339. Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy)1
DIPLOMATIC AND BOMBING ACTIONS IN THE NEAR FUTURE
We should very soon have a somewhat clearer picture whether Hanoi has any interest in our stopping the bombing altogether under “no advantage” circumstances on the military side, or whether Hanoi is interested in “preliminary discussions” if we simply refrained from hitting in the area of Hanoi and perhaps Haiphong. At the moment, the latter form of interest seems most likely to emerge, but it may be that the whole thing will die and leave us with a pretty clear picture that Hanoi is not interested in anything for the time being.
If Hanoi does move toward our stopping the bombing under “no advantage” circumstances, then we would of course virtually have to follow through on this, and any “pause” scenario would be in these terms.
If Hanoi shows the second type of interest in “preliminary discussions,” then again we should follow through, being prepared to add a limited Haiphong restraint to our existing Hanoi restraint, but excluding any wider restraints, and any restraint in the DMZ particularly.
The key question for present analysis arises if Hanoi fails to follow through on either of the two possibilities, and thus indicates pretty clearly that it has no interest in moving at the present time. In this case, any “pause” would be in effect “blind.” The pros and cons of such a “blind pause” need careful evaluation before we drift any further in that direction. This memorandum argues that there are two other options that might well be preferable:
First, a continuing degree of restraint and a new approach in the direction of “preliminary discussions” in a month or six weeks, and, second, a serious effort to follow up on the Canadian proposal. These two options are analyzed here, together with the pros and cons of a “blind pause.”
Pros and Cons of a Blind Pause
- We would get a lot of credit in some circles in the US, and in some key areas abroad.
- We would be demonstrably making a serious try, so that if it failed we might be in a stronger position to keep public opinion level and to go ahead as we wish.
- With the weather that prevails between now and the end of the year, the military disadvantages are at their lowest level.
- Our gains at home and abroad could be nullified or even turned into losses if we had to resume.
- It now appears highly likely that, unlike the 1965–66 long pause, Hanoi would do or say “something” that would vastly complicate the problem. They have shown themselves much more sophisticated in the last 12 months, and there are many gambits they could use to make it extremely difficult for us to resume and to prove that we have made a serious try without any response.
- Whatever our objective view of the military consequences, we must reckon that any increased or even continued North Vietnamese activity in the South would be attributed by many circles, including our own military, to the pause. The picture would be painted that Marines were dying near the DMZ because of men and ammunition that would not have come down if we were still bombing.
- If in fact we have had a negative reading from our present explorations, it would surely mean that Hanoi would be extremely unlikely to respond seriously. Their whole pattern of decision-making has been one of quite firm decisions that are then adhered to for a substantial period. They may or may not have now made a firm decision to hold on until our elections at all costs, but if they close down the existing channel the odds seem overwhelming that there must have been a politburo decision to stick it out at least for the next few months. Yet, this is not at all inconsistent with their playing games.
- If we felt we had to resume, the pressures from the hawks would greatly increase, while at the same time the doves could never be persuaded that there might not have been something if we kept going. The net effect could be greatly to strengthen both extremes, and to narrow the middle-ground supporters of our policy.
On this assessment, a blind pause seems to have preponderant disadvantages.
The Option of Generalized Restraint
This option would consist of simply keeping the bombing at reasonable levels, with only the most occasional strikes in or near Hanoi and Haiphong. This may well be the pattern that weather would dictate in any event, and the striking point is that, when we went through [Page 836] somewhat the same pattern last fall, the Soviets at least have told us that we gave Hanoi the impression that there might have been some possibility of movement.
Against such a pattern, the option would visualize our holding off until mid-November and then trying again in the direction of “preliminary discussions.”
This option is a much looser one than a “blind pause.” It has none of the immediate advantages, but equally none of the very grave succeeding disadvantages. It could lay the groundwork for progress toward the end of the year, which might be our last clear chance before Hanoi decides that our election is an overriding timing factor and that it simply must hold on for the remaining months until that election. There may or may not be much of a chance of a change in Hanoi’s attitude by the end of the year, and much would depend on political progress in the South. There is at least a chance of such progress, and it might well be reflected in the kind of upturn in the Chieu Hoi figures that we encountered at the same time last year.
This is a somewhat longer shot. But the fact is that Martin’s reiteration of the idea of stopping the bombing in return for demilitarization of the DMZ has given us the opportunity of following up on this.2 From a practical military standpoint, the trade is in fact a better one than the “no advantage” formula as we have defined it to Hanoi.
Under this option, we could follow up publicly, but this has the disadvantage of forcing Hanoi into immediate rejection. Alternatively, and more effectively, we could encourage the Canadians privately and give them full support with the Indians, Poles, and others who would have to be brought in.
In addition to its lesser military disadvantages than the “no advantage” formula, this one has the additional point that it does not require Hanoi to admit anything or to take any specific action. The simple act of demilitarization of the DMZ does the job and, in the present circumstances, would help us greatly in our most difficult sector. Any chance that Hanoi would interpret our favorable actions as a sign of weakness would to a large extent be offset by the fact that this was a Canadian initiative.
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Kissinger—1967. Top Secret/Pennsylvania.↩
- In conjunction with reissuing his offer, Martin stated that North Vietnamese Government officials had told him that they desired to initiate peace talks. See The New York Times, September 15, 1967.↩