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


  • Possible Sequence of Actions Toward a Settlement in South Viet-Nam

This memorandum attempts to lay out the major issues that would arise if Hanoi showed a disposition to move toward a settlement. Although we cannot see very far down the road on this at the present time, we obviously need to get our thoughts in order and to consider whether we should, in some subtle way, revise or amplify our present formula that Hanoi must simply cease its aggression. The British also tell us that Minister Stewart will want to discuss this topic.2

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Incidentally, I spent an hour with Alex Johnson on the matter in Baguio,3 and he feels that we should be consulting fairly soon with the GVN on our thinking.

I. Elements of the problem.

We assume that we are dealing with Hanoi, not with Peiping and not with the Liberation Front. Our “dealing” could be direct, indirect through third parties, or might in the early stages be through public signals and reciprocal actions only without any contact.

We can identify the principal bargaining elements as follows:

On the US side:

Cessation of our attacks against the DRV.
Cessation of overt US military action in some categories (e.g., air attacks) within South Viet-Nam.
Withdrawal of any major US military units from South Viet-Nam.
Withdrawal of our military presence from South Viet-Nam, at least down to Geneva levels.

On Hanoi’s side:

Cessation of infiltration so that we are satisfied that it has stopped, or under a system of reliable supervision and inspection.
Cessation of organized unit military action by the Viet Cong in the south.
Withdrawal and/or demilitarization of infiltrators within SVN.

On both sides:

Complete cease-fire and regroupment in the south.
Measures to determine the future political organization in the south.

Our objective remains to remove all DRV interference in the south, so that SVN can determine its own future and so that its security will be assured. Since we cannot readily expect Hanoi simply to call the whole thing off at once, we should be thinking in terms of a sequence that would accomplish our objective but still leave them some “face” at each stage and that will be plausible to the world and consistent with the stated basis of our action, against aggression from the north. Such a graduated sequence also conforms to the practical way the cards might play.
The issues really divide into four:
Possible preconditions for the cessation of our attacks on the DRV.
The future political structure of SVN.
The future international status of SVN.
Policing and supervising machinery for any of the above.

II. The immediate problem: Preconditions for the cessation of our attacks on the DRV.

We believe that we must include a cessation of infiltration, at least to the point where we are satisfied that it has stopped or dwindled to a trickle, but that we cannot stop there. Whereas we might have thought nine months ago that, without further infiltration, the VC could be fairly readily handled over a period of time, VC strength is now such that, from a military standpoint alone, they might still be in a position to make dangerous gains.

Thus, we would have to insist, both for practical reasons and in logic, on a second condition concerning the degree of VC continued action in the south. Alex Johnson thought that we should insist that Hanoi direct the complete cessation of all VC activity. However, most of us think this is too much to expect, and that it would suffice to insist on a cessation of organized unit action of any significant size.

These two preconditions would in effect thus be reduced to practical and recognizable terms. We would not be insisting that adequate supervising machinery be in place on the infiltration issue—this would require major deployments by some international grouping, and simply could not be arranged readily. We would not be insisting on a complete “cease-fire”. We would be establishing a practical and indeed somewhat elastic standard and saying in effect: “We will know if you go on with the infiltration and we will know if there are significant VC actions. If either of these happens, we are reserving the right to resume our attacks on any scale required.”

The result could well be a sort of twilight zone period in which we might in fact be continuing occasional attacks, but in which the situation might be settling down at least to the point where more formal discussions could be held.

III. The next phase: Determining the future political structure of the south.

Here our basic position could well be that we favor an appropriate determination of the will of the people of SVN, provided that all external interference is removed. Once that interference is gone, we for our part would be prepared to withdraw our forces.

In practice, this position would almost certainly lead to a very long drawn-out process.

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Perhaps the first crucial question would be the freedom of action of GVN forces. If they moved into areas now controlled by the VC, there would almost certainly be clashes which we would find it hard to justify as a basis for resuming attacks on the DRV. We need to explore just what the exact limits of nominal “government control” are and to see if a practical guideline would be freedom of GVN forces to operate in these areas.

But even this would leave enclaves of VC control scattered throughout the country. In theory, we could meet these by some procedure for regroupment and for repatriation to the north of those who had come from there. In practice, this would be a very difficult procedure to carry out. We might make an amnesty proposal, with the GVN then free to move into areas where the amnesty offer had been extended. But we almost certainly could not accept a hardening of somewhat legalized VC control over a period of time.

On the political side, Hanoi would almost certainly demand a legalized role for the Liberation Front. This we should resist, insisting on the removal of external interference or its equivalent, the disarming of the VC.

What is clear is that we cannot let the VC dig in, in the fashion of the Pathet Lao provinces of Laos, and that any explicit partitions of SVN, even if it were possible without looking like a case of measles, would likewise invite a resurrection of VC activity. We have to insist on the gradual elimination of VC control, but we may probably have to accept that this would have to be done in such a way that there could be a genuine determination of the will of the people.

For this reason alone, it is very difficult to see this stage taking place without there having been created a fairly substantial international machinery. And this in turn virtually requires a major multilateral negotiating process. In short, once we had obtained the preconditions for the cessation of our attacks on the DRV, we should not only not reject, but should positively welcome and seek a conference situation.

A second possible function for international machinery would be to verify and insure the permanent cessation of infiltration. In this connection, we could consider whether it would be wise to be prepared to withdraw our organized combat units in return for such machinery. This would have the rationale that these units had been the necessary insurance against a recurrence of infiltration.

In general, we should recognize that the presence of additional US organized combat units could become a valuable negotiating card either in this or some other way, and that such forces would in any event greatly help to stabilize the situation that might exist after the preconditions were satisfied but while major VC units were still in place within SVN.

In sum, a rough sequence in this phase might be: [Page 464]

A consolidation of government control in all areas even more or less now under government control, but leaving the VC unmolested in their areas.
A regroupment or amnesty progressively applied to the VC areas, under international supervision.
International supervision of the infiltration routes.
Withdrawal of US organized combat units.
Some procedure for “determining the will” of the people of South Vietnam. This again would appear to require international supervision, and might conceivably be done on the basis of layers of local elections (as in Pakistan), leading to a national convention. Any popular referendum would appear extraordinarily difficult to carry out, especially in terms of framing the propositions to be put.

IV. Future International Status of SVN, and of SEA Generally.

This point appears to be under much better control than any of the others, in that we have repeatedly indicated (as has Hanoi verbally) our support of the 1954 provisions—no adherence to an alliance, no military bases, limited external military personnel for training only.

We could also argue strongly that until a political structure was established within SVN, it was premature to seek any modification of the 1954 status, since the will of the new SVN Government itself should have great weight.

By the same token, any issues on the future status of the Indochina successor states as a whole, much less the rest of mainland Southeast Asia, could and should be deferred. Again, we already have a clear position—the 1962 Accords for Laos and neutrality for Cambodia.We certainly do not want to raise any question of Thailand’s status, and we could well stick to the fundamental proposition that the nations of the area should determine their own future status, either on an individual basis or in some collective framework as they see fit.

V. Actions in the Near Future.

Here we have two questions—whether to amend our public posture, and what to discuss with the GVN.

On the first point, it is obvious that the cessation of infiltration (to our satisfaction) and the cessation of VC organized unit actions are not by any means a cessation of the whole aggression as we have been using the term. Hence, to announce this modification in our position publicly would almost certainly be regarded as a retreat, and a suggestion that we might retreat still further—e.g., to the early Canadian suggestion (to the Soviets and without our consent) that we might cease our attacks on the DRV merely in return for some reduction in the scale of VC activity.

This leaves the tactical question of when and to whom we should indicate our preconditions. They could certainly be discussed with the [Page 465]British without leaking, but equally without any chance of their reaching Hanoi. The Canadians could convey them to Hanoi more or less directly, but this too may be more eager than we now wish to appear.

On balance, we are inclined to think that the first hint of possible give in Hanoi’s position will probably come to us through the Soviets on a private basis. This would then probably be the best time to indicate our position.

As to the GVN, we are inclined to think that we could safely discuss with them the whole of our thinking under II and the broad outlines of our positions under III and IV. Our position under II is sufficiently favorable so that we do not believe the GVN would see in it any signs of weakening. They could probably be persuaded also that any early true “cease-fire” might run into the question of GVN freedom of action, and is thus much less desirable than the sequence here discussed.

  1. Source: Department of State, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Political Track Papers. Top Secret.
  2. A reference to the planned visit to Washington later in the month of British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart; see Document 211.
  3. See Document 199.