194. Draft Memorandum From Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Johnson1
- Summary—Alternative Military Action against North Vietnam
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended a program for intensified US military actions against North Vietnam.2 Their program would have as its chief feature heavy attacks upon the Hanoi-Haiphong logistical base, and would include actions such as bombing and mining the ports.
The attached full memorandum analyzes three major alternatives: Alternative A—the JCS proposal to expand the present program to include mining of the ports and attacks on roads and bridges closer to Hanoi and Haiphong; Alternative B—which would continue the present level of attacks but generally restrict it to the neck of North Vietnam south of 20°; and Alternative C—a refinement of the currently approved program.
In the memorandum, Mr. Vance and I:
- —Oppose the JCS program (Alternative A) on grounds that it would neither substantially reduce the flow of men and supplies to the South nor pressure Hanoi toward settlement, that it would be costly in American lives and in domestic and world opinion, and that it would run serious risks of enlarging the war into one with the Soviet Union and China, leaving us a few months from now more frustrated and with almost no choice but even further escalation.
- —Oppose mere refinement of the present program (Alternative C) on grounds that it would involve most of the costs and some of the risks of Alternative A with less chance than Alternative A of either interdicting supplies or moving Hanoi toward settlement.
- —Recommend concentration of the bulk of our efforts on infiltration routes south of 20° (Alternative B) because this course would interdict supplies as effectively as the other alternatives, would cost the least in pilots’ lives, and would be consistent with effort to move toward negotiations.
Implicit in the recommendation is a conviction that nothing short of toppling the Hanoi regime will pressure North Vietnam to settle so long as they believe they have a chance to win the “war of attrition” in the South, a judgment that actions sufficient to topple the Hanoi regime will put us into war with the Soviet Union and China, and a belief that a shift to Alternative B can be timed and handled in such a way as to gain politically while not endangering the morale of our fighting men.
The Director of Central Intelligence and the Secretaries of the Air Force and Navy have each independently considered the alternative programs. No one of them recommends Alternative A. Mr. Nitze joins with Mr. Vance and me in recommending B; Dr. Brown prefers C; Mr. Helms does not make a specific recommendation, but states the CIA believes that none of the alternatives is capable of decreasing Hanoi’s determination to persist in the war or of reducing the flow of goods sufficiently to affect the war in the South.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 2EE Primarily McNamara Recommendations. Top Secret; Sensitive. The notations “L” on the summary and the draft memorandum indicate that the President saw them. This DPM is printed in part in The Pentagon Papers, The Senator Gravel Edition, pp. 189–191. An attached table of North Vietnamese import capabilities and a list of bombing targets are not printed.↩
- See Document 141.↩
- JCSM-286–67 20 May 1967. [Footnote in the source text. See Document 187.]↩
- Much of the disagreement in the US Government over courses of action stems from different views as to what the US objective, or commitment, is. The JCS, for example, call my statement of US commitment a “modification of present US objectives … [which] would undermine and no longer provide a complete rationale for our presence in South Vietnam or much of our effort over the past two years.” (JCSM-307–67 1 June 1967.) If the US commitment is as I have described it (which is essentially as it has been stated by you, Secretary Rusk, Ambassador Goldberg and me over the past few years), one has good grounds to question the rationale for even more US effort in Vietnam. Specifically, US efforts against the North should take account of the fact that the Viet Cong in the South now receive from North Vietnam perhaps 1/5th to 1/10th as much assistance in men and 1/1000th as much assistance in matériel as the Saigon Government receives from the US and other third countries. The approximately $17 billion of matériel sent by the US to Vietnam annually is 1000 times the estimated $15–20 million of matériel sent to the South from North Vietnam (and approximately 25 times as much as the $720 million the USSR and China are estimated to have given North Vietnam in 1966). The 54,000 third-nation troops in South Vietnam alone exceed the number of North Vietnamese soldiers in regular units in the South, while the 500,000 total of US plus third-country manpower is about 10 times the number in North Vietnamese regular units and at least five times the number of infiltrated North Vietnamese now in the South. [Footnote and brackets in the source text.]↩
- The Secretary of the Air Force argues for Alternative C (modified). He believes that our air interdiction effort has had some effect in reducing infiltration below what it otherwise would have been. He believes that Alternative A, from the purely military point of view, would be worth its extra cost in terms of reduced enemy abilities in South Vietnam; but he considers port closure too risky and believes that, with the ports open to handle diverted imports, attacks on the northeast and the northwest roads and railroads should be limited to harassment. At the same time, he opposes Alternative B on the ground that it would give Hanoi a “free ride” down to 20°; this, in his view, would more than offset the increased effectiveness to be expected from Alternative B’s added anti-infiltration effort south of 20°. He believes that US pilot-loss rates, after the enemy has been given 3–6 months to adjust his AAA, will not be significantly different under Alternatives B and C. He consequently recommends continuation of the present program—including strikes on airfields (except Gia Lam) as necessary to minimize over-all losses in the air campaign—with refinements to add some targets (especially LOC targets) to the present list and to eliminate others. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- Not found.↩