86. Summary Record of the 524th Meeting of the National Security Council,1

REPORT OF SECRETARY MCNAMARA’S TRIP TO VIETNAM

In response to a request from the President, Mr. McCone reported that there was nothing new out of Vietnam this morning worthy of mention. Secretary Rusk said that we had preliminary information about what might become an important new development, i.e., that Sihanouk of Cambodia is turning away from North Vietnam and is prepared to work out an understanding with South Vietnam.

Secretary Rusk presented the recommendations on pages 17 and 18 of Secretary McNamara’s report on Vietnam (attached).2 He said that no one could guarantee that the proposed program would ensure success, but that if the situation in South Vietnam continued to deteriorate, the proposed recommendations provided for readying forces which could be used if it were decided later to take the war to North Vietnam.

Secretary McNamara said he had no additional comments to make but asked General Taylor to present the military actions discussed in the report. General Taylor began by commenting that highlevel overflights of North Vietnam are now possible, but if we required low-level reconnaissance, we will have to use U.S. planes overtly. General Taylor then covered the sections of the report, including border control actions, retaliatory actions, and the graduated overt military pressure program. He said that the kinds of military actions he described would produce strong reactions in Cambodia and in North Vietnam including, as a final act, asking the Chinese Communists to come to their support. Risk of escalation would be greatest if we undertook the overt military pressure program, and before doing so, we would want to improve the readiness of U.S. naval forces in the Pacific.

General Taylor said the Chiefs support the McNamara report. They favor readying forces now which would be required if it were decided later to take further military action than that recommended in the report. The Chiefs also want to examine the possibility of reducing from 72 to 24 hours the prior notice required to undertake actions against North Vietnam.

Secretary McNamara said that each Department and Agency concurs with the recommendations which fall in its area of responsibility. Ambassador Lodge agrees with all the recommendations except for his [Page 171]views on the need for overt reconnaissance of Cambodia. Mr. McGeorge Bundy pointed out that Ambassador Lodge’s recommendation on Cambodian reconnaissance has been overtaken by events. No decision on this matter can be taken until we have further information about the conversations which are taking place between Khanh and the Cambodians.

The President said it was his understanding that Ambassador Lodge approved all the recommendations in the report except the one which has been overtaken by events and which he can be told lies in the area of unfinished business. The President then asked Secretary McNamara to summarize all twelve of his recommendations.

Secretary McNamara said as to cost, the program proposed would involve an expenditure of between $50 million and $60 million by the South Vietnamese, but that the actual cost to us would be approximately $30 million. Some of the cost will be covered by PL 480 funds and the remainder will come from reallocation of funds to meet the new plans. No supplemental budget request will be necessary.

Secretary McNamara covered very briefly all twelve recommendations. He agreed that the Joint Chiefs of Staff should study the proposal to reduce the 72-hour notice proposal contained in Recommendation 12. He agreed that this time should be reduced if it is possible to do so without resulting in the maldeployment of our forces in the Pacific.

The President asked Secretary McNamara if his program would reverse the current trend in South Vietnam. Secretary McNamara replied that if we carry out energetically the proposals he has made, Khanh can stem the tide in South Vietnam, and within four to six months, improve the situation there.

The President summarized the alternatives to the recommended course of action, i.e., putting in more U.S. forces, pulling out of the area, or neutralizing the area. He said the course we are following is the only realistic alternative. It will have the maximum effectiveness with the minimum loss.

General Taylor said the Chiefs believed the proposed program was acceptable, but it may not be sufficient to save the situation in Vietnam. He commented that the Chiefs’ interest in military action against North Vietnam was based on their belief that action against North Vietnam might be necessary to make effective the program recommended by Secretary McNamara.

Secretary McNamara commented that Khanh had told him that he opposed taking the war to North Vietnam now because he felt that the South Vietnamese need a more secure base in the South before undertaking expanded military action.

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The President said the McNamara proposals did not foreclose action later if the situation did not improve as we expected. He asked whether anyone present had any objections. Hearing none, he said the recommendations were approved.

The President, accompanied by Secretaries Rusk and McNamara, USIA Director Rowan, and Mr. McGeorge Bundy, went to his office where a draft press statement was revised and later issued. (Copy attached)3

Bromley Smith4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings, Vol. 1, U.S. Policy Toward Vietnam. Secret. Drafted by Bromley Smith. A full attendance list for this meeting is ibid.
  2. Document 84
  3. The final statement is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, pp. 387–388. Attached to a Department of State copy of the McNamara report of March 16 was a draft of this statement with handwritten revisions. (Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 70 D 265, NSC Meetings, 3/17/64)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.