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

SUBJECT

  • Further Bombing Near the Chinese Border: Luncheon Topic

Since I shall be out of action tomorrow morning, making a speech, I am setting down my thoughts on the continuation of attacks in the buffer zone. I have done so after consulting with our senior Chinese expert present here, Richard Donald, who is balanced, objective, and experienced.2

In brief, it is our feeling that it could become highly dangerous to continue the attacks. Even three days may have stretched things, but certainly a continuation for further days in sequence can only create the impression that we are engaged in an unrelenting upward movement in our actions.

We have tended to focus on the danger of major Chinese Communist intervention. I think the odds of this could be significantly increased by continuing our attacks for more days. It has for some months—and increasingly—been the firm conclusion of all experts that the irrational element in Chinese Communist behavior has grown markedly. The fact that they are in disorder may mean that they would be less effective in anything they did, but the odds on their lashing out must be considered to be far less predictable than they would in the past. The great point is that they could well see systematic attacks as an attempt by us to take advantage of their internal weakness and confusion, and this is the very thing that could drive them to action however irrational.

But secondly, there is the effect of systematic attacks on the internal confusion within China. In my own view, that confusion—and how it affects Hanoi—may quite well be the only hole card we have that could bring about peace between now and our 1968 elections. At present, there is every indication that the army in China is at odds with the Maoists. A picture of systematic attacks by us might be the one thing that could unite the two in common cause. The odds of this happening seem to me very much greater than the odds of major military intervention, but [Page 689]the consequences—from the standpoint of our reaching peace in Viet-Nam—seem to me almost equally serious.

In short, I think the over-all strategic (not just “political”) arguments against pushing the attacks farther are terribly strong. I urge that we take stock of what the attacks have accomplished and give ourselves substantial breathing space before renewing them. A picture of our going back in the future once or twice would be an entirely different picture to the Chinese than the picture created by our continuing the attacks now on what they could only take to be a systematic and unceasing basis.3

William P. Bundy4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Top Secret WPB Chron., July/Aug. 1967. Top Secret; Nodis; Eyes Only. A copy was sent to Katzenbach.
  2. On August 9 strikes on ten targets in the DRV border area with China began. Donald was on the staff of the Division of Asian Communist Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
  3. In Intelligence Note 676 to Rusk, August 16, Hughes described the Chinese response to the initial attacks in RT 57 as muted. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.