198. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara1


  • Proposals for a Settlement of the Southeast Asia Conflict


In three recent messages to the Department of State,2 the US Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) has made certain proposals concerning a settlement of the Southeast Asia (SEAsia) conflict. Basic to these proposals, which are set forth in detail in the Appendix,3 are the following:
A program of graduated reprisals should be undertaken against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). This program, in response to DRV-inspired actions in the RVN, would be designed to persuade the DRV to stop its intervention in the RVN.
A broad outline of terms for cessation of the above reprisal attacks would be a strict return to the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962; i.e., the DRV would:
In the RVN, stop infiltration and bring about a cessation of the Viet Cong armed insurgency.
In Laos, withdraw all Viet Minh forces and personnel and recognize that the freedom of movement granted in that country by the 1962 Accords is not subject to veto or interference.
Probably the best procedure for attaining an agreement and for avoiding protracted negotiations would be to have military representatives of the RVN and the DRV meet in the Demilitarized Zone, under International Control Commission auspices and with US observers present. The Laotian Government would have to be associated with these negotiations at some point.
Subsequently, the US Ambassadors to the RVN, Laos, and Thailand agreed that:
Too much reference, especially publicly, to our willingness to negotiate causes confusion in the RVN, Laos, and Thailand. In these countries, “negotiations” means to negotiate a neutralist (coalition government) solution as opposed to seeing the war through to a satisfactory conclusion.
Our posture should be one in which we make clear that our purpose is to convince the DRV to cease its aggression.
Diplomatic activities of countries looking for a neutralist settlement will build up considerable pressures for some form of negotiated solution short of our objectives. We must divert these pressures to Hanoi, Peking, and Moscow as the instigators and supporters of aggression.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the graduated military pressures within the scope of subparagraph 1 a, above, are included in JCSM 967–64, dated 18 November 1964, subject: “Courses of Action in Southeast Asia,”4 which sets forth a program designed to destroy the will and capabilities of the DRV to support the insurgencies in the RVN and Laos. Clearly, the efficacy of a negotiated settlement will be largely influenced by the effectiveness of the program.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed the above proposals (see Appendix). In summary, they conclude that:
It is vital that the United States/RVN enter into negotiations with the communists from a position of strength. As a minimum, there should be no attempt to negotiate a settlement until US/Government of Vietnam forces have achieved a strong position of military advantage.
The proposal by the US Ambassador to the RVN that the DRV cease its intervention in the RVN and Laos provides the minimum requisite basis for negotiating a settlement of the SEAsia conflict.
Once having achieved a negotiating threshold, the United States/RVN/Royal Laotian Government (RLG) must not lose it at the conference table. Unnecessarily protracted negotiations caused by communist stalling or intransigence would be a basis for increased military pressures against the DRV, Viet Cong, and the Pathet Lao/Viet Minh. Appropriate US/RVN/RLG military posture and actions must be maintained to assure that the communists are aware of the credibility of both the US/RVN/RLG power and resolve.
Basic to the ultimate settlement of the conflict in SEAsia is whether there can logically be a return to the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962 or whether new international agreements must be developed. Recognizing that the RLG would have to be associated with the negotiations at some point, from the US/RVN point of view, bilateral negotiations between the RVN and the DRV would offer important advantages. Such an approach would enable a more controlled agenda; whereas another Geneva-type conference could be used as a propaganda forum for each participating country, as well as for providing leverage for the neutralization of SEAsia.
Having endorsed an international conference, the communists could be expected to resist bilateral talks. Should the international climate necessitate a reconvening of the Geneva Conference, the United States/RVN/RLG should delay the conference while dangling it before the communists to induce them to make concessions. Meanwhile, the program of graduated military pressures must be continued relentlessly.
Undue reliance should not be placed on the USSR as either a mediator or a sole channel of communications to Hanoi and Peking. The Soviets can be expected to seek to advance their own interests at our expense.
A central problem in the negotiations would be to develop a system of effective safeguards to ensure that the agreements are carried out faithfully. This matter is treated further in the Appendix.
In view of the military considerations involved in negotiating a settlement of the SEAsia conflict, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that:
The United States/RVN/RLG not enter into negotiations with the communists until a strong military position has been achieved, to include a reasonable indication that DRV intervention in the RVN and Laos has ceased.
This paper be considered in the development of a US position on a settlement of the SEAsia conflict.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD/Admin Files: FRC 70 A 1265, Vietnam 092.2. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Apparent reference to telegrams 2889, 2888, and 2880; see Document 187 and footnotes 6 and 3 thereto.
  3. Attached, but not printed.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Document 420, footnote 6, and Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 639–640.