122. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Vietnam Course of Action

For your meeting at 5:30 today,2 I am setting down what I believe to be the serious unresolved questions.


Saigon 25883 and Bangkok 11294 both argue strenuously that any expressed willingness to talk would raise serious problems in both countries, and could well cause doubts about our firmness. At the very least, this would point to adequate time to consult fully with both governments, and probably also with the Lao.

On the other hand, the argument for declaring our willingness to talk remains very strong. Once we have made our case in the Security Council, there is a terribly high probability that some one will generate a resolution calling for discussion among the interested powers on how to achieve cessation of what the Indian Declaration5 calls “provocative actions” on both sides, i.e., DRV infiltration and activity in SVN, versus [Page 279] our own activity against the north, probably with a cease-fire in the south and withdrawal of American personnel from the south also thrown up as part of the agenda. There remains great merit in the idea that getting into “preliminary discussions” on a seven-power basis would give us a strong lightning rod against pressures for an immediate conference and would permit us to continue our actions during the prolonged period that such preliminary discussions would take.

As I see it this is the key question. If we decide to continue with Saturday’s script,6 we must recognize that we have not in fact cleared this in Saigon—or Bangkok, or Vientiane—and that failure to understand our motives and purposes in these quarters could have very serious implications. Saigon in particular is an absolute must, since we must have the Vietnamese with us in the UN and not appear to be jumping ahead of them down what can be construed as a negotiating track.


Allied Consultation. If we envisage a sequence comprising an additional strike, a public statement within 24–48 hours thereafter, and resort to the UN in another 2–3 days thereafter—(and foreshadowed by the statement), we must consider carefully just when and how fully we talk to our allies. I divide the problem as follows.

SVN, Thailand, and Laos: full consultation and clearance.
UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada: full consultation, but with the difference that clearance can be expected to be fairly automatic.
Japan, Philippines, India, and perhaps France: slightly less full consultation, designed to keep Japan and the Philippines calm and to make India and France at least understand what we are doing.
Soviet Union: This too is a special case, and it might be what we would wish to tell them only at once after the next action and just before our public announcement.
U Thant: This too is a special case, and I assume you have talked to Ambassador Stevenson and Mr. Cleveland about the possibility that U Thant, unless forewarned, may at some time state publicly that he has been working on an avenue to Hanoi, that Hanoi has agreed (I don’t personally know what he means by this) and that we have declined to go ahead.7

As to timing, I would myself be inclined to state that categories a and b above should be fully covered before we make the strike, and that category c might also be considered for such treatment; d and e might wait until the day between the strike and the announcement.

Nature and Timing of Operations. This has not been fully thought through, and I have the feeling that the Pentagon still thinks in terms of larger single operations, and more operations in any one strike, than may [Page 280] be wise, particularly during the time that we are actually presenting our case to the world and in the Security Council.
UN Presentation.
The drafting up to this point establishing the case on DRV activity is in very good shape. Our legal justification is also in strong shape, with a good memorandum from L.8 On the case against the DRV, we have a serious question whether to mention in general terms the existence of the radio net; this came up with Ambassador Stevenson this morning,9 and my own conclusion is that we could hold it out of the initial UN presentation, in order to develop it later in the preliminary discussions as a prelude to radio silence as one form of compliance.
We do not yet have an exact formulation of the conditions we would set as essential to the convening of a conference. My own view is that at the outset we should insist on a cessation of infiltration and of activity in the south in which the DRV has a hand. However, all of us can see that this would be a very difficult thing to verify for the first part, and practically impossible for the second. We may find ourselves moving toward a trend that would set the cessation of infiltration against the cessation of our attacks against the DRV, and this needs careful weighing as we go along. A cease-fire is another thorny issue, since it would not be advantageous in the south, as we now see it, unless we had freedom of GVN armed forces movement throughout areas where there is still nominal GVN presence.

The complexity and difficulty of these issues argue strongly for not seeking to litigate them in the UN, and this in turn points strongly in the direction of initiating, or accepting, a proposal for early, “preliminary discussions” to work on these issues.

  1. Source: Department of State, Ball Files: Lot 72 D 272, Vietnam (Misc.) I. Top Secret.
  2. Rusk met with the President at the White House at 5:25 p.m. on February 15, and at 6 p.m. they went to the Cabinet Room for a meeting with McGeorge Bundy, Ball, McNamara, and Thompson. The meeting lasted until 7:15 p.m. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No record of the discussion at these meetings has been found, other than McGeorge Bundy’s very fragmentary handwritten notes. (Johnson Library, Papers of McGeorge Bundy)
  3. Document 118.
  4. Not found.
  5. Apparently a reference to the Indian Government’s public statement of February 8, expressing its “grave concern” over the developments in Vietnam and calling for a “Geneva-type conference.” The Indian Ambassador had called on Acting Secretary of State Ball on February 13 to inquire about the U.S. reaction to the February 8 statement and to Prime Minister Shastri’s follow-up letter to President Johnson of February 10. (Memorandum from Read to McGeorge Bundy, February 10, and telegram 1652 to New Delhi, February 13; both in Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  6. Apparently a reference to the plan agreed on Saturday, February 13, at the working level and then approved by the President on February 13. See Document 115.
  7. Regarding Stevenson’s contacts with U Thant on Vietnam, see Document 145.
  8. Apparently a reference to the paper prepared in the Office of the Legal Adviser, “Legal Basis for United States Actions Against North Viet-Nam,” which was attached to a February 11 covering memorandum from Legal Adviser Leonard C. Meeker to Thompson. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  9. No record of this conversation has been found.