351. Intelligence Memorandum1

No. 1391/67

THE CONSEQUENCES OF A HALT IN THE BOMBARDMENT OF NORTH VIETNAM

Summary

If the United States were to halt the bombardment of North Vietnam, and avoided saying that it was setting a time limit on the halt, Hanoi would probably be willing to enter direct talks. It would almost certainly take a cessation of longer than a month to elicit such a response, and none would be forthcoming at all if a reciprocal gesture of de-escalation were demanded.

Hanoi makes a distinction between talks, private, tentative, and exploratory, and negotiations, the formal settlement of outstanding issues. Thus its initial response would be cautious, and would be intended at the most to open the way to “talks.” The opening of “negotiations” would depend on whether the US position, as revealed in these private conversations, was sufficiently forthcoming to give Hanoi hope of eventually achieving its goals in South Vietnam.

The North Vietnamese would see a cessation of bombardment without a reciprocal gesture on their part as a sign the US will was weakening, and would be greatly encouraged to believe that the course they had been following was correct. On the other hand, they would be highly suspicious of US intent, particularly in the context of the election of 1968. They would fear that the pattern of 1954 would be repeated, that the great powers might somehow deprive them of the fruits of victory. And they would expect to feel intensified and conflicting pressures from Moscow and Peking.

These factors would tend to strengthen Hanoi’s determination to press for significant concessions from the US. Thus the outlook for the [Page 877]talks developing into more serious negotiations would be poor, unless the US was willing to accept terms it has hitherto ruled out. Nevertheless, the North Vietnamese would seek to prolong the talks, because they would probably believe the political pressures for US concessions would be greater than the corresponding pressures on them. They would expect that a continued erosion of the US negotiating position, combined with continued military attrition in the South, would eventually bring the US to accept a formula for settlement favorable to Hanoi’s basic aims.

To this end, Hanoi would take advantage of any halt in bombardment to improve its military capabilities. It would move to restore and harden its transportation and industry in the North, and strengthen and reorganize its logistic routes to the South. A cessation of a week would enable the North Vietnamese to mount a stockpiling effort on the scale of their operations during the Tet pause of 1967; this would only yield them a short-term tactical advantage. For any longer period their gains would be proportionally larger. By the end of a year they would have been able to set their house thoroughly in order and to make themselves much less vulnerable to any future attacks. Although the bombing of the North has not been the limiting factor on the scale of their operations in the South, they could, if they chose, provide substantial reinforcements for their forces there with less risk and disruption than they now suffer.

[Here follow six pages of detailed analysis.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Bombing. Secret; Sensitive. The CIA Directorate of Intelligence prepared the memorandum in response to longstanding concerns by the President relating to the consequences of a bombing halt. According to a covering note from Rostow transmitting the memorandum to the President, October 9, Johnson agreed that Rusk and McNamara should be asked to comment on the memorandum. An October 24 memorandum from Helms to Rostow summarized among other things the CIA’s assessment of effects on enemy logistics. This memorandum argued that the DRV would enter into talks of a preliminary nature if the bombardment of the North did in fact cease. It further pointed out that in spite of the fact that interdiction efforts “clearly have not placed a relevant ceiling on Communist force structures or levels of combat,” the North Vietnamese almost certainly would use the respite of a halt “to improve their military capabilities.” The enemy could and would endeavor to reinforce its forces in the South at significantly less cost during such a cease-fire period. (Ibid., Country File, Vietnam, 3 H (2) Appraisal of Bombing)