125. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (Cleveland) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Bundy)1


  • What is a Cease-Fire?
We spoke yesterday about the need to tie down just what we might be able to live with in the way of compliance by the DRV with various gradations of “leaving their neighbors alone.”
The Defense Department has done a very good outline on the “DRV compliance problem.” But the Defense memorandum2 is really addressed to the longer range problem with which we would be faced in attending a peace conference, negotiating a peace settlement for Viet-Nam, and establishing international machinery to ensure compliance.
More immediately, whether or not we get into the Security Council as such, any “political track” requires us to be very clear in our own minds about:
How much of a stand-down by the DRV we would insist on as a pre-condition to talks about the longer range problem? and
How much of a stand-down we would be prepared to live with ourselves as the quid pro quo?
The following problems, among others, seem to be crucial. I hope that in the discussions with Defense they can be clarified:
We presumably want a halt to the infiltration. But how will we know that the infiltration is halted without some international inspectors on the ground? To discuss international inspectors as part of a precondition for a peace conference would stall progress toward peace talks. (If as things work out we want to stall talks for a while, this would be a credible way to do it.)
Can we use, in the pre-condition phase, the concept of radio silence? In this case the “inspection” would presumably be our national capabilities, rather than any international arrangement. There is, however, [Page 286] precedent, in 1958 in Lebanon, for international (UN) monitoring of a military radio system as part of a peacekeeping operation.

Do we want a cease-fire in South Vietnam? The answer presumably depends on the definition of “cease-fire”.

On the one hand, “cease-fire” could simply mean a stand-still while the talks go on. But if such a stand-still enables the Liberation Front to consolidate its political control in the areas effectively held by the Viet Cong, this would build into the peace talks an incentive for the Communists to stall, since the cease-fire would be working to their advantage.

On the other hand, if “cease-fire” is taken to include the idea that the Saigon Government could “pacify” the Viet Cong areas during the cease-fire, that would be taken by most people as a frivolous proposal, since it would be a kind of “one-sided cease-fire”. We cannot, after all, expect to accomplish by political negotiation a great advance over what we can accomplish by military means. If the South Vietnamese army with our American advisers cannot pacify the country-side, it is unlikely that the State Department or our UN delegation will succeed in doing so in a Security Council resolution or at the pre-conference table.

The definition of “cease-fire” will therefore have to be somewhere in between a “one-sided cease-fire” and a simple stand-still order equally applicable to both sides.

Under what conditions would we agree to stop bombing the North—or, without an agreement, stop bombing de facto? Can we agree to stop the bombing only in return for a stoppage of the infiltration, leaving the Viet Cong free to continue attacks (including attacks on American installations) in South Viet-Nam?
These are all questions, and are not intended to imply the answers. But we clearly need to know what we think the answers are before we get into public negotiations—in or out of the UN—on the issue of how the shooting can be stopped and the talking begun.
One alternative we should certainly consider is to start the talking while the shooting (and periodic bombing) continues. Unless we can get a very considerable stand-down by Hanoi and the Viet Cong—perhaps including some actual withdrawal of North Vietnamese from South Viet-Nam as an earnest of good intentions—there may be advantages to talking about a cease-fire but not actually to arrive at one before the peace talks begin. Under these conditions, the “pre-conference” stage (with a strictly limited number of countries involved) would probably turn out to be 90 percent of the peace talks; a “Geneva Conference” could be called merely to ratify more or less permanent arrangements that had already been agreed to at the “pre-conference”, spurred by continuation of sporadic fighting and bombing.
  1. Source: Department of State, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, WPB Chron, February 1965. Top Secret. Drafted by Cleveland. Copies were sent to Rusk, Ball, Thompson, Read, and Unger. In a brief note of February 16 attached to the copy he sent to Rusk, Cleveland wrote: “Although this has more questions than answers, I think you’ll find it worth reading because it deals with a small point of interest in present staff work on Viet-Nam.” (Ibid., Central Files, POL 27–14 VIET)
  2. This undated paper was sent as an attachment to a note of February 17 from Read to Thompson, in which Read wrote that the Defense paper referred to in Cleveland’s memorandum was prepared by Allen Friedman in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. A copy of the paper and Read’s covering note are ibid.