301. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

30023. For Ambassador Bunker from the Under Secretary. Subject: Use of US Leverage in Viet-Nam After Elections.

We have been giving thought on high-level, inter-agency basis to ways we might more effectively exercise leverage on newly elected GVN to maximize latter’s performance in post-election period. Following discussion contains our thoughts for application by the Mission under your direction and as you see fit. Since exercise of leverage is a most complex and delicate matter, its application is of course left to your discretion. We would welcome your comments on the paper.
We are sending by separate message a draft working paper suggesting a priority program for the new GVN, including specific suggestions for impact measures to be accomplished within three months.2 Subject to your comments, our thoughts on leverage are of course closely related to our thinking regarding a priority program.
In anticipating the US/GVN relationship in the post-election period, it is generally agreed that the US should find ways to exercise leverage with the Vietnamese Government which are more commensurate in degree with the importance of the US effort to South Viet-Nam’s survival and which reflect the climate of growing restiveness in the US regarding our commitment in Viet-Nam. One of the chief reasons why US leverage has been applied ineffectively in the past is that, in its impatience to get results and make progress, the US has increasingly resorted to unilateral programs and actions with inadequate consultation [Page 741]with the Vietnamese. On the other hand, the indiscriminate and careless exercise of US leverage could undermine the self-respect of the Vietnamese Government in its own eyes and in the eyes of the South Vietnamese people.
To be effective, US leverage must be exercised in the context of a relationship of mutual respect and confidence, and in ways commensurate with the objective sought. It must also be backed by credible sanctions.
The various tools of leverage available to us are described below. It is not proposed that all of these tools be used at any given time or that some of them be used at all. However, they represent a selection of arrows that might be placed in the US Mission quiver for use as the Mission Council deems appropriate. It will be particularly important to construct a credible and effective system of US leverage for use as necessary and appropriate in connection with the list of priority program objectives which we shall be seeking to achieve with the newly elected government in the immediate post-election period.

Tools of Leverage

A wide range of possible techniques and forms of influence is available at each level of the American presence in Viet-Nam. A few of these leverage devices are now in use, mostly at the initiative of individual Americans on the spot, but not as part of an organized framework of influence. Other devices have been instituted in the past, only to be subsequently abandoned because of fear of their misuse, actual misuse, or inadequate understanding of their value.
In the following list we array a range of possible instruments of influence that the US might employ, with some indication of their applicability:
Rapport: influence based on personal relationships. Given Vietnamese stress on personal relationships in official life, this can be an invaluable helpmate to the exercise of influence. It is also, however, the least reliable and least transferable form of influence.
Joint Planning and Evaluation: establishing a formal, close staff working relationship between US and GVN plans and evaluation elements. Their task is to agree on joint program goals and benchmarks, with provisions for periodic progress evaluation. An example of this relationship was provided by MACV’s RD Support Directorate, a group of US live-in advisors operating within the GVN Ministry of Revolutionary Development during its formative period.
Joint Inspection and Audit: creating joint US/GVN inspection teams to conduct on-site examination of program progress and resource utilization. This approach has been employed in inspecting the effectiveness [Page 742]of ARVN battalions committed to RD and in obtaining quarterly reports on execution of the RD program.
Joint Secretariats: composed of US and GVN specialists, to assist the latter in policy development on issues of mutual interest. Such an arrangement is in fact under consideration by the Joint Mission/GVN Economic Committee, a high-level policy group that meets periodically to discuss key economic issues of concern to both sides, and that appoints sub-committees to cope with specific problems. A joint secretariat would formalize this arrangement on a continuing basis, with second-level Mission and GVN officials furnishing combined staffs to examine policy alternatives, resolve differences, make disagreements explicit, and, where possible, submit agreed-upon recommendations to their principals.
The JCRR Approach: establishing a joint, autonomous, dually-staffed, foundation-like organization headed by a board of commissioners appointed by the two heads of state, to administer all forms of nonmilitary aid. The model for this is the highly successful Sino-American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction set up in Taiwan in 1949. As an independently financed institution, it is removed from the direct pressures of domestic politics, can mobilize the energies of the private sector, and respond quickly to articulated needs.
Contingency Funds and Special Resources: to be placed at the disposal of US advisors to enable local officials to exploit critical local opportunities when GVN machinery is unable to respond promptly. This device affords flexibility in program execution by providing prompt reward for productive effort and resources for error-correction. More important, it provides the advisor with powerful leverage in his relation with his counterpart.
Control Over Expenditure of Counterpart Piasters: to gain influence over RD program execution. Inherent in the existence of counterpart funds is the right of joint US/GVN agreement on their disposition. Present practice is to yield up counterpart at the GVN national budget level with no further US control over appropriation or expenditure of these funds, other than that provided by joint US/GVN project agreements. To reintroduce an element of US control over expenditure of these funds would require reinstituting a joint sign-off procedure at province level, needing the signatures of both US province senior advisor and GVN province chief to authorize any piaster expenditure or commodity release.
Retention of Resources in US Channels: so that disbursement to the GVN can be made at the point of utilization. The extreme form of this would involve distribution within Viet-Nam of all US material support, both military equipment and civilian commodities, through a US-managed logistical system. Such a system would be relatively easy to [Page 743]institute in the RD program and has already been partially applied to MAP. However, channelling all assistance through a US logistical system would severely burden that system, would make it geographically more inflexible, and would perpetuate Vietnamese dependence upon it, rather than creating self-supporting capabilities of their own. A more feasible approach would be to retain only part, e.g., the RD resources, in U.S. channels.
Joint Personnel Management: to institute career incentive, selection, and removal policies. U.S. influence over sensitive GVN personnel policy could be exerted in several modest ways, such as monitoring the operation of the Vietnamese system through a parallel U.S. staff, or maintaining a separate U.S. or joint efficiency-reporting system (keeping track of promising Vietnamese for specific leadership roles and identifying incompetent Vietnamese for selection-out). Some of this is done now but the system affords no way of affecting GVN decisions. To accomplish the latter would require more formal joint arrangements such as a joint board to review recommendations for personnel actions—an arrangement that would also provide a forum for airing honest disagreements. The system could be made more palatable by requiring reciprocal rating by Vietnamese and Americans. Alternatively or in addition, the U.S. might follow the practice of submitting to the GVN periodic assignment and removal recommendations relying on other parts of the over-all influence system for leverage to gain acceptance. Another possibility would be the establishment of a Civil Service Commission with a U.S. advisory staff to work closely with it.
Joint Command: to achieve greater integration of GVN, US, and possibly other Free World decision elements, civil and/or military. For a variety of political reasons, integration at the higher levels has been rejected by the Vietnamese and judged undesirable by the U.S. Command. At lower levels, such as field force and division, there is considerable reluctance to integrate command, because of the recognition of VC intelligence penetration of RVNAF. At battalion level, unit association (the “buddy system”) is being attempted in lieu of joint command. At company level, the introduction of an American command element into Vietnamese units, as pioneered by the Marine Combined Action Platoons, is now being expanded to RF/PF companies. Under the conditions of Viet-Nam, joint command at higher levels does not appear to be a promising leverage technique. At lower levels, reinforcing the advisor’s hand may be more effective than placing him in command of a Vietnamese unit.
Policy-Level Monitoring System: to monitor the exercise of authority of key officials of the GVN. This would be an arrangement whereby each member of the Mission Council and other senior Mission officers as appropriate would be designated by the Ambassador to monitor the actions of specific key GVN officials.
Withholding U.S. Support: At levels below Saigon, the authority of U.S. senior advisors to cut off or withdraw U.S. civil and military support from Vietnamese activities or operations within their area of responsibility would constitute powerful leverage. To achieve a posture of graduated response, the advisor could have available to him such varied instruments as the right to grant or withhold access to air transportation for the province chief, U.S. firepower, mobility, and medical evacuation for particular RVNAF units, and over-all military and civil support for an entire province or program, including withdrawal of an entire U.S. advisory team.

At the Saigon level, a range of extremely tough options is available, encompassing selective withdrawal of U.S. support for Viet-Nam. Persuading the GVN that these are in fact available, requires the will to use them and the political ability to follow through if our hand is called. Options would include halting further troop deployments, standing down U.S. unit operations, suspending CIP and MAP assistance, and so forth.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Drafted by Miller; cleared by Leonhart, Habib, Bundy, and representatives of USIA, AID, and DOD; and approved by Katzenbach. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. This paper, entitled “Post-Election Priorities in Viet-Nam” and sent to Bunker in telegram 30020 to Saigon, August 31, set up priorities for newly-elected Vietnamese leaders. In addition, an “Impact Program” of immediate measures was devised. The initial priority was to broaden the GVN by incorporating civilians into the government and establishing a relationship with the political parties extant in South Vietnam. “Impact” measures would include diverse appointments to the new government and a new political party law. The next priority was improvement of the ARVN, with “impact” reforms including merit promotion and the formation of an inspectorate. The third priority, corruption in the government, was to be reduced by a new government agency created to root out officials engaged in corrupt practices. A fourth priority was to revitalize national reconciliation and Chieu Hoi programs by extending political participation and civil rights. Renewed peace initiatives comprised the fifth priority. The sixth priority was implementation of economic stabilization measures, the immediate measure being the selection by the new President of an economic development commission. The last priority was to devise an efficient means to mobilize manpower resources. (Ibid.)