44. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Rostow) to the Secretary of State1


  • Contingency Planning for Southeast Asia

Governor Harriman, Alexis Johnson, Roger Hilsman, Bill Sullivan and I will be meeting with you at 4:30 p.m. today.2

The purpose of our meeting will be to report to you the results of our individual review of the attached report on Southeast Asia prepared by the Policy Planning Council. A summary of the concept and key issues examined in this report are at Tab A. I recommend you thumb through the table of contents (Tab B)3 which will give you an idea of the scope of the paper.

I recommend that you give your approval to the following proposals:

That the Tuesday Planning Group at its next meeting take on the job of serving as a steering group to provide general guidance and direction to the preparation of a contingency plan for the imposition of measured sanctions against North Viet-Nam. As you know, Governor Harriman and Alex Johnson are regular members of that group. For these purposes we would add others as required, including immediately senior representatives of FE and USIA.
That the Planning Group establish a working group under State Department chairmanship to prepare the necessary studies and plans.

The objective of the next planning stage is not to produce a recommended policy. It is to produce a complete politico-military scenario which we can lay before senior officers of the Government so that they may judge whether and under what circumstances a forward policy of the kind examined here might prove wise and viable.

[Here follows discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

[Page 76]

Tab A


I. The Concept

The paper is not a plan, but an exposition of issues that would need to be examined in preparing a plan. It examines a concept designed to cause North Vietnam (the DRV) (a) to cease its illegal infiltration of men and arms into South Vietnam, its direction of the war in South Vietnam and its supporting activities in Laos; and (b) to withdraw its troops or cadres from both countries and to comply fully with the 1954 and 1962 Geneva Accords.

The concept is based upon the assumption that the imposition of graduated political, military and, possibly, economic sanctions on the DRV could cause it to call off the war principally because of its fear that it would otherwise risk loss of its politically important industrial development; because of its fear of being driven into the arms of Communist China; and because of Moscow’s, Peiping’s and Hanoi’s concern about escalation.

II. Key Issues

The question of how to define operational objectives that will command wide support at home and abroad; provide a reasonably clear-cut basis for measuring Communist performance and not provide undue opportunities for Communist delaying tactics and political warfare; and therefore provide the basis for determining when U.S. pressures should be continued, when halted. As a related matter, how important and how feasible are inspection arrangements or other means of insuring continued DRV compliance?
The question of the degree of the U.S. commitment. We must be prepared to withstand, if necessary, possibly great international political pressures which might force us to desist before we have achieved our objective. We must consider how far we are prepared to go in meeting Communist military responses. We must consider the actions that we would take in the event of either success or failure.
Against the background of the past, how do we develop a convincing case against the DRV that will command, at a minimum, broad domestic U.S. support and some international support and at the maximum, broad international support?
How might the crisis be terminated? Are there acceptable turning off points? Under what circumstances would we be prepared to go to an international conference and for what purpose?
We must consider how far we are prepared to go in providing additional commitments of support to South Vietnam, Thailand and, perhaps, the Philippines, and whether, even with such commitments, they will give us their initial and their continued support.
We face broad tactical choices: whether we should move quickly or slowly in posing and carrying out our threat to the DRV; whether we should begin on the covert or the overt level and how and when we should move from one level of action to the other.
We need to reexamine organization for making and implementing policy in the context of an intense and possibly protracted politico-military crisis to insure responsiveness to top-level control without neglect of expert advice and local problems.
  1. Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 70 D 199, Vietnam. Secret. Rusk’s initials appear on the source text.
  2. The meeting began at 4:40 p.m. and lasted until almost 5:30. Robert Johnson also attended. Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book) No record of the meeting has been found.
  3. Not attached to the source text. A copy of the table of contents and the draft report is in Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 70 D 199, Vietnam.