241. Draft Paper by the Presidentʼs Special Assistants (Rostow and Komer)1


Barring either a diplomatic breakthrough in the conversations between Gromyko and Secretary Rusk, or a major increase in North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam, our position in South Vietnam can be described as follows:

We have frustrated the VC and North Vietnamese main force units; we are imposing a painful but not decisive cost for continuing the war on North Vietnam through our bombing; we have moved politically and economically in the South to make increasingly unlikely a political disintegration which the VC might exploit.

Meanwhile, at home, whatever the debates, Hanoi cannot count on a political cave-in of US public opinion which would destroy the foundations of the Presidentʼs policy towards Vietnam. Thus, all western logic would indicate that the NLF/Hanoi should start negotiating now, before they lose even more bargaining counters. Perhaps they will do so at some point after the US elections, at least putting out feelers.

On the other hand, the VC have not yet come to a point of either military or political disintegration; the burden of bombing in the North, however awkward and painful, has not yet been decisive. Present evidence is that we have come to a point where Hanoi cannot win, but obviously we have not yet forced it to accept negotiations on our terms.

Our problem is to present them with a situation where, whatever their will to hold on and sweat us out, they have no realistic option but to accept our terms.

There are, in conception, two major routes to this objective short of occupying North Vietnam:

First, to increase the weight of our bombing in the North so radically that the whole economic, social, and political infrastructure of North Vietnam is endangered. I believe this course of “bombing them back to the Stone Age” should be rejected. The pressures at home and abroad we would have to bear would likely be excessive. The possibilities of much deeper Chinese Communist involvement in the war would be increased [Page 651] if they thought our objective were to destroy the Communist regime in North Vietnam.

A more temperate buildup in the pressure on the North, however, could play a significant role in the alternative strategy outlined below.

The second way to force acceptance of negotiations is to produce a palpable process of political and military disintegration of the Viet Cong. This is the recommended strategy.

The elements of such a strategy must be more than military. It is increasingly apparent that political, psychological, and economic factors—as well as the civil/military problem of pacification—have an ever more important role to play. A strategic plan should be developed on an across-the-board basis. Moreover, many of its components might conflict with each other unless adequately coordinated.

On the military side, the ARVN/US ground campaign and bombing offensive will be stepped up. Barrier possibilities will be explored intensively. But perhaps the major new development should be a stepped-up attempt to deal with the “weak sisters” of the NLF/Hanoi combination, the VC. Their morale is already declining more rapidly than that of the NVN infiltrators. Their strength has stopped increasing. Most of the rising number of defectors are VC. They are probably hardest hit by food and medicine shortages, and by the increasing success of the GVN in establishing itself. By focussing on their vulnerabilities, we can accelerate their decline and possibly split them off from Hanoi, which could be a decisive step toward winning the war. At the same time by continuing the cost to Hanoi, Hanoi might be more willing to accept such a splitting off.

Disintegrating the Viet Cong

The headings for a policy to produce an accelerated disintegration of the Viet Cong should include the following:

A dramatic and sustained political and psychological appeal to the VC to join in the making of a new South Vietnamese nation
an amnesty offer.
enlarged and sustained efforts to defect VC leaders.
an expanded psywar effort to split the VC from Hanoi.
a radical expansion in Chieu Hoi efforts.
agreement on a Constitution followed by elections in accordance with the Constitution in which the VC who had accepted amnesty would be allowed to vote.
Accelerated Pacification
new organizational arrangements providing more unified US/GVN civil/military management.
size of forces to be allocated.
converting appropriate ARVN forces to pacification functions.
1967 targets to be set, including rapid pacification of certain key areas (as recommended by Sir Robert Thompson).
contributing programs to be expanded, e.g., RD cadres, agriculture, land reform, police.
An accelerated, workable land reform scheme
Pressing forward rapidly and dramatically with formulation of post-war development program
Assuring good military-civil political relations in post-election period, including creation of a national political party embracing both elements
Avoiding another round of severe inflation
US/GVN military offenses against VC/NVA Main Force maintaining the capacity to deal with present or enlarged North Vietnamese military formations introduced into the South, plus whatever we can do about infiltration.
Bombing offensive in the North continuing to impose a cost on the North for continuing the war.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—Walt W. Rostow, vol. 13. Secret. Forwarded to the President by Rostow on September 28 under cover of a memorandum stating: “Here is the strategy paper which Bob Komer and I put together and talked over with Bill Bundy. We are all in basic agreement.” (Ibid.) Also sent to Komer and William Bundy.