102. Telegram From the Ambassador to Vietnam (Lodge) to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1
CAS 3781. 1. Thanks for sending me the interesting memo from General Taylor to the President.2 Following are my comments on it.
2. I share Max’s concern that the military be positively involved in the new government with clearly stated responsibilities and that they not be allowed to become a separate, irresponsible and possibly hostile group on the outside. If the military are not properly employed by the new government, with both military nation-building skills and military loyalties well engaged, they will surely become a destructive element and will place the survival of the future government in jeopardy.
3. With regard to the Military Council which has now been written into the constitution, I see General Taylor’s point, and I think it well to keep in mind the unhappy experience of the Huong government. However, I do not think that the Huong experience should cause us to oppose the formation of the body as it is presently envisaged. In the first place, the Council as defined in the constitution now, has somewhat reduced functions from those specified in the Directorate’s letter. The Assembly has carefully put the Council on the same level as other advisory councils and called it a “Military Council” rather than a “High Council for National Defense and the Armed Forces.” The function of the Military Council is to “advise the President in matters relating to the armed forces, especially the promotion, transfer and disciplining of soldiers of all ranks.” In this sense it could be a step towards more civilian control.
4. Secondly, I think we are going to have some such body either as a part of the constitutional machinery or outside of it. The military feel the need for an organizational means to act on the political scene, and they will insist on having it. It seems to me that the chances of controlling and limiting the role of such an organization are improved if it is defined and embodied in the formal governmental structure.
5. The body which now plays this role is the Armed Forces Council. It is the organizational base for military-political power. It is also the chief structural means for maintaining military unity. As such, it has proved a major source of whatever stability and progress the Ky [Page 236] regime has realized. Folding this body into an elected constitutional regime will not be easy. A constitutional military council to advise the President seems to us to have the most chance of success, and it is the form which the Assembly has adopted.
6. It seems most likely to us that the winning candidate in the forthcoming elections will be a military man. If this is the case, the transformation of the present armed forces council into a constitutional body will be easier and safer. What we hope to see formed is a body which will bring military support and military talents to the regime while at the same time avoiding excessive military domination of the government. This is, of course, the military-civilian partnership which we have discussed in previous messages. At the outset the chances are that the military council will exercise rather more power than the language of the constitution might seem to provide. However, as institutions mature and the nation moves into a peacetime situation, the advice of the Military Council to the President could become a less weighty factor in his decisions.
7. General Taylor fears that the military may wish to move from a position of direct support for the government to a position “alongside it in the manner of the Khanh concept.” It is unlikely that any elected government will enjoy the complete military support which a military government can command. But this is a matter of degree. While Huong got virtually no military support, we expect that the future government under the constitution will have considerable military backing, particularly if the winning candidate is a military man. The new government will in effect be sponsored by the military. This was previously not Huong’s situation. Constitutional arrangements for a military council should help to keep the military involved in the government rather than “alongside it” as a separate and undoubtedly hostile entity.
8. I am in general agreement with General Taylor’s estimate of Tran Van Huong as a political leader. He seems to be an honest, courageous man with much to recommend him. Although he is handicapped by poor health and by representational chief of state, [sic] leaving the business of government to a Prime Minister who is more vigorous and more capable or compromise. As a practical matter, however, such a formula seems to be ruled out by the fact that the constitution as it has been written virtually demands that the Chief of State be the effective Chief Executive. The constitution gives the Prime Minister very little power and vests all the important executive functions in the President.