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

SUBJECT

  • General and Diplomatic Factors Affecting Bombing Policy
1.
I have the general feeling that the North Vietnamese have been put under considerable strain by our bombing pressures since April. This is reflected in the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] sensitive messages.2 Perhaps stronger evidence is provided by a rather long domestic exhortation of late June, which came to our attention only last week, in which there was a strong suggestion of weaknesses in domestic performance and morale.
2.
Hanoi must be disappointed at the lack of outcry, at least compared with their hopes, in US and world critical circles, since April. This, too, is supported by the sensitive [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] messages.
3.
Hanoi is almost certainly just concluding some kind of review of the situation. The death of Nguyen Chi Thanh, however it happened, must have been a blow, and a loss to the hard-line faction.3 Ho himself has been little in evidence for some time, his only reported recent activity being to lay a wreath at Thanh’s bier, although not to attend the funeral. It is at least plausible from all this that there is a broad strategic debate between “doves” and “hawks”, although it seems most unlikely that Hanoi would move seriously toward peace. What seems much more likely is a tactical maneuver of some sort.
4.
The deterioration in China seems steadily more marked, and has been reflected in extremist postures in Burma and Hong Kong. We all believe that Chinese behavior is less predictable than at any time in the past, which is one consideration. A second is that the Chinese situation must be worrying Hanoi. The North Vietnamese quite explicitly criticized Mao, without naming him, a month ago, and the Chinese have been notably silent toward Hanoi, except for an outburst of praise of Nguyen Chi Thanh. It seems overwhelmingly likely that there are significant Hanoi-Peking frictions.
5.
The Soviets do not seem to have made any move whatever in the past three weeks. One can only surmise that they are watching Hanoi as closely as we are, and perhaps with a better sense of what is under way. Hanoi’s total silence on the Glassboro meeting4 adds to the inference that they have been disturbed both by that meeting and by Soviet behavior in the Middle East, and this might mean that any increase in Soviet influence arising from the Chinese situation is balanced by a skepticism of Soviet firmness. The major Soviet factor appears to be avoiding any further attacks on shipping.5
6.
There is no major pending visit or other event that need affect our diplomatic policy. Miki goes to Moscow this week, but with only a broad general picture of our thoughts and no specific message.
7.
We really have no good indication what Hanoi might be cooking up. However, we have the intriguing CAS report of remarks in Stockholm calling for some sort of “signal”, apparently even our refraining from bombing the dikes (as I read the report).6 The same report [Page 626]says that Hanoi is assuming we will hit the dikes, and the report at least has the backing of an Hanoi claim that we in fact did so on July 13—which we are checking. Apart from the normal sensitivity on the dikes, one might just see in these reports a fairly resigned attitude toward continued pressures in other respects.
8.
Hanoi’s reading of the McNamara mission and last week’s announcements would be crucial,7 but we really have no indication. One can suppose that they would read the news from here as indicating that we were firm, although not ready to go up rapidly, and that we were putting more weight on the South Vietnamese.
9.
Hanoi is doubtless encouraged by the attack on the Danang Air Base and the successful raid on Hoi An. It remains an open question whether their northern offensive is producing gains commensurate with the losses and degree of effort involved.

Conclusions

a.
Broadly speaking, I think these factors argue against anything drastic at this moment, but are perfectly consistent with selected re-strikes as necessary even in sensitive areas. I continue to believe that the important thing is to create the impression of steady firmness, without a major shift in any direction. Whatever the debate in Hanoi, this seems the best way to affect it.
b.
At this point, we should certainly avoid anything that gets us too close to the Chinese border in any respect. Apart from the question of Chinese reaction, this could tend to knit together Hanoi and Peking.
c.
In the light of a possible early Hanoi maneuver, our plans should not be too fixed. Even if a public tactical maneuver were readily identified by us as just that, sharp bombing immediately after could set off hostile criticism that would encourage Hanoi.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Top Secret WPB Chron., Jun/Aug. 1967. Secret; Exdis. In a July 18 memorandum to Bundy, Hughes indicated that INR concurred with the views expressed in this memorandum. (Ibid., Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  2. As reported in telegram 686 from Paris, July 13, Manac’h informed Embassy officers that Mai Van Bo had approached him on June 3 in order to request the French to take the initiative in starting negotiations. French officials told the Embassy that they had informed Bo that they would decline further involvement because they were not cognizant of the previous exchanges between Johnson and Ho. (Ibid.) In addition, Ha Van Lau, the DRV liaison to the ICC, told Manac’h his government would like to have the French intervene as a mediator in the war and propose a return to the Geneva Agreement of 1954. (Memorandum from Hughes to Rusk, June 16; ibid., POL 27–14 VIET)
  3. The DRV officially labeled Thanh’s death as due to a heart attack on July 6. In an intelligence note to Rusk, July 13, Hughes noted INR’s speculation that Thanh, a Politburo member in charge of COSVN, most likely died in the South during a U.S. bombardment in June. (Ibid., POL 15–1 VIET N)
  4. See Documents 216 and 217.
  5. See Document 188.
  6. According to a July 13 memorandum from Hughes to Rusk, a Swedish Foreign Ministry official reported that at the Stockholm World Peace Council conference on Vietnam, two North Vietnamese representatives told him that a cessation “need not necessarily be declared unconditional,” since a simple halt in the bombing would lead to negotiations that would begin “very soon” after such a pause. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET S) These encouraging remarks followed various signs for peace including the recall by the DRV of seven key representatives abroad and a statement by Trinh in an Austrian newspaper interview on July 2 that “there will be no difficulties” should the United States decide to seek a peaceful settlement. (INR Briefing Note, July 6; ibid.)
  7. A reference to the President’s July 13 news conference in which he, along with Westmoreland and McNamara, announced that, while not specifying any exact number, “some additional troops are going to be needed and are going to be supplied.” See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book II, pp. 690–696.