostile action. The U.S. Mission is authorized to work out with the GVN appropriate plans and procedures to this end.

As a second phase, the United States is also prepared to consider a program of direct military pressure on the DRV, to be executed after the GVN has shown itself firmly in control. The actions undertaken in the first phase should provide encouragement and enlist popular support for the government and thus facilitate its task. The time provided by this phase would be used to advantage in the military, political, and economic efforts outlined earlier, as well as in preparing for the next phase—direct pressure on North Vietnam.

This second phase, in general terms, would constitute a series of air attacks on the DRV progressively mounting in scope and intensity for the purpose of convincing the leaders of DRV that it is to their interest to cease to aid the Viet Cong and to respect the independence and security of South Vietnam, properly assured by appropriate international safeguards.

The participants in the attacks of the second phase, as we now plan it, would be the air forces of the U.S., South Vietnam, and Laos. The U.S. would participate (as at present) in support of the Vietnamese Air Force and at the request of the Government of Vietnam. We would expect to work out joint plans, and before their execution we would agree on our purposes, our public position, and the manner of conducting operations against North Vietnam. The U.S. Mission is authorized to initiate such planning now with the Government of Vietnam with the understanding that the USG does not commit itself now to any form of execution of such plans. You are authorized to make it clear, as appropriate, that the execution of such plans would be preceded by deterrent deployments by the U.S. as well as security precautions by the Government of South Vietnam against possible escalation of hostilities.

You are also authorized to explain that we propose to discuss with our major allies both our present plans of action against the infiltration routes and our preparations for possible later action against North Vietnam. In particular, we propose to seek the military and political cooperation of the governments of Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Finally, I request that you give your personal and continuing attention to our effort to multiply the effective participation of other allies in our effort in South Vietnam. I have already requested your [Page 978] assessment of the maximum usable contribution both in present circumstances and in the event of increased efforts along the lines for which planning is authorized in this instruction. This assessment will be the basis of a major further effort by this Government.

I shall be glad to have your prompt report of the reaction of the Government of Vietnam to the policy outlined in these instructions.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Aides File, McGeorge Bundy, Memos to the President. Top Secret. The instructions were approved by the President on December 3 (see Document 434) and formally transmitted to Rusk, McNamara, and McCone as Tab 2 to Document 440.