156. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Bombing Program and UN Approach—Information Memorandum for Today’s Lunch2

Since I am going to be in the House Foreign Affairs Committee all morning, I am putting my views on paper for whatever use they may be to you.

RT-56 Proposals. I have general sympathy with Secretary McNamara’s proposal that we finish off major targets and then cut back to the 20th parallel, with a quiet indication to the Russians that we are doing so.

However, even in these terms I believe that the present RT-56 is just too big a dose to take quickly, and I have grave reservations [Page 368] whether we should hit the Doumer Bridge and the Phuc Yen airfield at all. Taking the latter first, I think our attacks on airfields to date have gone far enough to hurt but not far enough to cause them to move aircraft to Chinese airfields; if we hit Phuc Yen, particularly if we do it successfully, I should think Hanoi would almost inevitably conclude that it had better plan on the assumption we were going to make their airfields untenable and get in touch with the Chinese to move all or a part of their aircraft. The consequences could be most dangerous in terms of future incidents and in general in terms of the Chinese becoming involved and tensions going up so that their internal troubles ease off.

In the case of the Doumer Bridge, I would suppose the chances of really knocking it out were not truly great in any event. We should recall that this is the general area of the December reports of civilian damage, and I should think that this one alone could well blow the lid in Britain and elsewhere, if—as seems to me highly likely—there are reports (true or not) of major civilian casualties.

Even without these, I would space these attacks at least over two weeks and not—as present favorable weather makes likely—over a few days. We may know that we intend to lay off after these strikes, but the other side does not. I think we have already gone to the edge of precipitating serious decisions in Hanoi, Moscow, and Peking, and I have truly grave fears that another sharp burst could drive them over the edge and cause them to make serious decisions.

In short, I would put off Phuc Yen and the Doumer Bridge entirely and space the other strikes over 2–3 weeks. This need only postpone slightly the kind of cutback to the 20th parallel that Secretary McNamara has in mind.3

The UN Proposal. I understand that this may not come up at lunch. Nonetheless, having gone over Sisco’s careful analysis of the pros and cons,4 I come out overwhelmingly negative. I think the “pros” would evaporate against the “cons” and I really think the whole exercise—to [Page 369] whatever degree it came to light even in consultation—would give the wrong signal to Hanoi and tend to put our good faith in jeopardy in whatever quarters were consulted or heard of it. It simply has no serious chance of making a substantive contribution at present, and it would be regarded, in my honest judgment, as a rather cheap piece of theater that was really totally cynical in view of our bombing actions of these weeks.

Most basically, my central feeling is that we have conveyed a terribly jerky and impatient impression to Hanoi since roughly the first of December. This relates to spacing and timing of actions more than to substance. It seems to me fundamental that we should now level out our pattern of action as much as possible. A continued bombing spasm is at variance with this need, and a spasm followed by resort to the UN would be doubly so.5

Apologies for being so negative, but, as I have spelled out at greater length to the Under Secretary in writing—I just don’t think these are the tactics that will get us the coon skin.

I have kept no copies of this.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Eyes Only. A copy was sent to Katzenbach.
  2. The regular foreign policy Tuesday Luncheon was held 1:27–2:50 p.m.; the President met with Rusk, McNamara, Rostow, and Christian. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No notes of the meeting have been found.
  3. Included in the target package for RT 56, authorized on May 2, were strikes on airfields, railway yards, and two small thermal power plants at Haiphong. Attacks on the airfield at Phuc Yen and the Doumer Bridge, as well as on the Hanoi Thermal Power Plant, were deleted from the target list. See Joint Chiefs of Staff, The History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War in Vietnam, 1960–1968, Part III, pp. 41–8–41–9.
  4. In a May 2 memorandum to Rusk, Sisco argued that the proposal to take the issue of Vietnam to the UN Security Council would widen public support for the administration, demonstrate the commitment of the U.S. Government to the United Nations, open new avenues for peace, and place the other side in a bad position in case the measure failed. However, in arguing against the proposal, Sisco pointed out that the required votes for the issue’s adoption on the agenda of the Security Council would be difficult to obtain, and a failure would have ramifications for domestic international support for U.S. policy in Vietnam. In addition, the Communists would view the effort as a ploy, given the intensification of military measures at the time, or at the very least a sign of weakness. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  5. Clifford also advised the President against the proposal to submit Vietnam to the UN Security Council. He believed that it would compel Johnson to halt bombing unilaterally and limit offensive military options that “might interfere with the advantages which we believe will accrue” from the September elections. He recommended postponing such a move until after the vote in South Vietnam. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXX, Memos (A)) On May 11 Goldberg sent Johnson a draft resolution to be submitted to the Security Council which called for consideration of the Vietnam issue. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S) President Johnson decided against proceeding with the submission of the issue until at least June. (Memorandum from Sisco to Rusk, May 12; ibid.)