300. Paper Prepared by the Under Secretary of State (Ball)1



Principal Features of the Plan

This memorandum proposes a plan for achieving our objectives in South Viet-Nam by shifting the struggle from the military to the political arena. The plan has two principal features:

The promulgation by the South Vietnamese Government of a Program for Social and Political Reconstruction. This Program is designed to invite the peaceful participation of Viet Cong adherents in the national life of South Viet-Nam. It should make it possible for political activity to be substituted for a shooting war in one after another of the provinces of South Viet-Nam.
A temporary halt of offensive military operations for a stated period to permit full dissemination and consideration of the Government’s program [Page 653] throughout the country. These offensive operations would be resumed if the program meets substantial Viet Cong resistance.


The Case for Transforming the Struggle

We have, from the beginning, made clear that our objective in Southeast Asia is to bring about a political solution that would assure the independence of South Viet-Nam. We have so far assumed that we could achieve an acceptable political settlement only when our military pressure had reached the point where the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were ready to give up the struggle.

Yet now—or in the near future—we may well be facing a situation where each side will be led to accept more dangerous and onerous expedients in an effort to achieve its major objectives.

Presumably the North Vietnamese are worried about the costs imposed by our continued air strikes and the danger that those air strikes will be extended to urban and industrial areas. Hanoi may also fear the long-range consequences if it is forced to accept increased dependence on Peiping. But the experience of the French from 1945 to 1954 vividly testifies to Viet Cong willingness to submit to heavy punishment rather than give up their long-sought objective of a Communist State covering the whole of Viet-Nam.

The United States, on its part, cannot accept a Viet Cong victory. But continuance of the war on the assumption that—by military pressure—we can force Hanoi to say “uncle” may lead to a gradual escalation of the conflict and a progressively larger involvement of both the Chinese Communists and the Soviet Union.

Under these circumstances each side may find advantage in moving the conflict from the military to the political arena.

Given the present balance of relative military effectiveness, such a move is possible only under arrangements that would enable each side to conclude that it has substantially as good a chance of achieving its long-range goals in the political arena as by continuing military action.

A. Attractions of the Plan for the United States and South Viet-Nam.

The United States and South Viet-Nam would have a sound basis for concluding that the arrangements contemplated by the plan proposed in this memorandum would provide them with a reasonable chance of success through political action—at least as good as the chance of success through military action alone. The United States has the resources to move South Viet-Nam toward rapid economic development. We know that we will stay the course and not lose interest. The history of other former colonial nations in the post-war period has shown that, given the [Page 654] resources and opportunity to evolve their own political institutions, they will be likely to steer a non-Communist course.

B. Attractions for North Viet-Nam

Analyzing the plan in terms of their own doctrinal convictions, the North Vietnamese could also conclude that it offered them an adequate chance to achieve their long-range objectives. Ho Chi Minh demonstrated in 1954 that he was not in a hurry. The Vietnamese Communists have repeatedly shown their willingness to work within long time spans. While they would be prepared to absorb enormous punishment before abandoning the purpose they have sought for four decades, they might well be prepared to wait a few years longer to achieve that purpose—sustained by the conviction that the United States would lose interest in South Viet-Nam, that they could subvert any government that could be established in that country, and that over the long pull Communist success was inevitable.

It might take ten years or more to determine which judgment was right, but ten years is a long time in the present-day world. Within the next decades new elements could enter the equation that would fundamentally change the whole situation.


Purposes of Plan

Briefly stated, the purposes of the plan are—

To enable us to probe for a less dangerous means than military force alone—at present or higher levels—for preserving an independent, non-Communist South Viet-Nam.
To supplement the continuing military effort by offering the prospect of political and economic progress for the South Vietnamese people.
To provide a program having substantial positive propaganda value both in South Viet-Nam and throughout the world.


Advantages of Plan

The major advantages of the Plan are these—

It offers the chance to halt offensive military operations by both sides. Yet it at all times reserves to us the option of resuming full military operations if the plan is not achieving its purpose.
It does not require the Government of South Viet-Nam to enter into “negotiations” with the North Vietnamese Government or the National Liberation Front, but it would not preclude formal negotiations at other levels. We could and should maintain our posture of willingness to hold discussions with any “government concerned” and to participate [Page 655] in a formal negotiating conference if one should be called under suitable conditions.
It avoids any implication that the United States lacks confidence in the South Vietnamese Government or in the ultimate success of our cooperative military effort.
It would be offered by the South Vietnamese Government as that Government’s own political act—an act made possible by the political and military achievements of recent months. It would not be presented as a bargaining proposal to be withdrawn if rejected by the Communists, but as the Government’s considered plan for improving the lot of its people, to be pursued whether or not the Communists approve it.
It should help to unite differing factions in urban areas while giving the Vietnamese peasantry positive inducements for identifying themselves with Saigon’s political fortunes.
As a display of political initiative, it should enhance the strength and effectiveness of the South Vietnamese Government, whatever the reactions on the other side.


Substance and Execution of Plan

A. Consultation and Coordination with the Vietnamese Government

Once the plan is approved by the President, Ambassador Johnson would be recalled to Washington. After he had reviewed the plan, he and Ambassador Unger would proceed to Saigon to explain it to Ambassador Taylor and other key officials in the United States Mission.
The outlines of the plan would be discussed with the Prime Minister of South Viet-Nam, one or two key generals (e.g., Ky and Thi) and perhaps a small number of Vietnamese officials. The Vietnamese Government would be encouraged to put forward the plan as its own with the fewest possible changes.

B. Private Communication to Hanoi and Moscow

Just before the public announcement of the plan, Hanoi and Moscow would be informed through secret channels of its essential provisions. This would provide direct, clear and credible evidence of our serious desire to move from a military to a political solution. Peiping would be left out of this consultation.

Comment: Although the North Vietnamese and the Soviets would inform the Chinese in due course, it seems preferable for the first reactions to be those of the North Vietnamese and the Soviets. This would leave Peiping last man in and, hopefully, odd man out. The risk of rubbing salt in Chinese wounds may be worth it.

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The private word to the Soviets would come directly from us. The message to North Viet-Nam would go through a trusted intermediary speaking for us and for South Viet-Nam.

The timing of the private communication should precede the public announcement by just enough to give the other side a little time to decide its first reaction but not enough time to anticipate us by a political or military move of its own, such as recognizing a puppet Front Government or launching a large attack. Twenty-four hours would seem about right.

C. Announcement of the Plan

The Prime Minister of South Viet-Nam would make a speech or issue a proclamation that would—

Review the history of the Viet Cong insurgency emphasizing its instigation and direction by the North.
Describe recent military actions taken by the South Vietnamese and United States forces and their success.
State the Government’s fundamental objectives—to achieve peace and reconciliation under a government free of foreign control, representing the Vietnamese people and capable of meeting their needs.
Outline the Program for the Social and Political Reconstruction of South Viet-Nam (as described in section VI).
Announce a limited pause in certain military operations in order to assure serious attention (as described in section VII).
Announce—in general terms—that once civil insurrection had ended, the Government would expect to establish trade and other forms of peaceful intercourse with the North and to examine other matters of common interest.

Comment: First announcement must be made by the head of the South Viet-Nam Government, rather than by any United States official. As soon as the announcement is made, the United States could express its full support, including concurrence in the military pause, and its willingness to withdraw forces on a phased basis (assuming proper response on the other side) and to furnish assistance for the economic and social aspects of the Government’s program.

The initial formal announcement should be followed by a saturation information effort employing radio broadcasts, speaker planes, leaflets, etc., to ensure wide dissemination of the South Vietnamese Government’s program even in Viet Cong-held areas. Furthermore, there must be a continuing saturation campaign—keyed to local areas—advising of the success of the program and, especially, fixing the blame squarely on the Viet Cong in any areas where the program fails or cannot be put into effect.

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Key Elements of the Program for the Social and

Political Reconstruction of South Viet-Nam

A. First Element: An offer of amnesty to all Viet Cong adherents who cease fighting

This offer (which could be portrayed as an expansion of the current Chieu Hoi Program) would be addressed to the Viet Cong members in the South rather than to its Northern commanders. This would permit the Government in Saigon to maintain the posture that it was not “negotiating” with the North or with the National Liberation Front.

The offer might appeal, most of all, to the Viet Cong local and district forces and sympathizers and to those provincial or main-force elements whose military position may be precarious.

Amnesty would imply the delivery of arms. But very few of the Viet Cong would be likely to come in and lay down their arms since that would involve their public admission of Viet Cong activities.

Since many of the Viet Cong adherents cannot be identified, amnesty in practice might consist merely of a halt in individual military participation and a return to civilian life by peasants who would never concede their past Viet Cong association.

B. Second Element: A phased schedule for establishing a Constitutional Government based on an electoral process in which all peaceful citizens, including peaceful Viet Cong adherents, would take part

Village council elections are already scheduled for May 30 in secure areas. The Program would provide for similar elections at later dates throughout the country. The Premier would promise—as soon as local elections had been held in areas containing a substantial majority of the population—to call together a constitutional assembly to draft and adopt a new constitution for South Viet-Nam.

Former Viet Cong adherents who had qualified for amnesty would be eligible to participate as voters and candidates. They would participate in the political life of the country as would the representatives of any political party that did not advocate the overthrow of the Government by force.

Comment: The 1956 Diem Constitution was modified in an authoritarian direction in 1962 and nullified in 1965. A “Provisional Charter” has since been drafted by the High National Council appointed by General “Big” Minh in the fall of 1964, but it has never been put into full effect. It is essential to this Plan that a constitution be approved by some representative body in which peaceful elements of the Viet Cong may participate.

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C. Third Element: Pending the local elections, the Government would seek to establish its presence with a minimum of disruption to local administrative arrangements currently acceptable to the local populace

In Viet Cong base areas, this would involve leaving local administration more or less in present hands, but on the explicit condition that these administrators did not resist the right of Central Government officials to move freely and carry out limited functions within their areas.

In marginal or contested areas a delicate balance would have to be struck on a case-by-case basis. In areas where Viet Cong local administrations were operating by stealth and terror, the process of redress would proceed gradually as the power of the Government presence increased and inspired public confidence.

Where the actual authority is now exercised by Viet Cong adherents and there is no government authority, incumbents would not be disturbed until after village council elections. Future local administrative arrangements would depend on the results of the elections.

D. Fourth Element: Social and Economic Programs

The Government would immediately launch economic and social reconstruction programs with special emphasis on education, medical care, the provision of seeds and fertilizers, land tenure reform and debt cancellations or moratoria. The last feature would be particularly attractive to the Vietnamese peasantry.

The immediate launching of such a program is an urgent political necessity to match the land reform and other social programs of the National Liberation Front.

Obviously, substantial United States financial and technical assistance would be required to assure a prompt start and visible progress.

E. Fifth Element: Phased withdrawal of all foreign troops

The Prime Minister would announce he had arranged for the withdrawal of foreign troops, to begin when the insurgency stops and the Government has effectively extended its authority throughout the country. The withdrawal might begin when resistance ceases in all but the hard-core Viet Cong strongholds. The withdrawal could be completed when the Vietnamese forces are able to move so freely as to be able to certify that no large caches, camps, etc. remain.


Announcement of Pause in Military Operations

The pause in military operations to be announced by the Prime Minister would (1) be limited in time; and (2) apply only to offensive military operations such as target bombing in North Viet-Nam and search-and [Page 659] kill operations in the South. It would not include suspension of the sea blockade, the bombing of supply routes in Laos, or full response to any Viet Cong incidents in South Viet-Nam.

A. Purpose of the Pause

The pause would serve the purpose of assuring that the other side gave serious attention to the Plan. It would also help both North Viet-Nam and the Viet Cong to save face by providing an action to which they could more easily respond. And the pause would have propaganda value throughout the world.

The pause would be more effective if United States reinforcements were not introduced during the period but no promise should be made to this effect.

B. Duration of the Pause

In the Prime Minister’s announcement he would make clear—

that the pause would last for a limited period—say two weeks—to permit full consideration of the Program for Social and Political Reconstruction;
that at the end of the two-week period the Program would be put into effect;
that offensive military measures would immediately be resumed wherever the Program was resisted by Viet Cong forces; and
that, if resistance was wide-spread, military pressure on the North would also be resumed.

C. Public Announcement of the Pause

On balance we believe there are advantages in announcing the pause publicly rather that in communicating it privately:

Its announcement in connection with the Program for Social and Political Reconstruction would help draw the attention of Viet Cong adherents to a future political path that would include a role for them.
It would avoid any inference of weakness that might be drawn from a secret proposal for a military pause by the South Viet-Nam Government to the North.
It would relieve the North of the embarrassment implicit in responding to such a secret proposal, and thus demonstrating to the world that it controls the Viet Cong.

D. Communist Response

Obviously, there would be difficulties in determining the Viet Cong response. Statistical analysis may not give reliable quantitative or qualitative measurements to show significant increases or decreases in the [Page 660] scale of Viet Cong operations. We must also decide whether our willingness to continue the pause should (1) be made dependent on no increase above the present level of Viet Cong activity, or (2) upon some further decrease below the present level.

Any public statement concerning the pause would probably have to list—as one of the expected responses—a halt of infiltration from the North. But we must recognize that such infiltration is not readily measurable in the short term. It is also—in a sense—irrelevant, since, if the Plan is succeeding, that itself implies North Vietnamese acquiescence—and thus presumably an end to infiltration. If we should detect substantial infiltration while the pause continues and other elements of the Plan are proceeding, we can consider responding by military reinforcements of our own.



The recent improvements in South Vietnamese military and political performance furnish our first opportunity to probe deeply for the return of the contest of wills in Viet-Nam primarily to the political forum. If this opportunity is seized, great hazards may be avoided and lives saved in achieving our ends. Even if it fails—and the contest continues as primarily a military one—the Government of South Viet-Nam will have strengthened its political base, and confidence in the leadership of the United States in this cause will be greatly enhanced.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXXIV. Top Secret. The source text is undated but was circulated under a covering memorandum of May 13 to McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, and William Bundy for discussion at 11 a.m. on May 15. Shortly before that time Ball told President Johnson that he was meeting that day with McNamara, “Bundy,” and Acheson to discuss the plan. (Johnson Library, Papers of George Ball, Vietnam I) No record of a discussion of this plan on May 15 has been found, but see Document 304 for the discussion of the plan at the White House on May 16. Regarding the background on the plan, see Document 287.