175. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Bombing Policy and Possible Communication with the Soviets

On bombing policy, the issue remains whether to cut back to the supply routes, with only enough strikes to the North to keep AA in place and to hit really key targets. Secretary McNamara last night told me that he would define the re-strike situation as applying only to those targets that become newly important or that have come back into operation. No one can say what it would take to keep the AA pinned down; General Wheeler has given the judgment that a move south would start at once if we let our policy become known and even if it emerged only by deeds. I come out that we have a reasonably clear picture of what “limited re-strikes” would mean, and that this is sufficiently clear for any communication we make to the Russians, even though it may need somewhat further refinement among ourselves.

The Wheeler alternative, explained this morning,2 would be as follows:

Much heavier armed reconnaissance in Route Package 6.
Continued attacks on fixed targets, including bridges, road and rail lines, depots, dumps, and POL—but not including “marginal fixed targets” such as chemical and cement plants. General Wheeler does agree that we have “run out of big targets,” so that to this extent the hitting of fixed targets would have less dramatic public impact.
For both armed reconnaissance and previously struck fixed targets, Wheeler would reduce the present 30-mile circle around Hanoi to ten miles and the present 10-mile circle around Haiphong to four miles. This would open up road and rail lines in these areas to armed reconnaissance attacks, and would permit re-strikes on previously struck targets without express authorization. Within the 10- and 4-mile limits, express authorization would continue to be required. General Wheeler appears to believe that there will not be many requests for targets within the new “envelopes” and said at one point that he would not urge re-strikes within these areas unless there were specific military activity.
In view of the heavy activity necessarily involved in this program, General Wheeler insists that it must include heavy attacks on all airfields, including Phuc Yen and Gia Lam.

In addition, as a possible expression of his maximum desires, General Wheeler:

A combination of mining and bombing against Haiphong. He stated that the over-all program of attacks on road and rail lines “makes less sense” unless we also hit Haiphong.

Analysis of Wheeler Alternative

Excluding the Haiphong element (e.), the program would have significantly less dramatic impact than the major target strikes of the past month. Nonetheless, hard attacks on airfields would cancel this out, and create a continuing impression that we were hammering away hard. The program really equates, without Haiphong, to Option B in my previous analysis, which I attach for its listing of factors against that Option.3

The discussion this morning did not sound as though General Wheeler and the JCS could quickly be brought to accept the program we have all been considering. Secretary McNamara strongly wants a decision if one can be made. You will wish to talk with him, I think, as to how you and he might present the matter. The major difficulty I see in the Wheeler alternative, apart from its sheer volume, is that General Wheeler regards attacks on the airfields as absolutely essential, and these are what most of all would contribute to a general impression that we had not cut back at all.


General Wheeler argues the following:

A marked cutback would be “an aerial Dien Bien Phu,” tending away from peace especially in terms of Hanoi’s attitude.
High losses in attacks on the North are more than compensated by the value of the targets there.
AA will move south at once when the program becomes clear.
Any cutdown in LOC attacks anywhere increases the flow.
The focus is already in the South (7300 out of 9000 sorties in the past two months), and any increased effort would encounter dispersal and increased defenses so that it would have marginal effectiveness.
A clear cutdown would have a serious adverse reaction among our military forces on the ground, and especially among our pilots, and he believes would have the same effect on the American people.

In reply, we have pointed out:

Heavy attacks on the road and rail lines (which Wheeler concedes are now limited because Sharp and others simply do not think they are worth it unless we hit Haiphong) simply cannot really cut the flow of the needed quantities of matériel to the south. At most such attacks make Hanoi pay a steady price in terms of effort and dislocation.
Even though a cutback does not have much immediate chance of producing any move toward peace by the Soviets or Hanoi, it could at least make less likely any marked additional Soviet decisions. At some point, the climate would exist for constructive Soviet effort.
The generalized costs at home and abroad in terms of criticism.

The counter-arguments are of course spelled out in clear detail in my earlier memorandum, and the capability factors are covered in Secretary McNamara’s memorandum.

On timing, we have two new elements. George Brown is delaying his departure from London for at least 48 hours (this is from the Embassy this morning). And Dobrynin has told Thompson that he might not be back until just before Thompson arrives here on June 1.

The first of these means that we could hit Hanoi power again tonight, and DoD seems resolved to do this. The second of these means that we might have a few more days in which to affect the Soviet decision-making process.

If a decision is reached on the cutback program today, we could then foreshadow this to Brown in any event, and we could consider whether to tell the Soviets.4 On the latter, I find Thompson’s cable enigmatic.5 Certainly it argues against putting much emphasis on Soviet action for peace into our message. Thompson appears to come out in favor of a simple information message, through a letter from the President to Kosygin.

Accordingly, I attach as Tab C6 a revision of the Rostow draft, incorporating your own changes and including additional language stating the new bombing policy.

[Page 420]

If the bombing policy decision is not reached this afternoon, the Kosygin letter might still stand, but without the additional material.

If we hit Hanoi power again tonight, Thompson would say not to send the letter at once. I would think Monday7 was right in this event, and perhaps in any case.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret.
  2. Wheeler, Eugene Rostow, Vance, Helms, Bundy, and Walt Rostow met to discuss the cutback as proposed in the McNamara-Vance memorandum of May 9, Document 169. Eugene Rostow sent a memorandum to Rusk on the same day describing the meeting. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  3. Document 170.
  4. In telegram 197662 to Moscow, May 18, the Department requested Thompson’s opinion on how to deal with the Soviet reaction to the impending air strikes, noting that it was considering conveying to the Soviets that the intended raid was an anomaly. The United States had held off such attacks in order to give North Vietnam a chance to move closer to negotiations, but since Hanoi’s response to the overtures in April had been negative, the United States felt that it had no choice but to resume. However, the United States afterwards would not launch attacks above the 20th parallel. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  5. Thompson replied in telegram 5009 from Moscow, May 19, that he agreed with restricting the bombing to south of the 20th parallel, but informing the Soviets while Brown was in Moscow would cause them to believe that the attack was “another case of our using initiative for peace to cover escalation.” He advocated a direct letter from the President to Kosygin, whether or not the power plant was to be hit. Thompson questioned whether the target justified the risk. (Ibid., POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER) At lunch with Thompson the next day, Dobrynin described his inability to explain why the United States had resumed bombing, especially given Kosygin’s statements in London, which in his opinion were “not made out of thin air.” Thompson replied that the concentration of NVA troops at the DMZ was “one important reason.” (Telegram 5015 from Moscow; ibid.) The letter from Johnson to Kosygin calling on the Soviet Premier to join with the President in addressing pressing issues such as Vietnam, the Middle East, Cuba, deployment of ballistic missiles, and the nonproliferation treaty, is in telegram 198583 to Moscow, May 19. (Ibid., POL US-USSR)
  6. Not found.
  7. May 22.