184. Editorial Note

On May 25, 1967, Chester L. Cooper, Ambassador Harriman’s Special Assistant, submitted to Under Secretary of State Katzenbach a memorandum entitled “A Settlement in Vietnam.” Written under guidelines set forth by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bundy, it was a comprehensive examination of the myriad of steps by which the peace process would evolve into a final settlement and what that would portend for South Vietnam.

In describing the current peace initiatives of the U.S. Government, Cooper noted the difficulties the administration faced in convincing other countries, the American public, and most importantly the leadership of North Vietnam of its earnestness for peace. While the reticence of the administration to soften on its objectives in Vietnam in conjunction with increased military pressure in the field reflected resolve, such a stance was unlikely to improve the overall position in potential negotiations with the North Vietnamese for at least the next 18 months. Since military action was not making the DRV Politburo any more pliable, Cooper argued, there was no reason to refrain from beginning direct talks as soon as possible. In turn, some sort of quasi-recognition of the National Liberation Front (NLF) and a bombing halt would induce flexibility in Hanoi and cause the North Vietnamese to enter into serious negotiations. Aside from direct contacts, Cooper believed that the best channel through which to generate the opening of peace talks remained the Soviet Union. The perceived leverage that the Soviets had over the DRV might compel Hanoi to seek a political solution and not a military one, provided the United States demonstrated its earnestness through its actions.

The settlement model Cooper developed consisted of the following terms:

  • 1. Closely-Meshed in Time with NVN/VC Actions, and Under Mutually Agreed-Upon International Supervision, the U.S. and the GVN Agree To:
    • “a. Halt bombing and other military actions against North Vietnam.
    • “b. Halt additional U.S. and allied military reinforcements to Vietnam.
    • “c. Plan for the phased withdrawal of all outside forces.
    • “d. Undertake a cease-fire in South Vietnam.
    • “e. Effect an early token withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces.
    • “f. Proceed with the first tranche in the phased withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces (subsequent withdrawals will take place by predetermined arrangement throughout the remaining part of the scenario).
    • “g. Guarantee the safety of personnel opposing South Vietnamese and allied forces in South Vietnam, and assist in the elaboration and execution of a general amnesty between opposing forces.
    • “h. Develop a South Vietnamese Government representing all shades of South Vietnamese opinion, with that government exercising effective authority over the entire territory of South Vietnam. This government is to be chosen on the basis of free democratic elections.
    • “i. Respect and abide by the wishes of the South Vietnamese Government regarding its political and foreign policy orientation, including the pursuit of a genuinely neutral policy.
    • “j. Encourage the early establishment of relations between North and South Vietnam and/or of such forms of mutual association as both may desire.
    • “k. Complete force withdrawals and close out U.S. military bases after forces are withdrawn.
    • “l. Welcome North Vietnam participation in any regional economic benefits contemplated now or in the future.
  • 2. Closely-Meshed in Time with US/GVN Actions, and Under Mutually Agreed-Upon International Supervision, Hanoi and the NLF Must Agree To:
    • “a. Halt the flow of North Vietnamese personnel and military supplies to South Vietnam as well as to Laos and Cambodia.
    • “b. Present a schedule for the withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam to their home territory.
    • “c. Cease all forms of terror in South Vietnam.
    • “d. Undertake a cease-fire in South Vietnam.
    • “e. Effect an early token withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces.
    • “f. Proceed with withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces.
    • “g. Agree to and implement a general exchange of prisoners.
    • “h. Respect and abide by the results of the political arrangements in South Vietnam.
    • “i. Respect and abide by the wishes of the South Vietnamese Government regarding its political and foreign policy orientation, including the pursuit of a genuinely neutral policy.
    • “j. Complete force withdrawals.”

These terms could be presented as a “package” or negotiated on a separate basis. Due to a “negotiations-shy” North Vietnamese leadership as a result of their disappointment at the 1954 Geneva conference, substantive discussions might occur in private contacts before formal settlement talks (although they were just as likely to come only after the convening of the conference). The most difficult issues included [Page 450] the modalities of a bombing halt, southward infiltration, troop withdrawals, and a political role for the NLF. The projected future for South Vietnam likely would involve a Saigon regime based upon an “uneasy coalition.” The situation would “probably be tolerable” for both the United States and the NLF. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET)

Contrasting advice existed among the military command. A cease-fire plan requested by JCS Chairman General Earle Wheeler was submitted to him by his staff in memorandum DJSM–664–67, May 29. The premise of the JCS plan was that “the highest probability of achieving an adequate settlement in Vietnam will be generated by continuing our offensive operations until the main elements of a settlement have been agreed upon.” It set forth the mechanics of a cessation of hostilities in the event of a cease-fire prior to the implementation of a settlement in Vietnam. The memorandum assessed the critical impact of the following stipulations:

  • “a. Formal Agreements for Cease Fire and Withdrawal. A meaningful lasting peace which gives a reasonable assurance for the achievement of South Vietnam objectives cannot be attained through negotiations unless North Vietnam will act in good faith. From this it follows that throughout the development of the cease fire agreement and any subsequent withdrawal agreement, the North Vietnam participants and any NLF observers present must indicate their good faith by adaptable attitudes, constructive proposals and a lack of intransigeance. Such a demonstration by communists in this situation would be novel, and US/GVN actions would have to be carefully weighed to maintain our bargaining position in an atmosphere of unprecedented cooperation. On the other hand, such cooperation is considered improbable. We will more likely have to counter domestic and international pressures to relax from a strong bargaining position so that some kind of agreement can be negotiated.
  • “b. Temporary Freeze Areas. Any concept of ‘temporary freeze in-place’ or ‘general stand-still truce’ is not only impractical due to the lack of precise interpretation of such terms, but would tend to militate against the achievement of US objectives in SVN. They should be avoided in specifying details of any cease fire arrangement for these reasons:
    • “(1) They tend to inhibit the conduct of essential unrestricted US/GVN reconnaissance throughout SVN.
    • “(2) They are unlikely to restrict the VC/NVN freedom of action.
    • “(3) They may inhibit possible withdrawals of VC/NVA main force units.
    • “(4) They do not realistically consider the likely possibility that VC local and irregular forces will continue unrestricted hostile functions separate from any actions by main force elements. Because of [Page 451] these considerations, the attached plan does not provide for ‘freeze areas’ but rather refers to secure and contested areas as zones for defensive postures before the initiation of verification sweeps into VC controlled areas.
  • “c. Points of Egress and Safe Passage during Withdrawal. It is highly improbable that NVN will be a party to any formal agreement on withdrawal of NVA units and any Viet Cong wishing to accompany them. To do so would reverse their repeated denials of having any troops in the south. Moreover, they would not trust the allies to keep quiet about any secret agreement which would relieve them of any requirement to publicly admit that NVA units would withdraw. In view of this an acceptable withdrawal or relocation scheme may be to specify routes and egress points back along the NVN infiltration routes to their base areas with safe passage guaranteed. It would be preferable to specify routes leading to the sea for ship transit to NVN or to Route 1 for transport to the DMZ in order to keep main force units out of Cambodia and Laos, but this would involve overt movements probably too exposed for NVN to accept. During withdrawal of any sort, it would be preferable to prohibit resupply into SVN from NVN, Laos, or Cambodia. If medical or food supplies are required by any enemy unit withdrawing, the allies could offer to supply these on request in order to eliminate any opportunity for malfeasance on the part of the enemy. However, there is little point in prohibiting resupply, because enforcement of such a prohibition would be extremely doubtful. In addition, there is little likelihood that enemy main force units would agree to withdraw to any locales unless they included access to resupply routes. Obviously, the attached plan cannot include details on these matters because the military situation existing at time of preliminary talks will dictate the preferred solutions.
  • “d. Detection and Verification Measures. There is the ever present danger that initial talks with Hanoi and subsequent conferences and negotiations will hinge on the inclusion of some sort of international supervision of the cease fire and any withdrawal agreements. There is no case since World War II where an international peacekeeping organization has been fully effective in maintaining the peace. Moreover, in view of past patterns of communist intransigeance, subversion and obstructionist tactics, there is serious doubt that any form of an international control commission can be effective in Vietnam. The best way of assuring effective verification is unilateral inspection and policing of the truce by the belligerents themselves. This is particularly true during the period of negotiations. In this way, each side would be required to rely primarily on its unilateral intelligence capabilities to detect violations of the plan. For US/Government of Vietnam/Free World Military Assistance Forces, such activities would include: patrolling and unlimited access to all parts of South Vietnam, including the southern [Page 452] portion of the demilitarized zone; air reconnaissance and surveillance over North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Laos, as well as other forms of intelligence collection, to include coastal surveillance of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Cambodia, and covert operations in Laos and Cambodia to detect any attempts by North Vietnam/Viet Cong to infiltrate personnel and matériel into those countries and from them into South Vietnam. Under a formal agreement each side could exchange Military Liaison Missions (MLMs). These missions should have free access to all parts of South Vietnam. They would be tasked to verify compliance and to investigate complaints of violations of the agreements. Each side would be responsible to its own authorities. The ability of the mission’s team to move freely in the investigating role would provide a test of the good faith of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, although the nature of the problem would permit the enemy to attempt a great deal of hoodwinking with associated propaganda fallout. Even if the inspection procedures should fail to accomplish the desired purpose, the framework would provide a military communications link which could aid our continuing unilateral efforts to inspect and verify the withdrawal or relocation of NVA/VC main units from SVN while ferreting out the Viet Cong irregulars and political infrastructure.
  • “e. National Reconciliation. This is included in the attached plan as a portion of psychological operations. Ralliers under this program will be administratively handled and processed in existing and expanding Chieu Hoi facilities. Detailed GVN plans for managing substantial numbers of National Reconciliation ralliers from the VC middle and high-level structure are not yet formulated and will require additional intergovernmental planning in Saigon. We definitely want to increase the enthusiasm of the GVN for Doan Ket and Chieu Hoi programs and to strengthen their resolve to make them work.”

The memorandum added the corollary that the assumptions relating to potential peace talks were “unrealistic” if the North Vietnamese refused to make any meaningful concessions before they began. (Department of Defense, Official Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 911/305 (15 Apr 67) IR 1139)