310. Paper Prepared by the Ambassador to Vietnam (Taylor) and the Deputy Ambassador to Vietnam (Johnson)1
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS RELATING TO “A PLAN FOR A POLITICAL RESOLUTION IN SOUTH VIET-NAM”2
Why do we consider that the Viet Cong would offer the cooperation which is indispensable to the success of this plan?
Comment: We agree with the estimate expressed that the Viet Cong will be willing “to submit to heavy punishment rather than give up their long-sought objective of a Communist State covering the whole of Viet-Nam”. We also believe that they consider that their present course of action will bring ultimate success. Hence it is hard to see why, under these circumstances, they would consider it advantageous “to move the conflict from the military to the political arena”.
There is the suggestion (Part II. B.) that the DRV/VC will find the plan attractive because it will fatten the South Vietnamese sheep for the eventual enjoyment of North Vietnamese wolves at a later time. Also there is the implication that this “later time” might come to the Viet Cong as the result of exploiting the political advantages resulting from their infiltration of the South Vietnamese government. However, if this advantage is real enough to convince the Viet Cong that it is worth joining in a cooperative effort with the GVN to rebuild South Viet-Nam, the plan is probably too risky for us to engage in it.
Will the “carrots” contained in this package be more appealing to the DRV than those already suggested and thus far rejected by the DRV?[Page 677]
Comment: The President has made it fairly clear that the DRV could participate in many advantages if the leaders ceased their aggression against South Viet-Nam. This offer, coupled possibly with that of political recognition of Hanoi, might seem to be a more attractive package than the risks of cooperating with the GVN in the social and political reconstruction of the country. If such is not the case, we had better reconsider whether we are not risking too much in our own plan.
Why do we think that the promulgation of a new Plan for Social and Political Reconstruction would offer hope and credibility to either the South Vietnamese or the Viet Cong?
Comment: We have been engaging for several years in attempting the social and political reconstruction of South Viet-Nam, utilizing all the ideas and resources which the United States Government has been able to produce. From this experience, we have learned that the success of social, political and economic development is a function of security and effective government. Because of the security factor, conditions are favorable to development only in the cities and about 10 provinces; the conditions are spotty in about 22 provinces and are virtually impossible in about 12 provinces. As for the governmental factor, the record shows how feeble governmental performance has been since the fall of Diem. Performance is getting somewhat better now but still has a long way to go. Out of consideration of these two factors taken in combination, one can see little reason to hope that a newly promulgated program for social and political reconstruction will convince any large number of Vietnamese, north or south, that a new era is at hand and a new deal imminent which is too good to miss.
What is the precise purpose of the limited pause in military operations?
Comment: The paper (VII. A.) merely states the purpose as being “to assure that the other side gives serious attention to the plan”. It is not clear whether, during the pause, the advantages to North Viet-Nam and the Viet Cong would be spelled out specifically by GVN spokesmen. As indicated in the discussion of Question 1., the features of the plan which might be considered really attractive to the Viet Cong are such that one could hardly allude to them in public—certainly no GVN official could.
Under what circumstances during the pause would we revert to military operations? Specifically, if the DRV merely maintained their normal pattern of behavior, do we continue to respect the pause?
Comment: This question arises from the language in Paragraph VII. B. 3 and 4 and D. It seems quite likely that the Viet Cong would not change their pattern of conduct at least for a considerable time. Would this lack of favorable reaction invalidate the entire plan or is it considered feasible to carry on some parts of the plan even without Viet Cong cooperation? It would certainly not be satisfactory to the GVN (nor, we would [Page 678] suppose, to us) to cease offensive action both in South and North Viet-Nam if the Viet Cong adhere to their present level of aggression.
Under what circumstances and in what terms would we announce our willingness to withdraw U.S. forces?
Comment: This is a most sensitive subject for discussion within South Vietnamese hearing. There are always latent fears that the U.S. somehow will wriggle out of commitment to South Viet-Nam. On page 12 [V. C. 6] of the reference paper, there is a reference to a withdrawal of forces “on a phased basis” (assuming proper response from the other side)”. We should be very clear in our own mind what would constitute a “proper response” before opening any discussion of this matter with our allies.
To what extent will Viet Cong or former Viet Cong be allowed to engage in political activities?
Comment: At the present time, Viet Cong defectors under the Chieu-Hoi program may take part as voters in local elections and, in principle, are not barred as candidates providing they are approved by the proper government authorities. If, however, unreformed Viet Cong are eligible to vote and run for provincial office and for delegates in a constituent assembly we would appear to be tacitly encouraging the eventual creation of the type of coalition government which, on past occasions, we have publicly equated to communization of South Viet-Nam. As we read the paper, we understand that under the amnesty Viet Cong who are willing to cease fighting will be offered full political privileges without renouncing Communism. If this is so, the point will be hard to sell to the CVN who have taken seriously our arguments against popular front governments.
How does the government go about seeking “to establish its presence with a minimum disruption of local administrative arrangements currently acceptable to local populace”? What functions would government officials attempt to perform in Viet Cong controlled areas?
Comment: Paragraph VI. C. seems to indicate that we would accept the status quo insofar as government control or lack of control of population and territory is concerned. On the other hand, in Paragraph VI. E. one contemplates at some point attaining a situation where “the government has effectively extended its authority throughout the country”. As a practical matter, the Viet Cong will never allow government officials to operate in their areas of authority nor is it likely that we will find many government officials willing to try to enter Viet Cong bailiwicks unless amply supported by ARVN bayonets. Thus, if the thought is that government officials could at a minimum effect the registration of voters country-wide, we consider the possibility highly unlikely.
When, if ever, would there be a cease-fire and how would it come about?[Page 679]
Comment: By the time elections are taking place, presumably the shooting will have died down. We are not sure how this will have come about, whether by tacit agreement or by some more formal understanding. We do not see how we could have much confidence in the duration of a cease-fire if the Viet Cong have not been disarmed.
Under this plan, how do we ever assure the ending of infiltration from North Viet-Nam and the dismantling of the Viet Cong military apparatus within South Viet-Nam?
Comment: As for infiltration under this plan, we see no reason why North Viet-Nam could not continue the clandestine infiltration of men and equipment as has been done in the past. Similarly, we do not see how the plan disposes of the hundred thousand odd armed Viet Cong who constitute at present the principal threat to security in South Viet-Nam. In the absence of reasonable assurances on these two points, it is equally unclear how the United States government can ever free itself of its present obligations in South Viet-Nam.
Can this plan be sold to the GVN?
Comment: We can see little if anything in this plan which would appeal to the GVN. Local leaders will be quick to see the danger of a coalition government and of the failure to assure the end of infiltration and to liquidate the Viet Cong military thread within South Viet-Nam. If we mention U.S. withdrawal, they will shy even more. In its present form, it is highly unlikely that the GVN would accept the plan without a great deal of unpleasant arm-twisting on the part of the Americans—perhaps not then. Such pressure tactics could only be applied at a very substantial sacrifice of the present good relations existing between GVN and USG. If the GVN yielded to this pressure, it is entirely possible that a military-Catholic coalition would overturn the government.