347. Draft Paper Prepared by the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy)1
1967 AND BEYOND IN VIETNAM
The Rostow and Komer papers2 provide a basis for a very large area of agreement on the action programs we should attempt to follow during 1967. These could be summarized in a single action program, subject to the vital caveat of maintaining flexibility at all times. Nonetheless, the general outlines of what we want to do seem fairly clear.
However, these two papers do not fully consider three inter-related factors that must enter into our present thinking:
- The prospect of the 1968 US elections and their impact on our ability to maintain a prolonged struggle.
- The question of negotiation, including specifically the possibility of attempting a direct “package deal” negotiation with Hanoi—and above all the question any such deal would necessarily raise of just what risks we might be prepared to assume in connection with a VC/NLF role in South Vietnam.
- The vital importance of developing a responsible and effective GVN, and whether this argues in some ways against certain types of US involvement and action that might, in the short-term sense, appear to make sense.
These three factors are the subject of this memorandum. However, it must start with a median prognosis of what we can hope to achieve by the end of 1967 and mid-1968, when the impact of the US election will start to become really acute.
In brief, such a median prognosis, in our judgment, is not comforting. 1967 will be slow going at best on the pacification front, as the Komer paper admits; however effectively we organize the US side, ARVN will take time to do a passable job of security for pacification, and the mainspring of GVN government performance—already showing signs of slowing down because of a pervading “caretaker” spirit—is most unlikely to have shown really sharp improvement by the end of 1967 at least. The very existence of a timetable for a new type of government is bound to create continuing uncertainty, at least until late in the year, in the tenure and position of key government and province officials on whom any real progress in pacification ultimately depends. In short, even if the GVN and we both do the best we possibly can, the odds are on the whole against a major strengthening of the GVN position or a true crack in NVA/VC/NLF morale during 1967. The possibility of such a [Page 963] morale break is present, but its chances cannot be rated better than about one in three for 1967.
We believe that it is against such a prognosis that we must weigh the three factors stated above.
We are not the proper experts to appraise just what the 1968 election campaign would be like if the situation reaches that date without clearly evident signs of major progress. On the merits, it seems unlikely that an opposing candidate—be he Romney3 or anyone else—will be able to present the American people with a clear and convincing alternative to the policy we will have been pursuing. On the whole, we will probably see a Republican strategy of trying to have it both ways—claiming that more might have been done (although with emphasis on bombing the North alone probably rather muted), while at the same time arguing that possibilities for peace have somehow been neglected and that a Republican administration, as would be alleged of Korea, can find the right handle of threatening greater force and thus bringing about peace.
The point really may be much less what the Republican Party appears to offer than the basic fact of a prolonged and diffuse national debate. Whether or not such a debate brings the Republicans to power—however important in itself—may be secondary to the effect of the debate alone in weakening and dividing Americans. However the election comes out, a sharp deepening of the kind of malaise so clearly evident in the 1966 Congressional election would leave any repeat any newly elected administration in a much weaker position to carry the conflict forward.
Worst of all, this is almost certainly the way Hanoi would calculate it. In a revealing remark only the other day, the North Vietnamese representative in Paris said in effect that Hanoi had only to hang on through the 1968 elections, and that only a Republican, or Conservative, administration could liquidate “wars or empires.”4 Apart from this being the way Hanoi would interpret a possible Republican victory, they would almost certainly interpret a Democratic victory, after a sharply divisive campaign, as indicating that we would weaken in due course.
In short, under the median prognosis given above, mid-1968 and beyond looks all too likely to be a period when the US position will be substantially weakened.[Page 964]
These thoughts alone must lead us to the question of seeking in the meantime, and indeed as soon as possible, to find a negotiated answer. Yet we must reckon, at the same time, that a negotiated “settlement” that involved major early risks of Communist takeover—whether or not this had come about before the 1968 elections—would in itself virtually doom the Administration to defeat and might well set off a wave of isolationist revulsion against all of our now-promising efforts in the rest of East Asia. Thus, we are not talking at all about “negotiation at any price” even from a domestic political standpoint.
Yet, the need for seeking a negotiated solution is still acute, and we must reckon that the bargaining factors may now be very close indeed to a situation where both sides would see advantage in negotiation. A recent detached paper by the Office of National Estimates5 points up the pressures and difficulties not only in Hanoi but between Hanoi and Moscow and Peking. It concludes flatly that for the first time in the last two years the present may be a time in which the other side would be prepared to talk seriously about a peaceful settlement falling well short of its maximum objectives.
More specifically, whether the recent negotiating nibbles by third parties were authorized by Hanoi or not, they most certainly indicate how very seriously the Soviets and Eastern Europeans are working toward this end. They are very tough indeed—and some of them are slippery—but in the last analysis they at least want Vietnam to end and would accept, we can be reasonably sure, a return to the Geneva status quo, albeit with some measures for protecting the lives and the political role of present members of the NLF and VC.
In short, the time is ripe. Moreover, the recent negotiating nibbles and the views of such responsible third persons as Sainteny all point in the direction of discussions being initiated on the basis of the outlines of a total settlement, i.e., what we have called the “package deal.” The recent Cooper paper6 comes very close indeed to the kind of package we might try to work out, although it is very much open to question whether we should table the whole thing as flatly as that paper indicates, at the outset.
From the standpoint of our over-all pattern of action, there is one clear implication that must not be overlooked. If we are to pursue a serious negotiating track on a “package deal” basis, we simply must accept that we will not hit politically sensitive targets, and specifically the Hanoi [Page 965] and Haiphong areas, while we are pursuing such a track. Whether or not the nibbles of November and December 1966 were actually author-ized, their present status has undoubtedly been communicated to Hanoi with the conclusion that the US cannot be serious as long as it even appears to escalate the bombing in this politically sensitive sense. Moreover, there is rather more murky evidence from August of 1965 that Hanoi is sensitive to apparent escalation. We have brought them to the point where they may understand and accept continuation of the bombing at its present levels and target patterns, but they simply will not enter into serious discussions if we appear to be escalating, particularly during key periods of contact.
The second major implication of seriously pursuing a negotiating track is that we must face as nearly exactly as possible the risks that we are prepared to run of an ultimate Communist takeover. Right from the beginning, and specifically in the planning papers of 1964, our analysis in the Department—then regarded as heretical by our military—was that there was a certain irreducible minimum possibility of Communist takeover that could not be avoided in the best of circumstances. The Manila commitment for withdrawal—and the practical reality behind that commitment that we simply cannot effectively occupy South Vietnam for any long period—simply underscore that at some point we have to accept, say, a 20% chance that the South Vietnam we leave behind will so mismanage its affairs that it will eventually fall prey to the highly disciplined NLF and VC organization, even if the latter is then receiving only the most covert assistance from the North.
The issue is whether we should be prepared to accept a settlement that increases the irreducible 20% to perhaps 30%, or more. As of now, a guaranteed institutional NLF role in the government appears to raise the risk to something on the order of 60 to 70%, and we would now reject it as unacceptable. But, short of this point, the question of safeguards at successive stages, and possibly the question of accepting NLF individuals into the political structure at a senior level, raise these marginal issues of acceptability that might turn out to be the very crux of getting an agreement.
This paper does not assess exactly what concessions we might make that involve these greater degrees of risk. But it does flag the vital importance of our looking hard at this issue, as indeed we are doing in the analysis of the Cooper proposal.
Finally, there is the question of building up the GVN. All of us, in mid-1965, foresaw a danger that a massive American presence would simply smother the GVN, and inhibit the very development of responsibility and effectiveness that is the object of the whole exercise. To some [Page 966] degree, this has plainly already been the case, and continued massive infusions on the US side, or especially the US taking over where it does not absolutely have to (as it may on the economic front), will simply deepen the problem. The marginal issues in the assessment of our action programs for 1967 must be weighed heavily from the standpoint of this intangible factor, and not merely on the basis of such clear and concrete inhibiting elements as the piaster budget ceiling (although we think our conclusions from the latter have been wise).
The point—and a most difficult one—is that, unless an added US element really changes the prognosis very markedly, we should be leery of such added elements wherever possible. This might be true in any event and on any timetable of the GVN being on its own. But it is particularly acute if we visualize a serious effort to work out some negotiated arrangement that puts the GVN in this position by mid-1968.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret.↩
- Attachments to Documents 318 and 319.↩
- George W. Romney, Governor of Michigan and a Republican.↩
- This remark by Mai Van Bo has not been further identified.↩
- See Document 328.↩
- Memorandum from Cooper to Katzenbach, December 1, entitled “A Package Deal for Hanoi,” which was discussed at the December 1 meeting of Harrimanʼs Negotiations Committee. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 VIET)↩