193. Paper Prepared by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (McNaughton)1

ACTION FOR SOUTH VIETNAM

1. US aims:

  • 70%—To avoid a humiliating US defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor).
  • 20%—To keep SVN (and then adjacent) territory from Chinese hands.
  • 10%—To permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life.
  • Also—To emerge from crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used.
  • Not—To “help a friend,” although it would be hard to stay if asked out.

2. Deteriorating situation:

(a)
Politically, 50% chance of coup within 3 weeks.
(b)
Militarily, SVN has been cut in two with GVN control in north reduced to enclaves.

3. Prognosis:

(a)
GVN officials will adjust their behavior to an eventual VC take-over.
(b)
Defections of significant military forces will take place.
(c)
Whole integrated regions of the country will be totally denied to GVN.
(d)
Neutral and/or left-wing elements will enter the government.
(e)
A popular-front regime will emerge which will invite the US out.
(f)
Fundamental concessions will be made to the VC.
(g)
Accommodations to the DRV will put SVN behind the Curtain.

4. Inside South Vietnam:

Progress inside SVN is important, but it depends more on GVN efforts and luck than on added US efforts. Nevertheless, whatever other [Page 428]actions might be taken, great efforts should be made within South Vietnam: (a) To help the ARVN defeat the VC, by giving advice and training, obtaining intelligence, providing air lift and strike support, and hampering VC infiltration; (b) to strengthen the government, its bureaucracy, and its civil-military coordination and planning; (c) to dampen ethnic, religious, urban and civil-military strife by a broad and positive program designed to enlist the support or dampen the opposition of important groups; and (d) to press the pacification program where conditions permit.

5. Courses of action:

(6) Progressively squeeze North Vietnam;

and/or (7) add massive US ground effort in South Vietnam;

and/or (8) downgrade the apparent stakes.

6. Program of progressive military pressure on North Vietnam:

a. Purposes:

(1)
To reduce DRV/VC activities (reduction can be tacit).
(2)
To improve US/GVN bargaining position.
(3)
To show world lengths to which US will go to fulfill commitments.

b. Primary program:

Each week, two 100-plane high-damage strike days with two important targets each day—1 for US, 1 for VNAF—moving slowly northward.

c. Other actions:

(1)
34A MAROPS.
(2)
DeSoto patrols in Gulf of Tonkin.
(3)
Recce flights over Laos and DRV.
(4)
T-38/Barrel Roll armed-recce and choke-point strikes in Laos.
(5)
US/VNAF strikes against VC operations and bases in SVN.

d. Stated terms:

  • (1) We do not seek to destroy DRV or to acquire a base,
  • (2) We will arrange rice-barter deal between DRV and SVN, and
  • (3) We will stop squeeze on DRV (not withdraw from SVN),
  • but (4) DRV must stop training and sending personnel to SVN/Laos,
  • (5) DRV must stop sending arms and supplies into SVN/Laos,
  • (6) DRV must stop directing military actions in SVN/Laos,
  • (7) DRV must order the VC/PL to stop their insurgencies,
  • (8) DRV must stop propaganda broadcasts to South Vietnam, and
  • (9) DRV must remove VM forces and cadres from SVN and Laos.

e. Other risks:

(1)
Strikes north of 20# are likely to attract MIGs out of Phuc Yen (Hanoi). (Unless MIG hazard becomes great, striking MIG base can be postponed until it fits our pressure schedule.)
(2)
China may introduce MIGs from Hainan, raising question of hot pursuit into China and of taking out Chinese air bases.
(3)
DRV (Chinese?) air may strike SVN bases or cities.
(4)
Increased VC activities (take city, kill top leaders).
(5)
DRV (China?) may launch ground forces into Laos and/or SVN.
(6)
South Vietnamese may panic if threatened by land or air.
(7)
GVN may disintegrate out from under us.
(8)
World-wide revulsion against killing Vietnamese may develop.

f. Other Red moves:

(1)
China/USSR may stir Laos, Thailand, Korea, Berlin, etc.
(2)
More jets to NVN with NVN or ChiCom pilots.
(3)
AAA and radar gear to NVN.
(4)
Increased air and ground forces in South China.
(5)
Cause major military or civilian defections in SVN.
(6)
PL land grabs in Laos.
(7)
Other “defensive” DRV retaliation (shoot down U-2?).
(8)
Political drive for “neutralization” of Indo-China.
(9)
PL declaration of new government in Laos.

g. “Circuit-breakers.” To avoid undesirable escalation, US has option to “plateau” US strikes against DRV and to shunt added action from more serious air strikes to the following:

(1)
Massive increase in US presence south of 17# (minimum of 25,000 additional “combat support” personnel in SVN; maximum of 150,000 combat troops across Laos and in SVN).
(2)
Aerial mining of DRV harbors and naval blockade of DRV.
(3)
Division of US troops (from Korea?) into Thailand and perhaps with Thais into Mekong towns in Laos.
(4)
Diplomatic negotiating offensive (via UK or GVN).

h. Important miscellany:

(1)
Program should appear to be relentless (i.e., possibility of employing “circuit-breakers” should be secret).
(2)
Enemy should be kept aware of our limited objectives.
(3)
US should not appear to press for negotiations.
(4)
Allies should be kept on board.
(5)
USSR should be kept in passive role.
(6)
Information program should preserve US public support.

7. Program of massive US ground effort in SVN & SEA:

a. Purposes:

(1)
To defeat the VC on the ground.
(2)
To improve US/GVN bargaining position.
(3)
To show world lengths to which US will go to fulfill commitments.

b. Program:

(1)
Continue a “plateau” of air strikes against DRV.
(2)
Add Westmoreland ’s 25,000 additional US “combat support” personnel.
(3)
Deploy 3–5 US divisions (with or without “international” elements) across Laos-SVN infiltration routes and at key SVN population centers.
(4)
Deploy 1 division (from Korea?) with Thai in Lao Mekong towns.

c. Risks:

(1)
China will move troops into DRV;DRV/China will deploy into Laos.
(2)
US troops will be bogged down and attrited to VC.
(3)
US will become “French colonialists” even to South Vietnamese.
(4)
US public will not support the US moves.

d. “Circuit-breakers:” There are none. Once US troops are in, it will be impossible to withdraw them or to move them, say, to Thailand without admitting defeat.

8. Downgrade the apparent stakes:

If/when it is estimated that even the best US/GVN efforts mean failure (undesirable escalation or defeat), it will be important to act to minimize [Page 431]the damage to US effectiveness and image thereafter by steps such as these:

(a)
Deliver ultimatum to coup-prone generals to “shape up or we ship out,” and when they patently fail to shape up, we ship out.
(b)
Publicize uniqueness and congenital impossibility of SVN case (e.g., Viet Minh held much of SVN in 1954, long uncontrollable borders, unfavorable terrain, absence of national tradition or administrators, mess left by French, competing factions, Communist LOC advantage, late US start, etc).
(c)
Create diversionary “offensives” elsewhere in the world (e.g., to shore up Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, India, Australia; to launch an “anti-poverty” program for underdeveloped areas).
(d)
Enter multi-nation negotiations calculated to shift opinions and values.
(e)
Shift to Saigon focus of decision and of discussion.

9. Concurrent negotiating track:

The realistic objective is not a DRV/VC backdown nor necessarily an explicit agreement. Would we settle for a tacit piecemeal live-and-let-live Vietnamese deal including a “writing off” of indefensible portions of SVN? The US should:

(a)
Maintain present posture of refusing formal negotiations.
(b)
Maintain position that we ask only that DRV leave SVN alone.
(c)
Keep quiet channels (via UK? France?!) open for hopeful signs.
(d)
Keep eye on South Vietnamese, who may be dealing under the table.
(e)
Be ready to shift to formal negotiations as a “circuit-breaker” (para 6g) or to help “downgrade the apparent stakes” (para 8d).

10. Evaluation:

It is essential—however badly SEA may go over the next 2–4 years—that US emerge as a “good doctor.” We must have kept promises, been tough, taken risks, gotten bloodied, and hurt the enemy very badly. We must avoid harmful appearances which will affect judgments by, and provide pretexts to, other nations regarding how the US will behave in future cases of particular interest to those nations—regarding US policy, power, resolve and competence to deal with their problems. The US should:

(a)
Progressively squeeze North Vietnam (per para 6), without high confidence that it will improve the situation in SVN, with some confidence that it will improve the US/GVN bargaining position, and with confidence that it will demonstrate lengths to which US will go to fulfill commitments.
(b)
Be prepared to shunt to “circuit-breakers” (per para 6g), either to deploy large numbers of US forces in South Vietnam or to Thailand and Laos.
(c)
Pursue the negotiations track (per para 9).
(d)
Have a contingency plan to downgrade the apparent stakes (per para 8) to be initiated when/if necessary to confuse the issue and diffuse the blame.

  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Negotiating Files: Lot 69 D 412, Project Mayflower. Top Secret; Sensitive. Copies were sent to McGeorge Bundy, Unger, McNamara, and Vance.