191. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Green) to the Under Secretary of State (Ball)1


  • Thoughts on Negotiations over Viet-Nam

I sometimes wonder how realistic we are with regard to the whole question of negotiations over Viet-Nam. I hesitate to break into print on [Page 423] this subject, without having been in Viet-Nam for many years. But I have watched it from Hong Kong and, then and subsequently, through Peiping/Hanoi eyes as far as possible. Tentative conclusions come to mind:

How will the war end? Will it be by the Westernized form of negotiations in which a bunch of people sit around a table and sign documents? Or will it be something that is closer to the Oriental experience of negotiating by a series of actions unilaterally taken which lead to tranquilization? I think the latter is more likely to happen—and I think it is more likely to be successful. This, after all, is the way the Offshore Islands issue was settled in 1958. Moreover, it involves relatively little loss of face—which a formal conference does. Most importantly, it permits the process mentioned in paragraph 2, below, to take place: namely, if the North Vietnamese, after enough Rolling Thunder persuasions, decide to exfiltrate cadre leaders or curb infiltration or stop the terror, we could react by a unilateral cessation of something we were doing at that time which was painful to them. Such a tacit form of “negotiation” would take some time but might be accelerated by secret diplomatic messages about what they and we were doing.
What will persuade Hanoi to call off the aggression? I believe it will be a combination of elements such as (a) the penalties for continuing aggression (e.g., our bombing of NVN), (b) Hanoi distress over Peiping’s failure to give the kind of support Hanoi wants, (c) the attractions for stopping the war (e.g., Soviet or other economic assistance), and (d) a settlement process which involves minimum loss of face and indeed permits Hanoi to deal with its own anti-peace elements be they in Peiping or Hanoi itself. I fear it is quite unrealistic to expect that Hanoi will formally agree to withdraw its cadre leaders and stop infiltration as a condition to negotiations. For Hanoi to agree to stop infiltration or to stop terrorist actions in the south or to withdraw cadre leaders would be to admit the aggression it has persistently denied. The only way Hanoi might actually call off the aggression would be through a quiet unadmitted process. This we must permit if we are to get them to withdraw and end infiltration.
I foresee the distinct possibility that the Vietnamese will become increasingly “nationalistic” about how this war is resolved. They will resent what they regard as the presumptuousness of outsiders like U Thant, the Indians, the French, the Russians and even His Holiness the Pope to play the role of negotiators or of arbiters of the fate of the Vietnamese people. This will be whipped up of course by Hanoi. Note the latest NLFSVN position (FBIS, March 8) which states: “South Vietnamese affairs should be settled by the South Vietnamese people themselves…. The South Vietnamese have been and still are resolutely opposed to the scheme of internationalizing the war in Indochina.” As the Americans get drawn into deeper and deeper involvement in South [Page 424] Viet-Nam, North Viet-Nam will not only try to make out that this is a war between the Americans and the Vietnamese, but it may succeed in establishing a common Vietnamese front (NLFSVN and non-Communist elements) to urge the Americans to get out.
The real danger in any estimation is not that we will be forced prematurely into an international conference on Viet-Nam but rather that the political sickness and war weariness in South Viet-Nam will bring about direct talks between the Viet Cong and the Government or Hanoi and Saigon or even a triangular talk between Saigon, Hanoi and the Viet Cong (NLFSVN). I could even see a situation where the Vietnamese Government and NLFSVN representatives in a particular area got together and signed a truce or effected some settlement. This could spread like wildfire. Would the US and SVN forces try to quash—and how? All of this makes it desirable to anticipate as far as possible this kind of eventuality in order to avert or, if necessary, to cope with it. Mr. Unger has already done some work on this subject.

The foregoing considerations do not argue against continuing the course on which we are now embarked. Certainly it supports the President’s silence on a negotiations approach as well as emphasizing our willingness to return to the Geneva Accords and respect for NVN territorial integrity. We can also expect and should tolerate non-U.S. Government talk about negotiations. This is bound to occur and we should never seem to be opposed to peaceful settlement, as indeed we are not.

However, the above-numbered considerations do point to the possibility of a different type of negotiating from that generally anticipated and suggests that our planning might take it into account.

  1. Source: Department of State, Ball Files: Lot 74 D 272, Vietnam (Misc. #2). Secret. Drafted by Green. The source text was attached to a covering note of March 9 from Green to Ball which reads: “This is in response to your suggestion that I put some of these thoughts on paper. I would be glad to follow up with Len Unger and others if you so desire. I would hope we could get men like Bob Johnson of S/P in to help out. I am not circulating any copies, though you may want to show a copy to the Secretary or to McGeorge Bundy.”