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

SUBJECT

  • Alternatives for Holiday Bombing Pauses

Discussion

1.
Question at Issue. Leaving aside the separate issue of a more prolonged bombing suspension designed to achieve different objectives, we should consider the degree to which we will this year have holiday truces at Christmas, New Year’s and Tet (January 28–February 3). We can anticipate that by Thanksgiving there is likely to be increasing public pressure to make our position clear on this question.
2.
US Position. The Mission in Saigon has already sent its recommendations together with proposed rules of engagement (at clip).2 The Mission proposes a 24-hour Christmas pause, no New Year’s pause (although the Mission would accept one of 24-hour duration), and a 48-hour Tet ceasefire, with a maximum fallback position of 72 hours. We understand the JCS has recommended against any holiday ceasefire on military grounds. However, OSD at the working level appears to have no strong objection to the general nature of the Mission’s recommendations.
3.
GVN Position. As to the GVN position, Ky thinks we should agree to have a standdown, preferably 24 hours for Christmas, 24 hours for New Year’s and 48 hours for Tet, since these are traditional holidays. [Page 1021]Thieu has commented along very similar lines, specifying the same number of hours. Thieu added that if there were intimations of other developments, we could explore them and decide what to do at the time. Press despatches November 11 quote Thieu as predicting that holiday pauses of the lengths specified above would be likely.
4.
Major Alternatives. The principal alternatives, therefore, are:
(a)
(JCS proposal)—Have no bombing suspension or ceasefire during these holiday periods, based on military considerations and the fraudulent manner in which the enemy has treated past ceasefires;
(b)
Have the traditional holiday ceasefires and bombing suspension for 24 hours at Christmas, 24 hours at New Year’s and 48 hours at Tet;
(c)
Have the same ceasefire periods as paragraph 4(b) with the additional offer by the GVN to negotiate a supervised extension with NVN.
5.
For political and psychological reasons we do not think that the JCS recommendation can be sustained and would therefore recommend against alternative 4(a).
6.
In the light of the entirely negative response from Hanoi to last year’s GVN offers to extend the holiday ceasefires, we see no point in repeating this offer, and recommend against 4(c).
7.
Therefore, the best alternative in our view is alternative 4(b). The rules of engagement recommended by the Mission seem to us workable and acceptable, although we need clarification of the Embassy’s suggestion on imposing a total freeze on logistics and force re-positioning on both sides.
8.
If, as is likely, the VC should declare either before or after our announcement that they plan to observe longer ceasefire periods, we will have to be prepared with suitable contingency statement. We should make clear that there are always means for conveying to the GVN the other side’s interest in taking any mutual steps to scale down the level of hostilities, and that given past experience of enemy’s violations of ceasefire and their efforts to exploit these periods to gain military advantage, we had concluded that any more protracted ceasefire periods would cause unacceptable risks to our forces.
9.
Timing of Announcement. Judging from their past behavior, the North Vietnamese/Viet Cong will make every effort to impose a cease-fire in a manner which will buttress their own claim to command the military initiative and to exercise superior authority over US/GVN forces. It is therefore important that we pre-empt any such announcement in good time. Instead of making individual announcements on each of the three holiday ceasefires, we should consider this year [Page 1022]whether to announce all three at the same time and to do so as early as possible and no later than the end of November.

Recommendation3

10.
That you seek the President’s approval for the issuance of instructions authorizing holiday ceasefire and bombing suspensions over Christmas, New Year’s and Tet of 24, 24, and 48 hours respectively, without any explicit offer of extension, and governed by the ground rules worked out by the Mission.
11.
That you further seek the President’s approval for the timing of a single announcement for all three holiday periods, to be made as soon as possible after consultation with the GVN and the other Manila allies. The announcement should be made by the GVN with simultaneous supporting statements in all allied capitals.
12.
That you approve the guidance as given in paragraph 8 above if the contingency outlined therein arises.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Heyward Isham of the Vietnam Working Group on November 10 and cleared by Habib. Sent through Katzenbach. A notation by Read on the memorandum reads: “(Mr. Katzenbach concurs in the EA recommendation, but favors withholding decision concerning Tet until a later date.) EA points out that this would discriminate in favor of Christian holidays and notes that Thieu has already spoken publicly about all three holidays. BHR”
  2. Not printed. The attached telegram 8432 from Saigon, October 13, warned of the “critical sensitivity” of deciding upon a cease-fire schedule as soon as possible so that the administration would not be “pre-empted” by the other side. This was a position echoed by the South Vietnamese. During Bunker’s conversation with Ky, reported in telegram 10641 from Saigon, November 8, Ky urged that “we take the initiative rather than let Hanoi or the VC get the benefit of it.” (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S)
  3. There is no indication whether these recommendations were approved, but a note by Rusk on the first page reads: “Overtaken. DR”