268. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

As instructed, I have checked Gen. Eisenhower’s idea of trading Soviet “supplies” to Hanoi for a cessation of our bombing of the North.2

Bus Wheeler is out of town; and I could not reach him on this issue.
Sec. Rusk believes that militarily it would be a good trade; but he wishes to think further about the implications for the balance of power and influence in Hanoi. He fears it might turn Hanoi over to the Chinese Communists. He is not sure, but wishes to consider the matter before giving a judgment. In addition, he would prefer to get some response from the Russians to his question: What would you do if we stopped bombing? In his last talk with Dobrynin 3 he thought he detected some Soviet interest in the question and does not wholly rule out a response. It would be better if they put up a formula than if we put up a formula.
I raised the issue in Nick Katzenbach’s small Viet Nam group which is now meeting regularly. Here are some of the reactions:
  • —Nick thinks it might work, but only if it were followed pretty promptly by negotiations. Moscow would have to tell Hanoi: You said you would negotiate if bombing stopped; bombing will stop; but we can only get bombing stopped if we stop sending military supplies.
  • —There was general agreement that we could get in trouble with the deal if North Viet Nam were to release some of its military manpower from dealing with bombing and put a massive assault across the DMZ. Under these circumstances the pressure to go back to bombing the North would be almost irresistible in the U.S.
  • Paul Nitze thought the deal was good but he does not believe in negotiations as a way to end the war unless—as in Korea—the negotiations simply confirm a situation which exists on the ground. He [Page 667] thinks that we are moving toward a situation where we can master the situation on the ground and are moving in that direction in particular in II and III Corps. But, following Bob McNamara’s views, he believes we could dispense with bombing the North and still proceed on the ground in the South successfully. Therefore, he believes the deal is sound; although he also was troubled at what we would have to do if they switched military manpower to the South in a big way.
  • —Dick Helms saw no trouble in putting the proposition to Moscow and getting their reaction.
My own preliminary conclusion is:
  • —We would, of course, have to get a fairly clear idea of what we mean by “supplies” and make sure that Eastern Europe did not pick up and send what the Soviets turned off. Do supplies, for example, include military trucks? Oil? How much oil?
  • —The Chinese influence question is complex; and I would be inclined to let the Russians decide the answer. They know better than we what they would gain and lose in Hanoi influence by making this deal.
  • —We would have to link the question to the issue of serious negotiations to end the war. In my bones I do not feel the deal would hold up for very long if the war continued at its present scale with violations of the DMZ and continued massive infiltration from the North.
I think we will want to have, before making such a proposition, a rather complete analysis from CIA as to precisely what the Soviets are sending into Hanoi. I shall make sure this is done.4
My net recommendation is that we have a meeting to discuss this with you soon.5 It is not a bad idea; and it may be a good idea—so good that Moscow, after checking with Hanoi, will not accept it. It certainly deserves careful staffing out and discussion.6
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President, 8/3–27/67, Vol. II. Secret.
  2. According to a memorandum of August 3, Goodpaster reported that Eisenhower had suggested an offer to be made to Moscow: “If you stop sending supplies to Hanoi, we will stop bombing the North.” A covering note indicated that the President requested that Rostow obtain the recommendations of Wheeler, Nitze, and Rusk. (Ibid.)
  3. Rusk last saw Dobrynin on July 26 in a meeting that lasted from 6:42 p.m. through 9:15 p.m. (Ibid., Rusk Appointment Book, 1967) No notes of the meeting have been found.
  4. According to a memorandum to Rostow from Ginsburgh, August 4, and a memorandum from Rostow to the President, August 5, the CIA concluded that the Soviets would reject the offer because it would damage the standing of the Soviet Union among its allies, and the North Vietnamese would likewise reject it due to probable increased dependence on China. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President, 8/3–27/67, Vol. II)
  5. The President wrote in the margin: “I agree.” The issue was discussed at the regular Tuesday Luncheon on August 8. Notes of the meeting have not been found.
  6. In a memorandum to Rostow the next day, Ginsburgh described the offer as a “bad trade” since, in light of reduced North Vietnamese military requirements due to the bombing halt, the drop in Soviet arms would have a minimal impact; a cessation of shipments was difficult to verify; other sources might be able to make up the difference; and it did not compel reciprocal action on the part of North Vietnam. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President, 8/3–27/67, Vol. II)