10. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson1

I think Morse's memorandum is tightly argued and complex,2 and if we answer it point by point at this stage, we will be almost sure to trip over ourselves as we make tactical decisions in the coming months. So it seems to me better to give him the soft answer which is suggested in the attached draft.3

And just because his paper is so well argued, I am sending a copy to Harlan Cleveland so that in anything we do we can take account of the possibility of flanking fire from Morse.

McG. B.
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1. United States policies toward Vietnam should encompass at least the following essentials:

They should command widespread support and respect throughout the world and throughout the United States. This is not presently the case.
They must contemplate the cost of “victory” as well as defeat. The cost is already high and we have no sign of victory.
The United States will make a profound error if we do no more than prosecute the war. The longer it continues, the more likely it will escalate, and we cannot escalate it ourselves without China and Russia escalating their participation, too.

It would be a very serious mistake to think the American people would support a stalemated ground war in Vietnam for a period long enough to force the Communists into negotiating. They refused to support that kind of war in Korea. It became a choice between going all out to win, or ending it on almost any terms.

We alone cannot stop the war in Vietnam. But the United Nations could. The United States has more to gain from a U.N.-imposed peace than from a continuation of the fighting, leading we know not where.

It is frequently alleged that the United States has three possible courses of action in Vietnam: to escalate, to get out, or to stalemate the issue until the other side gets tired.

But there is another course of action which is positive in a world framework, even if the short range effects in Vietnam may be difficult, embarrassing, and involve loss of face. This course is for the United States to call on the United Nations to make the Vietnamese war its business. More is involved than suggesting that the Secretary General visit Hanoi and Peking. What is required is a specific application of U.N. procedures.

2. If we have a desire and determination to use the United Nations as prescribed in the Charter, there are many ways in which it can be done. If we desire only to make a gesture to the U.N., there are many ways in which we can make sure our gesture is rejected.

On the record, our unilateral action has served to spread both the war and the degree of Communist control in South Vietnam. It is a real [Page 29]question whether the United Nations could do more poorly than we have done, if it is our objective to keep the peace and to forestall Communism.

3. Because North Vietnam—a non-member of the U.N.—said U.N. action was “inappropriate” in no way affects the jurisdiction of the Security Council or the General Assembly over any situation that threatens the peace.

To give a veto to North Vietnam over this matter is a travesty on the power of the United Nations.

Those of us who were here when President Truman rallied the United Nations in 1950 to throw back aggression in Korea remember that even the opposition of the Soviet Union did not stop us. She walked out of the Security Council and in her absence it took up the breach of the peace in Korea. When Russia came back and used her veto on the implementation of the decision to intervene, the issue was taken to the General Assembly, and it acted.

North Korea was not invited to take part in the discussions, and she did not ask to take part; that did not deter the U.N. from acting. Like North Vietnam, North Korea was not a U.N. member.

North Vietnam, mainland China, and South Vietnam are not members of the United Nations. None should be accorded a veto over prospective United Nations action in Southeast Asia, either by declining to take part in its discussions or by opposing what is proposed.

4. We could request the Vietcong to join us, South Vietnam, and possibly North Vietnam in negotiations. The use of acceptable mediators and conciliators could be discussed.

The terms of the Charter provide certain steps to be taken when breaches of the peace occur. The first is Article 33:

“1. The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.

“2. The Security Council shall, when it deems necessary, call upon the parties to settle their dispute by such means.”

Our offers to negotiate with North Vietnam and with China have not been accepted. However, the Vietcong is a principal party to the dispute in South Vietnam, and until we offer to negotiate with them or undertake with them any of the other means of settlement above, we have not really explored the possibilities of this Article. Moreover, China could be left out of arrangements under this Article since she is not a party to the dispute.

5. Article 34 describes the jurisdiction of the Security Council: [Page 30]

“The Security Council may investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute, in order to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.”

Obviously, the war in Vietnam qualifies for at least “investigation” by the Security Council.

Article 35 continues:

  • “1. Any member of the United Nations may bring any dispute, or any situation of the nature referred to in Article 34, to the attention of the Security Council or of the General Assembly.
  • “2. A state which is not a Member of the United Nations may bring to the attention of the General Assembly any dispute to which it is a party if it accepts in advance, for the purposes of the dispute, the obligations to pacific settlement provided in the present Charter.
  • “3. The proceedings of the General Assembly in respect of matters brought to its attention under this Article will be subject to the provisions of Articles 11 and 12.”

There is a considerable movement afoot among members of the British Labor Party to induce the British Government to act under this Article to put the Vietnam war before the Security Council. Article 99 of the Charter also empowers the Secretary General to bring before the Security Council a dispute he regards as a potential threat to peace. Since members, non-members, and the Secretary General all have the right to do it, the United States would be in the best position if it acts to seek U.N. jurisdiction before someone else does it and, in effect, makes the United States a defendant in the matter.

6. If we fail to get discussions, we should invite the Vietcong, North and South Vietnam to join us in laying the dispute before the Security Council.

Article 37 is a clear statement of American obligation if we fail to settle the Vietnam problem by peaceful means of our own choosing:

“1. Should the parties to a dispute of the nature referred to in Article 33 fail to settle it by the means indicated in that Article, they shall refer it to the Security Council.

“2. If the Security Council deems that the continuance of the dispute in fact is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security it shall decide whether to take action under Article 36 or to recommend such terms of settlement as it may consider appropriate.”

Very likely the Vietcong and North Vietnam will never join us in referring the war to the Security Council. But they are not U.N. members, and we are. They do not claim to stand for the rule of law in the world, and we do. They could not muster anything like the support in the U.N. that we could.

Like North Korea, they probably would not appear at all. But it is their objective to take control of territory they do not now control; and it [Page 31]is our objective to keep them out. A peace-keeping mission of the U.N. could very likely do more to achieve our stated objective than we are doing.

7. Public notice should next be served that we intend to lay the Vietnam war before the Security Council under Articles 35 and 37. Then we should engage in some realistic private talks with the Russians over what kind of U.N. action they would support, making it clear that if we fail to get Security Council action, we will go to the General Assembly.

8. As with many legislative matters, this is one of whether we want “an issue or a bill.” If we want a “bill,” in the form of U.N. action, we would have to deal with the other powerful U.N. members—chiefly Russia and France—to work out a United Nations program which they at least would not veto. After all, the Soviet Union did not veto the Cyprus peace force.

And there is every reason to think Russia is anxious to see the Vietnam war brought under control so she will not continue being forced to come to the support of a sister Communist state. It is worth a great deal to us to find out whether Russia is interested in a U.N. jurisdiction over the war in the form of a peace mission that would stop it, or more interested in her rivalry with China over who does more to aid wars of liberation.

Some say that bringing it up in the U.N. would force Russia to take China's part and drive them closer together. That is an excuse, not a reason. The longer the war continues, the more involved Russia must become simply because of her rivalry with China.

9. If we do find that Russia prefers the war to continue, or if France or Nationalist China poses some insurmountable obstacle, we can still go to the General Assembly. We have done it before, both with Korea and the Congo.

10. There is nothing in such a policy that would be inconsistent with our commitment of support to South Vietnam. Article 51 of the Charter affirms the right of individual or collective self-defense—

“until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

We can help South Vietnam until the U.N. acts to restore peace. Moreover, our 1954 commitment was from an American president to a South Vietnamese president. It is not a treaty; but the American commitment to the U.N. Charter is a treaty.

Our commitment to South Vietnam called for U.S. aid, meaning foreign aid, and we extended it “provided your government is prepared to [Page 32]give assurances as to the standards of performance it would be able to maintain in the event such aid were supplied.”

The Government of South Vietnam was unable to fulfill its obligations. Yet we went infinitely beyond our obligation, into co-belligerency. By so doing, we have become involved in a situation that brings us under those provisions of the United Nations Charter to which I have referred.



At the risk of being presumptuous, I respectfully submit the following language for the President to consider using in his address in San Francisco.5

“I stand here today to rededicate the United States of America to the principles and purposes of the United Nations. I propose to do this not by word, but by deed.

“Today there rages in Indochina an undeclared war. Some call it a civil war. Others call it a war of aggression. Others call it a war of liberation.

“I care not what it is called. It is war. It can spread and destroy all man has built. Men and women and children are dying. Passions are rising, uncontrolled.

“The United States is involved in this war. Let there be no mistake, the United States can win it. We believe great and fundamental issues are involved that may affect the future of mankind and the direction in which he grows. We believe that the independence of all small states is involved in Vietnam.

“But we are ready to be judged by the conscience of mankind as represented in the United Nations.

“I am, therefore, calling on the Security Council of the United Nations (Articles 34, 35 and 37) to vest itself of the situation in Vietnam as a ‘dispute or situation … likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security …’

“I also take this occasion to state that my government will abide by such decision as may be taken by the Security Council. I go further and say that if the Security Council should not be able to resolve the war in Vietnam, my government will call for a Special Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations and place the situation before that body of world conscience. We will abide by its recommendations.

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“Finally, I have ordered the military forces of the United States to suspend all air and naval attacks north of the 17th parallel for a period of one month while the United Nations considers the threat to the peace implicit in the situation in Vietnam.”

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. XI. No classification marking. Attached is a note, dated June 21, which indicates that the President instructed his secretary to put Senator Wayne Morse's memorandum on his desk the next day, because “I've got to read that memorandum tomorrow.”
  2. Attached and printed below.
  3. Attached but not printed. The draft response, which an attached note indicates Johnson approved, contains the assurance that “if, at any time, we think there is a real prospect of progress through the United Nations, we will be the first to move.”
  4. No classification marking.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 19.