93. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

2445. We appreciate prompt decisions from Washington for reprisal attacks yesterday and today against selected military targets in the DRV. I consider this a significant forward step in demonstrating US determination not to continue to submit to VC offenses against US and Vietnamese personnel and installations without a suitable response on our part. The White House statement of February 72 emphasizes that we seek no wider war, in pinning the responsibility on the DRV, and in carefully pointing out that our response was against military targets supporting DRV aggression and not the North Vietnamese population. This statement and our actions yesterday and today provide in my view a good foundation for embarking on a graduated reprisal program to bring increasing pressure on the DRV to cease its intervention in SVN, as discussed here at some length with Bundy and his party.

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The general concept of such a program is that through a measured, controlled sequence of actions against the DRV taken in reprisal for DRV-inspired actions in SVN, significant pressures can be brought to bear on DRV to persuade it to stop its intervention in SVN. The program would be carried out jointly with GVN and would be directed solely against DRV military targets and infiltration routes, not against DRV population. While February 7 and 8 military actions were specifically tied to VC attacks in Pleiku and Tuy Hoa, in the future we could look to a situation in which US/GVN reprisals could be initiated based on a general catalog or package of VC outrages, no one particularly grave itself, not necessarily to a specific VC act in each case. For example, we might announce that VC acts against specific targets (such as the railroad in SVN) will result in retaliation against similar targets in the DRV, our graduated reprisals with the general level of VC outrages in SVN, or if we so desired progressively raise the level of pressure on the DRV. Thus, it would be tantamount to the so-called Phase II escalation but justified on basis of retaliation.

In carrying out such a program, we believe that we should limit US/GVN publicity to the bare minimum necessary to balance Communist output. We would confirm our reprisal actions only when necessary and then as being in accordance with an established policy of reprisals.

Our current 34A operations (except any 34–A air strikes in the DRV) and the Yankee Team/Barrel Roll operations in the Laos corridor would of course continue. Additionally, we would progressively extend these operations into the DRV along infiltration routes.

Throughout the period of graduated reprisals we would convey clearly through appropriate intermediaries or other means to Peking, Moscow, and Hanoi the limited nature of our objectives and intentions, but at the same time our determination to achieve our objectives. Similarly, we would have to expand our discussions with Thailand and initiate discussions with the RLG and other friendly governments to bring them into the picture to the extent desired.

With regard to the GVN I would envisage more detailed discussions at an early date to develop firm arrangements for joint GVN actions and to begin a process of education by which GVN would begin to formulate its war objectives and ultimately reach agreement with US on the framework of demands to be made on the DRV as well as the general negotiating procedures. Both General Khanh and Acting Prime Minister Oanh have stressed the need for expanded discussions and of integrating the Vietnamese into a program against DRV. I feel it is most important that we do this and that we maintain a sense of momentum if we are to capitalize on the psychological factors which if exploited early could lead to a greater sense of purpose and direction both in the government and the military and awaken new hope for eventual victory on the part of [Page 208] the Vietnamese people. We should attempt to avoid in the present situation a general letdown in morale and spirit which followed our action in the Tonkin Gulf.

If the graduated reprisal program succeeds in mounting sufficient pressure on the DRV to the point where the DRV leaders have serious doubts as to their chances for ultimate success, we should have a general understanding of where we would like to come out. I believe rationale of simply returning to observance of the spirit of the 1954 Geneva Accords with respect to SVN and the 1962 accords re Laos as set forth in Embtel 235 (notal)3 is still valid. This formula has the advantage of simplicity, of avoiding pitfalls of new conferences, and avoiding negotiations. It is conceivable that cessation of DRV direction and support of aggression against the South could be achieved more or less tacitly in first instance and then confirmed through GVN/DRV negotiations at the military level. An added advantage is that it keeps us removed from direct negotiations with DRV. A separate telegram follows4 on how US/GVN terms for cessation of DRV support and direction of aggression in SVN might be stated.

In sum, I believe a Phase II program based largely on graduated reprisals offers the best available means of exerting increasing pressure on the DRV leaders to induce them to cease their intervention in SVN while at the same time being more manageable in terms of domestic and international opinion and with our friends. I recommend that we proceed along this track.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Exdis. Repeated to the White House, DOD, CINCPAC for POLAD, Bangkok, and Vientiane.
  2. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, February 22, 1965, pp. 238–239.
  3. The reference is in error and should be telegram 2235; see Document 32.
  4. See Document 104.