265. Research Memorandum From the Deputy Director of Intelligence and Research (Denney) to Secretary of State Rusk1



  • The Vietnam War: Situation and Prospects

Underlying the rigid Communist response to peace proposals from all quarters is an apparent confidence in ultimate victory. This memorandum, [Page 722] prepared at the request of the Under Secretary, examines some of the factors in both South and North Vietnam on which they may base the view that, their heavy losses notwithstanding, they still hold the advantage, and assesses the threat in Chinese intervention against the background of the Mainlandʼs internal upheaval.


The massive introduction of US forces into Vietnam beginning in 1965 retrieved a situation that was all but desperate. In the period immediately preceding our intervention on the ground, the GVN military response to the Communist drive had become virtually ineffective. The Communists were able to maintain at increasingly high levels the harassment of small forces, military outposts, administrative centers, and lines of communication that denied the government control of much of the countryside. Further in their increasing resort to large-scale operations, they were able to take full advantage of GVN military weaknesses in organization, force strength, mobility, and morale. With the GVN military fabric increasingly stretched and torn, the prospects that the country could be held together politically to support continued resistance over any long period were growing dim.

US intervention faced the Communists with a force of great mobility, vast fire power, and increasing strength. In so doing, it blunted their military offensive, heavily increased their costs in both North and South, seriously reduced their opportunities to move unexpectedly in strength, and opened them to attack in formerly almost impregnable base areas. At the same time, the new US role reassured the South that the US commitment was a firm and lasting one, and insulated the government against the full consequences of its many and continued weaknesses in cohesiveness, performance, and support.

This said, however, it must also be noted that the Communists retain the capability and, by all evidence, the will to prolong the war over a considerable period. They have shown that they are still able to increase the number of the small unit and harassing actions that have been the real key to their success to date, maintain their political infrastructure, interdict lines of communication, and reinforce and supply themselves from both North and South. For its part, the GVN has not yet been able to increase its control of the countryside to any appreciable extent despite its own and our efforts to move more rapidly into effective pacification programs.

The Communists can still utilize or at least deny to the government much of the terrain and resources of the countryside. They are also fielding a combat force almost equal in number to allied forces actually committed to combat, and thus still have some basis for believing that in due course they will be able completely to undermine the resistance of the South. In their apparent confidence that domestic and international pressures [Page 723] will make it impossible for the US to stay the course, they are open to misreading a situation with which they have little or no first-hand familiarity. They may well be closer to the mark however, in their belief that they can maintain much of their position in the countryside and that—as the war presses increasingly heavily on an urban population thus far relatively immune to their political influence—they can make political inroads in the cities to the point where the impact of the US presence as well as the level of conflict will become intolerable to the people of South Vietnam.

In the North, the war appears to be having a severe but not unbearable impact. The North Vietnamese people seem somewhat weary but not disaffected, and the regime has no evident difficulty in exercising effective control. The leadership had debated alternate strategies for conducting the war in the South, but has not deviated from basic policy goals nor altered its carefully balanced attitude towards Moscow and Peking. Bombing has seriously disrupted North Vietnamʼs small modern industrial sector as well as seaborne foreign trade, but has not materially interfered with the maintenance of transportation and lines of communications adequate to sustain its war effort. While some shortages of consumer goods exist, the supply of basic commodities, including foodstuffs, appears adequate for minimal needs. Some evacuation of urban areas, particularly Hanoi, has taken place recently.

Although it is too early to make any final judgment on the effects of the Peking purge, it has yet to result in any increased militancy on the part of the regime. The Chinese continue to view the conflict as essentially a Vietnamese affair. Like Hanoi, they may feel that Communist prospects in the war are far from bad and that current levels of Chinese aid, together with North Vietnamese resources and assistance from other Communist countries, may be enough to maintain Hanoiʼs will to fight and to lead eventually to the wearing out of American patience and determination. In addition, fear of US retaliation in all probability weighs importantly in Chinaʼs calculus. Thus it appears that at the warʼs current level of intensity, which involves neither a threat of invasion of North Vietnamese or Chinese territory nor the destruction of the Hanoi regime, the Chinese will not actively and openly intervene in the fighting.2

[Here follows the 13-page body of the research memorandum.]

  1. Source: Department of State, EA/ACA-Vietnam Negotiations: Lot 69 D 277, Communist Positions and Initiatives, DRV North Vietnam. Secret; No Foreign Dissem; Controlled Dissem; Limited Distribution.
  2. This conclusion parallels that made in the latest coordinated estimate by the intelligence community on “Current Chinese Communist Intentions in the Vietnam Situation” (SNIE 13–66, August 4, 1966, SECRET). [Footnote in the source text. For SNIE 13–66, see Document 201.]